Place Name: El Dorado County
Place Description: State: California
Elevation: 9,234 Feet
Prominence: 434 Feet
Elevation Gain: 3,729 Feet
From Crowded Trails To Cross Country
The trail starts on one of the most crowded trails in the South Lake Tahoe region but quickly leads further into the wilderness leaving the other hikers behind. Breaking away from the trail to go cross country will get you away from everyone else.
- Nice summit block
- Great view of the Desolation Wilderness
- Good cross country route
- Parking sucks
- Too many people
- Long slog coming back out
With all the trails in the Desolation Wilderness and popular destinations, Phipps Peak seems to get lost. This is easy to understand since there isn’t an actual trail to the 9,234-foot summit.While most casual hikers opt for Tallac or Maggie’s Peak nearby, that leaves the more dedicated hiker to summit peaks like Phipps.
Like 95% of the trailheads in the Desolation Wilderness, you can expect to find a full parking lot and huge crowds. The hike to Phipps Peak starts at the Eagle Falls Trail Head and might just be the busiest on in the area. When we arrived at 6:30 a.m. the lot was full, and I was forced to park further up the road at Vikingsholm.
The first couple miles of this trail are the busiest. Most of the flatlanders stop at Eagle Lake. By the time you intersect with the Bayview Trail, you will mostly be encountering backpackers coming in or out. The trail is well marked and beaten until we turned to go off trail along eastern shore of Middle Velma Lake. Staying on this trail much longer allows a loop around this lake towards Phipps Pass, but this would add on over a mile of hiking.
The cross-country hiking was easy. We didn’t run into any bad terrain. The brush was easy to skirt around and any large outcroppings were easily bypassed. You can see the summit most of the way up in this section. Eventually you will cross the trail during your climb.
The summit is rock pile that is very short and low class 2 climb to the top.
The views to the south are beautiful. Lake Tahoe is mostly blocked, however, the views of Dicks Peak with the Velma Lakes in the foreground is stunning. Tallac can be seen and the Red/Silver/McConnell/Tells traverse is nearby to the west.
On the return, part of our group tagged the unnamed peak to the north and followed a cross country route back to Eagle Lake. The rest of us returned the way we came. In the afternoon, the trail seemed to be even more crowded. Highway 89 was a mess all the way back to South Lake Tahoe.
The Final Word
If not for its placement on the Tahoe-Ogul List, Phipps Peak would never have been very high on my agenda. That said, it’s a worthy peak with great views and a nice hike to do once.