Backpacking: Stony Ridge Lake, Desolation Wilderness

If there is one place I can never get enough of in the Lake Tahoe area, it is Desolation Wilderness. The 63,000 acre area with endless trail systems and lakes has a solid permit system that keeps it from being overcrowded. Although this sometimes works to your disadvantage if you can’t secure a permit, it is worth the solitude. Every time I go, it is a different experience with memories to cherish for a lifetime. This past weekend with Brian and our fur babies was no different.

I’ve written several blog posts about my time in Desolation Wilderness. Other adventures include:

This weekend we opted to backpack to Stony Ridge Lake, a zone and trail that I have never explored. We entered from the Meeks Bay trailhead, which is on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe. If you are coming from Tahoe City, the trailhead is just past the Meeks Bay Resort on the right side. There is a small parking lot with room for maybe 8 cars, but plenty of parking on the road. We parked on the road and didn’t have any problems. In the parking lot, you’ll see the trailhead, map, and permit kiosk for day hikers.

From the trailhead, you’ll hike 1.2 miles on a flat dirt service road until it splits. Here, you’ll want to take the single track trail up and to the right. There is a sign for the trail here and it’s pretty hard to miss.

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This is where the trail splits and begins the climb into Desolation Wilderness.

The next mile or so is a moderate uphill on mostly dirt, with some rocky sections. After about a mile, you’ll reach Meeks Creek and the trail will start to level out. This section was probably my favorite of the whole hike. It is lush and still full of wildflowers for this late in the season.

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So many beautiful wildflowers on the trail in late August.

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Another stunning part of the trail, full of old growth.

Continuing on the trail, you’ll come to creek crossing after a little bit. There are logs that you can balance across or do what I did, and just walk across the very shallow creek. I also wanted to check out the water resistance on my newish Solomon Quest 4d 2 Gtx W Backpacking Boots. (That has to be the longest boot model name evveeer.) I was happy to say that I still had dry feet on the other side of the creek!

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Creek crossing on the trail, or you could just walk across the very shallow creek.

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Taking a break on the trail to Lake Genevieve.

After this, the trail begins another moderate ascent until you reach the first of the lakes on this trail, Lake Genevieve. This is a pretty little gem of a lake that we stopped at for a minute to let the dogs swim. We saw one other couple camped on this lake.

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Lake Genevieve, Desolation Wilderness.

We continued on and passed the next lake shortly after, Crag Lake. This is a bigger, beautiful lake with several islands and it looks like it would be great for swimming. We saw several good campsites and only one other group was there.

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Crag Lake, Desolation Wilderness.

After Crag Lake, the trail starts going up again over some rocky terrain and another creek to make the final 1.5 mile push to Stony Ridge Lake. At one point, there is a junction in the trail to the right and down a steep hill where you can see Hidden Lake from above. We opted to stay on our trail to Stony Ridge and did not make the side trip.

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Final ascent to Stony Ridge Lake. It’s definitely stony!

We made it to Stony Ridge in a little over 3 hours and according to my Apple watch‘s GPS, exactly 6 miles. In that 6 miles, you’ve climbed 1,500+ feet of elevation, which makes the arrival at your final destination that much sweeter.

As soon as we got to the lake, we took a hard left across the dam to the other side, away from the trail. There is a bit of an awkward boulder in the middle of the dam crossing, so I opted to go downstream a couple hundred feet and find a nice little rock crossing instead.

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Dam crossing coming back to the main trail from our campsite.

We continued on for less than an eighth of a mile and found an amazing little spot that was perched above the lake, but still had good water access and was flat dirt. There were also some great trees for our hammocks since we planned on spending the night in those. We brought a small tent, but that was really just to keep the dogs from wondering off at night. Although, I don’t think it did any good… Sometime in the middle of the night my little Jack Russell, Roxanne, jumped up in my hammock with me and cuddled in the space behind my knees until I woke up in the morning and realized she was there. I still have no idea how she got out of the tent and into my hammock. She is a little Houdini!

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Our campsite at Stony Ridge Lake and little Houdini herself (front).

Our time spent at the lake consisted of floating in tubes, playing Yahtzee, making some amazing sloppy joes for dinner (recipe here), watching the Milky Way light up the sky, and sipping on boxed wine. To top it off, we had the whole lake to ourselves and didn’t see any other campers the entire time we were there.

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Wez was not impressed with our Yahtzee game.

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Stony Ridge Lake at sunrise.

We only had time for a one-night trip and had to pack up the next morning and head back to reality. It is always bittersweet coming back from a weekend in wilderness, but dang, did that shower and cold beer feel good when we got home!

Of all the places (and the list is small compared to the possibilities!) that I have explored in Desolation Wilderness, the Meeks Bay trailhead has to be one of my favorites. The climb is moderate, the trail is in good condition (and dog friendly), and the scenery is stunning. I am definitely looking forward to going back. What is your favorite place in Desolation? Leave a comment below!

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