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Go Deeper Into The Backcountry

Desolation and Granite Chief Wilderness Areas


National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps

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The two wilderness areas of Desolation and Granite Chief are tucked up against the west shore of Lake Tahoe in the Sierras of California. The land which became Desolation Wilderness was once part of the Lake Tahoe Forest Reserve, established in 1899. In 1910, when the first tourists were beginning to make their way over the narrow dirt roads of Echo and Donner summits, the area was made part of the newly-formed Eldorado National Forest. The area was named the Desolation Valley Primitive Area in 1931, and in 1969 Desolation Wilderness was Congressionally designated and included in the National Wilderness Preservation System. The Desolation Wilderness is 63,960 acres of subalpine forests, glacial lakes and valleys, and granite peaks.

The Granite Chief Wilderness was designated a Wilderness area in 1984 because of its pristine nature, natural beauty, and primitive, non-motorized recreational opportunities. This 25,680-acre wilderness offers beautiful valley meadows and spectacular 9,000-foot granite peaks. The headwaters of the American River are located in the wilderness, where elevations range from 5,000 feet to 9,000 feet.