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Wilderness Permits:

Wilderness permits are required to enter wilderness areas around Lake Tahoe. For day hikes in areas that require a permit such as Desolation Wilderness, there is a self-registration kiosk. Simply fill in the permit and go. For overnight stays, however, permits are issued by the Forest Service in person at their stations or via mail. With the exception of Desolation Wilderness, which charges $5/night/adult (under 12 free), wilderness permits are free. Here is listing of where to obtain your wilderness permits.

Meiss/Carson/Iceberg Wilderness: Permits are available at three location during the summer. The Carson Pass Information Station is open May - September. There is no fee for the permit, but they have instituted a $3 per vehicle parking fee at Carson Pass. Reservations can be made in person, by phone, mail, or fax at 3070 Camino Heights Drive, Camino, CA 95709. Phone (530) 644-6048 Fax (530) 295-5624. Open 7 days a week in the summer, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with reduced hours of Thursday - Monday in the winter. Pick up your permit from one of the following stations:

Pacific Ranger District:
Located four miles east of Pollock Pines on Highway 50.
7887 Highway 50, Pollock Pines, CA 95726
Phone: (530) 647-5415
Winter: Weekdays only. Monday through Saturday as of late April.
Summer: 7 days a week, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through October.

Amador Ranger Station: If you are driving up Highway 88, stop at the Amador Station located 18 miles east of Jackson on Highway 88. 26820 Silver Drive, Pioneer, CA 95666 (209) 295-4251 Fax (209) 295-5998

Carson Pass: Carson Pass Information Station Highway 88 at Carson Pass (summer only, no phone)

Desolation Wilderness: Permits are available from three ranger stations. You can obtain a permit in person, through the mail, by phone, or by fax. You can make reservations up to 90 days in advance, which is not a bad idea during the summer as the 560 available spots in Desolation often fill, especially in the more popular "zones". A reservation fee of $5 is charged as well as a camping fee of $5 / adult/night. Get more information and download the application here. Even if you make reservations, you must pick up your permit in person at one of the stations. To make a reservation, contact the El Dorado National Forest Information Center at 3070 Camino Heights Drive, Camino, CA 95709. Phone (530) 644-6048 Fax (530) 295-5624 Open 7 days a week in the summer, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with reduced hours of Thursday - Monday in the winter. Pick up your permit from one of the following stations:

West Slope:

Pacific Ranger District:
Located four miles east of Pollock Pines on Highway 50.
7887 Highway 50, Pollock Pines, CA 95726
Phone: (530) 647-5415
Winter: Weekdays only. Monday through Saturday as of late April.
Summer: 7 days a week, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through October.

In Tahoe Basin:

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit:
Located two miles east of the Highway 50/89 junction in South Lake Tahoe on Highway 50. From the highway turn right on Al Tahoe Blvd. and then turn right at first signal.
35 College Drive, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150.
Phone: (530)543-2600

Lake Tahoe Visitor Center:
Located three miles north of the Highway 50/89 junction at South Lake Tahoe, on Highway 89.
Call for hours, phone: (530)543-2674. Open summer only.

Granite Chief Wilderness: Permits are not required at this time.

Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park: No information available.

Mount Rose Wilderness: Permits are not required at this time

Toiyabe National Forest/Big Meadow Area: Permits are not required at this time.

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Backcountry Travel Tips:

Clothing:

  • Avoid cotton. Cotton is OK for short, summer day-trips, but for long hikes or overnight stays, Capilene, Pile, Wool, and Nylon will keep you warm even when they get wet.

  • Dress in layers. Rather than a T-shirt and a heavy jacket, try long underwear, a T-shirt, a wool sweater, a pile jacket, and a rain shell. With this system, you can regulate your temperature much more efficiently by stripping or dawning one layer at a time.

  • Be Prepared: Even if the weather forecast is for clear skies, remember that mountains can create their own weather. Mountains can be cold even when the valley is hot. In general, the temperature drops 3 to 4 degrees for every 1000 feet of elevation. Add to that a 40 MPH wind, and you have the recipe for a cold night. Always pack enough clothes to get you through a cold night.

Weather:

  • Weather in the mountain can change rapidly. Always check the weather forecast before heading out for a day or a week. In winter, this should include checking the avalanche reports.

Food:

  • Choose light containers: Remember, there are no trash cans out there and zero impact use requires that you pack out anything you pack in. Pack accordingly. Cans, bottles, wrappers, all must be packed out. Better to avoid items that come in heavy containers or layers of packaging.

