Place Name: Desolation Wilderness
Place Description: State: California
Elevation: 9,235 Feet
Prominence: 1,075 Feet
Elevation Gain: 2,722 Feet
Leg Burning Misery
I had heard this trail was called the Leg Burner of Lake Tahoe, it definitely lives up to this billing. This trail is relentless in it’s uphill trajectory. The hike itself is not the most scenic, but the view at the top makes up for it.
- Million dollar summit view
- Lots of parking
- Well defined trail
- Very few flat sections
- Lots of hikers
- No views of the peak till you get there
Once I heard a nickname for the Ralston Peak Trail: The Leg Burner of Lake Tahoe. With that in mind, I had a feeling this would be a long slog. The weather on this November day was beautiful and smoke free. The Central Valley had been choked with wildfire smoke for the past week. We reached the trail and were welcomed with blue skies and comfortable 50-degree temps. This would be my first venture into the Desolation Wilderness.
The steepness of this trail was relentless and there are very few flat areas. Actually, this isn’t the most scenic trail, mostly climbing through a dried out pine forest and manzanita. There are no views of the peak whatsoever until you get there.
This trail is 3.25 miles each way and it took us 3:25 to summit with many stops and some time to talk with other hikers. It’s easy to follow and well defined.
After arriving on the summit, we were rewarded with unreal views of the Desolation Valley. Pyramid Peak sat right across from us towering over Lake Aloha. We spent 40 minutes up on the windless summit. Unfortunately, it was quite crowded with 11-12 people on the summit. Two register boxes can be located on the summit.
Speeding back down the trail allowed us to be back to the car in 1:30. Due to the steepness, I wouldn’t recommend this trail for my small kids unless you had ample time to make the summit. Be sure to get a Desolation Wilderness Permit before hiking since there is nowhere to self-serve at the trail head. Plenty of parking can be found right off the highway, but there is also enough spots for a few cars a short way up the dirt road where the actual trail head is. There are no restroom facilities, so you will be using the bushes.
Would I hike Ralston Peak again? Probably not. While the view at the summit is quite breathtaking, the actual hike isn’t very scenic. This also takes into consideration how crowded the trail and summit areas are. If I was going to go for a leg burner in this area, I would prefer Pyramid Peak.