Q: Hey, where's the apostrophe! Isn't it "Wright's Lake"?
A: No. The possessive is not used on USGS maps. Odd stuff; go to this page and read No. 18.
Key Reasons to Go: Wrights Lake is a very popular trail head (at 6980') for entering the Desolation Wilderness. It is a nice introduction to mid-elevation flora that ranges from a damp lodgepole forest entry (at about 7000') to expansive sun-drenched granite slabs. You get to have lunch at your choice of alpine lakes (at 8000' and above) surrounded by dramatic geology and a long list of flowers to photograph and identify.
Lyons Creek is popular too (see below) but more, I think, for the trail that is shaded for much of the trek. Lyons Lake (the usual destination) is the only place that seems to offer a chance to see Anemone in this whole area if you get there early enough.
Best Time to Go: Note: the road opened on 1 July in 2010. In 2011? 21 July. I thought it was late in 2009 when it opened on 12 June, so the "best" time is really any time you can get there; on 11 June 2013, the road was open but the campground was still closed. Of course there is a changing flower display through the season and I can't imagine you would go home disappointed. In fact some really nice flowers like heathers and eupatorium (new name: ageratina) won't bloom until late in the season, and they will be up on the slopes behind Twin Lakes.
To put a finer point on this, a real "best time" would be a week day. This area is so popular on weekends that you might drive all the way in to the parking lot only to find it full! I have had a couple of trips become turn-arounds and gone elsewhere, and I mean a totally different place (like Benwood Meadow at Echo Summit), not just another parking lot.
Directions: Drive up Hwy 50 about 15 miles past Pollock Pines and watch for the small highway sign indicating a left turn lane for Wrights Lake. The road twists and climbs up rather directly, then levels out to follow on for several miles past Lyons Creek and eventually to Wrights Lake. Here is a Google map to Wrights Lake from Hwy 50.
Stop at a USFS officeSee the locations at the bottom of the page... and pick up the new map of this area; it's a nice durable map that has great topo detail, printed on a waterproof plastic sheet.
Wrights Lake is still surrounded with vacation cabins built in another era, so mind the rules and watch for oncoming vehicles rounding the curves in the forest road. You finally get to a big paved parking lot and fancy forest bathrooms. The trail head is somewhat obvious if you understand that you need to follow the paved stub down to the lake. There is a map display and a box of tickets to self-serve your wilderness permit.
Planning to camp in your RV? Good luck. Reservations are required and those are made long in advance. Don't expect to call for any "next week" plans. Here is the page to check for openings: Wrights Lake Recreation.gov.
Note: You will need a wilderness permit to head into the Desolation even for a day-hike! That shouldn't be a problem as you simply fill out the form at a trail head map and display. Drop the ticket into the box, hang the tag on your pack and get going. If you plan to stay overnight, you should check with somebody at the USFS office (see info below...).
Also worth knowing: it's a nice hike for the family but be advised that a potentially sketchy creek crossing where an old dam is replaced with piled rocks. Younger folks may have a hard time on their own and there isn't much room for mom or dad to go hand-holding the kids! You could also choose to just explore the lower regions of the trail, or even look for Beauty LakeClick for a GOV page for location.... These would be good short trips for getting kids into Nature without lots of fuss.
Addendum: Not wanting to sound discouraging, but I should add that the nearby Lyons Creek trail is also crazy popular on weekends when flowers are blooming. In mid July 2010 I arrived at the parking area for Lyons and it was jammed, with many vehicles illegally parked along the roadside. I turned around and left! The Lyons Creek trail is a decent one that is pretty, but chewed up in many parts from horse traffic. The trail leads to Lyons Lake and Lake Sylvia, but they offer very limited camping spots. The likely plan is to just head for one of the lakes, have lunch, then return to the trail head.
Another reason for interest in this area is access to summit either Pyramid Peak Read about the first ascent
by William Brewer or Mt. Price. If that is your goal, you will do well to use a GPS and waypoint for a summit as you are hiking up a rounded "backside" and don't see your goal for much of the hike; you can, and will, wander about with only a rule of "head up the slope". The total round-trip mileage from trail head to peak and back is about 18 miles; it's a pretty hard day.
There are several options ahead of you as you sign in for your wilderness permit and start past the lake. In short order you will cross a small bridge (not the bridge by the permit station); looking right, see a meadow that, at the right time, will be full of the pretty blue Camas (Camassia quamashi) that everyone finds so deserving of a picture or two. At the end of the bridge you might find nodding arnica (Arnica parryi) which is at the other end of the prettiness scale! While not ugly, it is less noticed because it simply never looks like it's quite open. (It may do better in other areas but I don't see it in other areas, save for Pole Creek at Lake Tahoe.)
For the first mile you will be walking through a lodgepole forest with plenty of grassy areas which, in the early season, will be loaded with little white flowers of Calochortus minimus; this little Calochortus is easy to confuse with Calochortus nudus, but C. nudus has "pink-to lavender-tinged petals with rounded tips".
The next half-mile is a level walk through stands of lodgepole with an understory of corn lily, monks hood, meadow rue, erigerons and a multitude of other colorful flowers.
When you come to the end of this shaded portion, you find yourself at the foot of a granite stairway to start climbing up to the Desolation boundary. Along this stretch you start to appreciate the glaciated landscape as you ponder the huge erratic boulders dotting the rock expanse to your left. Once you get familiar with this area you might like to venture off to the left to cross-country over the open rock to find your way to a "hidden" swimming pool fed by a sort of waterfall, a rather grand term for a small runoff stream that simply comes off the granite shield above and plunges 20 feet into the pool. Still, while the place is referred to as Enchanted Falls, it isn't named on the map. Careful review of the topo will sort of prove to you where to go looking.
Back to the trail: As you make your way up the staircase that is this section, watch for the lone snaggy pine at the top of the rise. Everyone likes to pause to sniff the bark of this Jeffrey because it smells like butterscotch if the day is warm.
Past the pine, enter a section of shaded woods and the actual entry into the wilderness area (see photo). This is easy walking with a gentle grade as you make your way up to the next open area where you cross the stream again and this time choose to head left for Twin Lakes or veer right for a steeper climb to Grouse, Hemlock, and Smith Lakes. Most people seem to head for Twin Lakes, Boomerang, and Island Lakes.
If you head for Island Lake, the scenery is really terrific. Views of the surrounding rocky peaks show multicolored geology. Mt. Price looks tantalizingly do-able (but I don't think it is!), and a scramble up and over the ridge to the north will let you visit Tyler Lake and find your way back toward Wrights as a semi cross-country, find-your-way route. Oddly, you may end up coming across the pools that are part of the already mentioned Enchanted Falls complex.
There are no unusual flowers to find in this area (save for the slim potential for finding Lewisia longipetala! (It could happen.) but the displays are terrific from first access on through September. Searching the slopes above Island Lake on the Mt Price side will reveal hidden pools surrounded by alpine vegetation: Brewer's heather, white heather, and kalmia, hiker's gentian, and eupatorium are late-season treats.
For Recreation info, call 530-644-2349
100 Forni Road
Placerville, CA 95667
Office Hours: 8:00 AM - 4:30PM
Schedule: Monday - Friday year-round. Closed Holidays.
4260 Eight Mile Road Camino, CA 95709
Office Hours: 8:00 AM - 4:30 PM
Summer Schedule: Monday - Saturday from May 24th through Labor Day Weekend.
Winter Schedule: Monday - Friday. Closed Holidays.
Eldorado National Forest Visitor Information
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