Desolation Wilderness is 63,960 acres of alpine beauty and hundreds of miles of backcountry trails. The hike to Middle Velma Lake begins at the Eagle Falls trailhead which is located just across from the scenic Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe. It has been years since we have been back up to Lake Tahoe and were truly looking forward to this little micro-adventure! Our first inspiration for this hike was from Weekend Sherpa’s email about a hike to Middle Velma Lake and the fact that we could see 3 lakes on one hike. Our other inspiration was our art wall in need of a blue piece of art on the wall. Priorities right?
We planned our 10.8-mile hike for early fall hoping we would avoid any snow and possibly catch some fall foliage. Then we booked a room at a motel in South Shore Lake Tahoe for a Friday night. Making the most of our weekends is what we strive for! We left wine country Friday afternoon and headed for the Sierras arriving just as the sun was setting over Lake Tahoe. Dinner outside at California Burger Company under heat lamps and an early night to bed. We had to get up early after all!
One of our fellow hikers had told us we needed to get to Eagle Falls trailhead early to get a decent parking spot. She was right! We took our time in the morning hoping the sun would warm us up a little and got to the trailhead around 8:30 am and half the parking was already gone and the temps were up to 45 degrees.
Emerald Bay is just across from the parking and no one was around so we decided to walk over and soak in those views while we had it all to ourselves. There was a small waterfall flowing over large granite rocks and a hot air balloon cruising through the bay. Eager to start our hike we only spent a few minutes here before heading back across the road to the trailhead.
Day permits are required to hike in Desolation Wilderness. Some of the trailheads have free self-registration like the one at Eagle Falls. We put our day permit on our pack and headed up the Eagle Falls Loop.
Definitely take the Eagle Falls loop to the right to go up to the vista point! Your legs will thank you! It’s an easier hike up to the vista point than the hundreds of rock stairs the other way. At the top turn around and enjoy the views of Emerald Bay below and views of Lake Tahoe. The views are pretty incredible from here!
After you are done enjoying those views, head back down and follow the trail to Eagle Falls. In October the falls were still flowing but early summer would be best here! Enjoy walking across the bridge, this will be one of the last few spots of flat and level ground! Head on up Eagle Falls Trail toward Eagle Lake.
About 1.5 miles up the rock stairs you will see a little spur trail that goes off to Eagle Lake…take it! Oh my goodness! Eagle Lake was one of the best highlights of the entire hike! We were about 5 minutes ahead of the major crowd of hikers so we were able to reach Eagle Lake and have it all to ourselves for about that long. It was incredibly peaceful and absolutely stunning! The morning sun was rising and the reflections of the mountains surrounding the lake with the small creek provided the perfect ambiance. If we could have had this all to ourselves we could have stayed here all day and called it a successful hike. It was THAT gorgeous!!
Several of our fellow hikers started showing up and broke the peace and calm so we headed back to the main trail and continued our climb up.
Eagle Falls Trail
From Eagle Lake, we climbed approx 1,200 more feet to reach Bayview Trail. Along the way, we were surrounded by towering pines reaching above the granite cliffs and lining the trail. The trail would level off in spots and become very narrow then you would start climbing again on large rocks and even a little snow!
Before you reach Bayview Trail look for a small unofficial but well-trafficked trail. It leads so some spectacular views of Eagle Lake below and Lake Tahoe in the distance! We stood on a gigantic granite rock with few trees able to grow and had unobstructed views of the canyon we had just climbed up. It’s definitely worth a little bit of exploring!
Get some stretching in and then continue up Eagle Falls Trail. Careful to make sure you are following the trail as you go. The rangers have done a good job of making the trail noticeable with the rock and wood stairs as well as putting tree branches or small rocks to mark the path to take. There were several times when we had to really look around to make sure we were still on the trail!
At the top of Eagle Falls Trail, you will see a junction with a sign for Bayview Trail. Hang a right here. The trail is sandy, rocky, and a lot more level! The natural ups and downs of the trail are definitely easier than the almost 3 miles of climbing we just did!
