Exploring Desolation’s high mountain lakes

Crag Lake. | Joyce Chambers

One of my favorite early summer hikes is to Lake Genevieve and Crag Lake in the Desolation Wilderness. It’s the first trail into Desolation to emerge from the snow and is an easier route to the heart of the wilderness than the trails out of Emerald Bay. Crag Lake is a beauty of a mountain lake with islands dotting the lake’s surface and high granite peaks looming above.

9.8 miles roundtrip | Moderate-Strenuous

The trail to Lake Genevieve and Crag Lake begins in Meeks Bay,100 yards south of the Meeks Bay Resort. It’s a busy trailhead with limited parking, so best to get there early. You could also ride a bike to the trailhead; the new addition to the West Shore bike trail ends at Meeks Bay Resort. You can get a day hiking permit to enter Desolation Wilderness at the trailhead. If you want to spend the night, you will need a backpacking permit from recreation.gov.

Read Tim’s feature on Meeks Creek Falls

The trail starts out on a mostly level dirt road through an open meadow area. Look for wildflowers and bears, both are quite common. I remember this section of trail as the only place I’ve ever been charged by a bear. After barreling toward me, it stopped about 50 yards away and went back to wandering in the woods. While I know false charges are common among our docile, local bears, while he was running at me, my only thought was: “Uh oh, he’s fast!”

After 1 mile of easy walking, you reach a junction near a springtime pond on the left. The trail to Desolation Wilderness turns right, becomes narrower and begins climbing.

 Meeks Creek Falls

Another option is to hike straight ahead, where the dirt road continues. In about half a mile on the road, you start strolling through the remains of Camp Waisu, once a girl scout camp. All that remains is the foundation of the main lodge, abandoned pipes and rock work, and a few rusty building frames, including an open-air three-seat toilet. The path ends with the sound of the rushing water of the Meeks Creek falls. Be sure and take the short trek from here up to the base of the falls.

Lake Genevieve. | Joyce Chambers

 Lake Genevieve & Crag Lake

Back on the trail to Crag Lake, the route climbs initially through a thick forest and then begins alternating between ascents through rocky terrain and more level walking close to bustling Meeks Creek. One highlight is a sandy flat surrounded by a cathedral of humongous Jeffrey pines and red firs. About 3 miles in after meandering through a thick cover of thimbleberries the trail crosses Meeks Creek. An old bridge here washed out a number of years ago; now just the beams of the bridge remain, making for a balancing test that just about everyone should be able to pass.

Past the crossing, the trail climbs again, making its way through a lush garden before climbing to a granite viewpoint off the ridge to the north. Just another half a mile brings you to the edge of Lake Genevieve, about 4.6 miles from the trailhead. It’s an attractive, albeit shallow, lake in the woods. Be sure to go another one-third mile up to Crag Lake, which is quite a bit comelier.

Crag Lake is a perfect spot to have lunch and go for a swim. The water is usually warm enough for a quick dip, especially if you have arranged for a warm, flat piece of granite to lie on after emerging from the water. The high peak above, of course, is Crag Peak.

 The Tallant Lakes

If you still have more fuel in the tank, another 1.2 miles brings you to Stony Ridge, the largest of the Tallant Lakes. The route includes some steady climbing and a potentially tricky ford of a creek, but Stony Ridge is a beauty and quite large.

The Tallant Lakes are a string of lakes, like beads on a rosary, that begin with Phipps Lake and travels downhill in just a few miles to pass Rubicon, Stony Ridge, Shadow, Crag and Genevieve. The truly inspired can do an 18-mile trek from Meeks Bay over Phipps Pass to the Tahoe Rim Trail/Pacific Crest Trail, where a left turn brings you to Velma Lakes. From there it’s 5 miles out to Emerald Bay.

But most of us will be perfectly happy taking a relaxing hike up to Crag, lolling away a few hours along the lakeshore and following Meeks Creek back to our cars. | alltrails.com, fs.usda.gov