A weekend in the beautiful and dynamic desolation wilderness/el dorado national forest.
»jump to pics & details
My buddy Carlos, Tikka, and I took the Rockbound Trail from Wrights Lake to Maud Lake. It’s a quick 4 mile, mostly flat trek through forest and over rock to the serenity of Maud Lake.
the way in
We parked at the rockbound trailhead which is nestled within the very active Wrights Lake cabins/developed campsite. From there, the trail takes off through the forest around the relatively large Wrights Lake and then the much smaller Beauty Lake. After that, it dips in and out of the forest taking you across some expansive scrubby areas and eventually across some large shelves of granite. Being mid-July, the day was hot and the rock shelves where the trail is exposed multiplied the heat. Tikka decided the easiest way to make the trek was to trot ahead to the nearest shade and then plop down and wait for the humans. After the last shelf, Willow Flat, the trail brings you over a short hill and descends into the valley that is home to Maud Lake. The trail on the flats is mostly well marked with small stones bordering the paths, however it isn’t consistent. There were several times when we had to hunt a bit to figure out where the trail went. When we topped the switchbacks that lead from the forest up to Willow Flat, the trail completely disappeared. We split up and traversed the flat looking for any sign of the trail, but we were unsuccessful. Using the map, it was easy to tell that the trail continued uphill to the northeast. Walking in that direction, we eventually rejoined the trail and pressed on. The trail is a little vague in some of the forest areas, too. Definitely bring a map with you if you go. The Tom Harrison topo map of Desolation Wilderness is great.
The trail skirts the northwestern shore of the lake and continues on through rockbound pass and further into Desolation. We hiked past the lake, then went off trail and wrapped around the northern edge until we found a decent area to make camp. We picked a little basin that, from the look of the dried ring of pollen on the bordering stones and rocks, was probably a large puddle after the spring melt. Since the hike in was quick, we had plenty of time to do some skinny-dipping in the lake and explore the surrounding hillsides and wilderness. The lake was beautiful, although a bit tough to find an easy way into. It’s surrounded by alternating areas of muddy areas with thick grasses and rocks. We found a stepped rock on the northern edge that was a good point of entry, although Tikka had a tough time getting down to the last step to find a good place to tentatively observe the crazy humans who actually enjoy getting wet. The hills on either side of the lake are beautiful and rocky…great for exploring, but we had to portage Tikka across some of the larger gaps! We saw only a couple other folks in the area and none was very close to our site, so we were left nicely isolated from other humans. In the morning, Tikka made friends with a pair of yellow bellied marmots that were frustrated with the bear canister with all the lovely food inside.
the way out
We went out the same way we came in, on rockbound trail. The unmarked areas of the trail were much easier to navigate with the prior day’s experience, however there were still a few moments of trail searching. We did see that the trail skirts Willow Flat on its northern border with the forest…precisely where we hadn’t looked the day before. There are only a couple of stream crossings on the way out, so make sure you treat enough water from the stream that feeds Maud to drink on the way out.
Permits and reservations
The standard (and great!) recreation.gov reservation system lets you pick which area of desolation that you’re planning to visit. The cost for us was $16 for our 2-person, 1-night stay. From what I understand, you can book multiple nights, but you only need to indicate which area you plan on staying in on the first night. After that, you can either continue your stay at that site or move on to another without having to be specific about where you’ll be on each night. As usual, the site has only a certain percentage of the total reservations. If it’s all booked up, it’s first come, first served at the ranger stations.
Bear canisters are not required, but I’d recommend using one. We had a couple yellow bellied marmots poking around our campsite in the morning. I’m sure they’d have loved to have chewed through our packs to get to some goodies. Also, while we didn’t see any, plenty of bears make their home in the El Dorado National Forest.