Bayview Trail shows the sheer expanse of Desolation Wilderness. We could see for days in almost all directions! It is a light gray ground dotted with a few pines. We were almost above the tree-line completely. It was incredible up there! Full sun and some breezes which were both welcome. The shade of the pines on the hike up caused a chilly morning to be even chillier.
Bayview Trail goes for about 2 miles before you reach the next trail junction for Middle Velma Lake. Enjoy the solitude. We did not see very many people along this part of the trail. We did get to see views of Middle Velma Lake from above. It is much larger than Eagle Lake!
Just after a tiny lake/pond on your left, there will be a creek that crosses the trail. Look to the right for several rocks that are in a straight line across the creek. This is how you safely cross! It is very easy to miss so on our way back we were telling people hiking out about the spot so they wouldn’t miss it also. We crossed further up and had to hop across on rocks to avoid the creek. During snowmelt time this might be more difficult to cross.
Middle Velma Lake
Once you cross the creek, you will see another junction marker. Hang another right and continue on until you reach Middle Velma Lake. We found a nice flat rock to sit on and have our snacks while enjoying the views of Middle Velma Lake. She’s bigger than Eagle Lake and just as blue as Lake Tahoe! Campers were down along the shore enjoying the solitude. This was our turn around spot. We made it!
It was a brutal hike up the 1,932 feet and we still had to climb back up to Bayview Trail and then ALL the way down Eagle Falls Trail. At about 10 miles our legs were burning, feet were hurting from the hard uneven ground and we probably looked like we had just backpacked for days. We kept telling people it was totally worth hiking up to Eagle Lake and that they should keep going! Once we saw Eagle Falls our tempo picked up since we knew we were close to the end of the hike.
Don’t get us wrong, this is an amazing hike! We were expecting it to be 8 miles, not almost 11 miles, and coming from almost sea level to hiking at 6-8,000 feet was a little brutal for us. We also had a 5.5-hour drive home…all because we try and pack as much as we can into 1 weekend!
One of the places we wanted to see on our way home was Hope Valley. Thanks to Instagram and fellow leaf peepers we knew we would see some fall colors. We ate our snacks and drank the extra water we brought for after the hike and headed toward home with a slight 1-hour detour. We were so happy we did! The photos don’t do it justice and we probably didn’t find the amazing spots that everyone goes to but just driving down Highway 89 to Highway 88 was so beautiful! Hills lined with dark green pines and bright yellow aspens decorating the front row and dotting the landscape. So worth the little detour! We reached Hope Valley just before the golden hour. Stayed for a bit enjoying the bright fall colors then hopped back in the truck to make our way back to wine country.
The next morning we woke up early and headed to Fort Bragg along the Mendocino Coast to see family before they moved. Love that we can go from wine country to the mountains to the ocean all in one weekend! We were so exhausted but our hearts were so full!
How do you spend your weekends? We don’t usually pack this much in but try to do and see as much as possible!
Our hike was 10.8 miles with 1,932 feet elevation gain, would say this is a strenuous hike due to the terrain, half sun, and half shade. Parking is $5 at Eagle Falls trailhead for Desolation Wilderness. A day permit is required for hiking here. There are pit toilets in the parking lot. Dogs on leash are ok. This entrance to Desolation Wilderness is near South Lake Tahoe where there are a ton of hotels/motels/camping and some really great restaurant choices.
Things We Love:
We absolutely wouldn’t have been able to do a higher elevation hike without proper hydration! The hubs and the bosslady both use an Osprey Hydraulics LT Reservoir. These fit perfectly in their Osprey backpacks and have a super easy wide top fill. Still haven’t spilled while filling these and we’ve had them for a couple of years now. The bosslady uses the magnet on the bite valve to keep the hose close to her backpack. The cleaning kit is also a must! This is why we have been able to keep our reservoirs for so long! Keeping them clean is a high priority!
Do you have a favorite water bladder/reservoir that you use? Leave a comment and let us know which one and why! Don’t have a favorite yet? Click on the link below to head on over to Amazon to check these out!
Our AllTrails app was stopped for about a mile of the hike so we added a mile to our description above.