Our area is either bordered by or very close to several national forests. The El Dorado, Tahoe, Stanislaus and Humbolt-Toiyabe are all within easy reach. There’s more to do and see out there than is possible to see in one lifetime.
Taking off for a day hike in the forest is relatively easy. Most places you’ll head to don’t require any special permits for those hikes. Everything changes when you step over the boundary of one of our wilderness areas though.
Congress established wilderness areas with the Wilderness Act of 1964. These areas are treated very differently than the normal parts of our National Forests.
The intent was, and is, to manage these areas so that the wilderness stays as unchanged as possible by human use. It’s a rather big, and sometimes complicated task.
Unlike the campgrounds that dot the forests, the wilderness areas come with their own set of rules. They also have some common sense suggestions that should be followed by anyone who is hiking or camping in those areas.
First, fires are absolutely prohibited in the wilderness areas. You’ll need to take a backpacking stove, complete with the fuel to run it, if you intend to cook anything. If you think you absolutely must sit around a campfire, stay out of the wilderness areas.
Next on the list is how you get to travel within the wilderness. In general, it will be by foot. All mechanical means of travel, including bicycles, are prohibited. You might come across horses though.
Most likely you’ll need a permit if you are going to hike or camp in these areas, with an exception or two. Wilderness means just that. There are no roads, buildings, or developed anything.
You’ll follow trails that are generally well marked and well trod. Water is either where you find it or what you bring with you. Your table is whatever tree stump, rock or lap that works. If you don’t bring it, you won’t have it. There aren’t any wandering coffee and crumpet carts either.
This year the water in the high country is iffy. Streams have dried up, lakes might not be what you expect. Check with the USFS Ranger Station where you get your permit to find out the most up to date information on water. Returning hikers and rangers will have passed that information along.
We have three wilderness areas close by. Each is different in terrain, and how they are managed.
The Desolation Wilderness is 63,690 acres of forest. Generally, it is west of Tahoe and north of US Highway 50. It is also one of the most heavily traveled wilderness areas in the United States.
Some of the places that are inside the boundaries of the great Desolation are Horsetail Falls, Lake Aloha, Gilmore Lake, Twin Lakes, Lyons and Sylvia Lakes and Mt. Tallac.
All of those places, and more, can be hiked in a day. Whether you are going in for the day, or an extended trek, you’ll need a permit. Day use permits are free, anything else will cost you a few dollars.
The Mokelumne Wilderness is 105,165 acres, south of Highway 88 and north of Highway 4. It covers elevations from 4,000 feet to over 10,000 feet. It also encompasses parts of the El Dorado, Stanislaus, and Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forests.
Carson Pass and the Carson Pass Management Area are in the Mokelumne. It’s a big place. You do need a permit.
Granite Chief Wilderness, on Tahoe’s West Shore, by Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley, consists of 25, 689 acres. Permits currently aren’t required for Granite Chief. The hike to the five lakes are is a stunner, and relatively easy.
Some things to remember if you head to the wilderness, either for a day or a multi-day trek. You are on your own. Your cell phone probably won’t work in most areas. Take a map, stay on the trails. Take more than enough gear, food and chocolate to get you through your day or trip.
Let someone know where you are headed, when you plan to be back, and stick to your plan. Go with someone, and always stay together. If you take it in with you, take it out with you.
You may have heard of the Leave No Trace approach, which is highly suggested. It means just that. There simply should be no trace that you were in the wilderness.
It belongs to all of us. Treasure it with every step.