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Hiking: Lake Tahoe Basin : Pay Attention to the Little Lakes, Too

August 21, 1994|JOHN McKINNEY

Lake Tahoe isn't the only lake in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

A hundred lakes, both named and unnamed, are scattered like jewels in a slice of Sierra called Desolation Wilderness, just west of the great lake. Aloha, Avalanche, Boomerang, Hemlock and Half Moon are among the colorfully named lakes situated about 8,000 feet in elevation and bordered with impressive and photogenic granite backdrops.

The 12-mile-long, eight-mile-wide Desolation Wilderness is too popular with visitors to be considered desolate, and too close to Tahoe to be considered a true wilderness, but it does offer a superb play land for anglers, swimmers and hikers.

One excellent Tahoe trail leads up dramatic, glacially sculpted Eagle Lake Canyon to a backcountry basin containing the Velma lakes.

Families with small children will enjoy the one-mile climb through the forest to Eagle Lake. More experienced hikers will head for Lower, Middle and Upper Velma lakes.

Directions to trail head: From the junction of California 50 and 89 in South Lake Tahoe, drive nine miles north on California 89 to the signed turnoff on the left for Eagle Falls Picnic Area.

Park in the lot if there's room, otherwise park with caution alongside the highway. (If you are coming from Tahoe City, follow California 89 south about 18 1/2 miles to the picnic area.)

The Forest Service reports that vehicle break-ins have occurred in this lot. Lock your car and secure your valuables.

At the trail head, fill out a wilderness permit. Keep one copy and drop the other in the box.

The hike: From the signed trail head, the path ascends the canyon, soon crossing Eagle Creek on a pedestrian bridge. The trail ascends a rock-strewn rise, enters the Desolation Wilderness, then reaches a second rise offering terrific views of Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe and the Carson Range.

Just short of a mile from the trail head is a junction. The right fork leads 200 yards to granite cliff-surrounded Eagle Lake, a perfect picnic spot.

To continue to the Velma lakes, you will join the trail's left fork and begin a steep climb.

Looming over you is the sheer granite wall of Maggies Peak. The path winds through lodgepole pines and scattered stands of Sierra juniper. Almost three miles from the trail head, your trail will be joined by another coming up from the left--Bay View Trail.

Your route levels a bit, you pass the left-branching Dicks Lake Trail and continue on with Velma Lakes Trail. After passing an unnamed lake on your left and crossing its outlet stream, you will arrive at a trail junction. (The left-forking trail climbs south one-third mile to Upper Velma Lake.)

Stay right and walk another quarter-mile to a junction with the famed Pacific Crest Trail. Stay right again and continue a short quarter mile to Middle Velma Lake.

Sunbathe on the shore, swim out to a little rock island, try to catch a rainbow trout--the sprawling lake is a very mellow place to unwind.

Eagle Lake, Emerald Bay, Velma Lakes Trails

WHERE: Velma Lakes area, near Lake Tahoe.

DISTANCE: To Eagle Lake is 2 miles round trip with 400-foot elevation gain; to Middle Velma Lake is 9 miles round trip with 1,600-foot gain.

TERRAIN: Glacially carved canyons, pine forests.

HIGHLIGHTS: Lots of lakes for swimming and fishing reached by one of Tahoe's best trails.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Moderate to strenuous.

PRECAUTIONS: Wilderness permit required.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, 870 Emerald Bay Road, Suite 1, South Lake Tahoe, Calif. 96150; tel. (916) 573-2600.

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