  • Doing dishes: Greasy pans and dishes are a drag in the wilderness. You can never seem to get that layer of grease off the pan until you get home. Consider cooking things that just require adding water and don't contain loads of fat, like top Ramon, cup-o-soups, etc. Get your daily fat/calorie requirement from items like cheese or nuts.

Camp:

  • Choosing a site: Taking your time when choosing a campsite is well worth the effort. An exposed ridge that gets hammered by the wind all night or a low basin that fills with water during a storm can make for a long night.

  • Expect the worst: Before turning in for the night, think about the worst case scenario. What if it rains? What if the wind blows 50 MPH? Is your tent secure? Are your belongings all put away, or will that tent bag be in the next county by morning? There's nothing worse than having to get out of a nice warm sleeping bag in the middle of a dark night in a driving rain to secure your tent or belongings. It's much nicer to do that in the light!

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Environmental Information:

The Tahoe environment is fragile...no big surprise there! Pour in tens of thousands of visitors each year, however, and you have a formula for environmental disaster. The Forest Service requires backcountry travelers to practice zero impact techniques in all wilderness areas around Lake Tahoe. Here are the main things to keep in mind:

  • Pack it in, Pack it out: This means everything from trash to toilet paper.

  • Stay on the Trails: The Forest Service spends a lot of time maintaining trails, installing water bars, grading, etc. By cutting the trails, you promote erosion.

  • Hike in small groups: The maximum group size during the summer is 12. This helps to minimize impact and ensures a more pleasant wilderness experience for those camping near you.

  • Use existing campsites: People have camped at every lake in the Tahoe area before you. By utilizing an existing campsite, you minimize the impact of your stay. Do not use a campsite that is within 100 feet of a lake or stream, even if it is obvious someone before you did!

  • Obey fire regulations: Fires are not allowed in many of the forests around Lake Tahoe. This includes Desolation, Mokelumne, and the Carson/Iceberg areas. Please respect this restriction as fires introduce perhaps the greatest impact of any human activity. If fires are allowed, keep them small, use existing fire rings, use only small, fallen deadwood (if you can't break it with your hands, it's too big!), and never pull branches off standing trees, alive or dead.

  • Protect the water sources: Do all washing well away from water sources. Detergents ruin the water supply and poison wildlife. Consider not using detergent...sand works pretty well for scrubbing! Even if you are not using detergent, wash all pans 100 yards away from the water as food debris adds nutrients to the water that clouds the lakes.

  • Use proper toilet techniques: This includes staying 200 yards from water sources, burying waste 6-8 inches deep in soft soil, and (although not required) packing out used toilet paper in your garbage bag!!

  • Leave no trace: This is the ultimate test. Before you leave a campsite, look around. Is there ANY evidence that humans have been there? If not, give yourself a pat on the back. If so, fix whatever needs it. Pick up trash left by others, breakdown large or multiple fire rings (all fire rings in Desolation), if you did some "gardening" to the ground underneath your tent, put it back into its natural state.

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Water Treatment

The water in the lakes and streams around Lake Tahoe are cold and clear and deliciously sweet! It's hard to imagine that there are any impurities in the water at all. In fact, the water of Tahoe and many of the lakes and streams in the wilderness surrounding Lake Tahoe are indeed extremely pure, containing less particulate matter than even bottled drinking water. However, as clean as the Tahoe water is, lakes and streams in the Sierra Nevada, including those around Lake Tahoe, may contain an intestinal parasite called Giardia. This little nasty can cause serious, long-lasting intestinal problems if contracted. The parasite attaches itself to the wall of the intestine and reeks havoc with your digestion and absorption of food. It is extremely difficult and painful to get rid of as well. In fact, we have friends who contracted Giardia ten years ago and still have bouts of extreme abdominal pain. Giardia is a hardy little bugger which, in its encysted state, can withstand even moderate boiling. There are several ways to ensure your drinking water is potable: Boiling is effective if done for five to ten minutes at a hard boil. Filtering is also effective, but make sure your particular filter traps particles as small as Giardia cysts (4 microns...we think). Finally, water treatment tablets will also kill Giardia, but leave the water tasting less than pure!

Waste Disposal

Thousands of visitors come to Lake Tahoe each year to explore the wilderness or just relax away from the bustle of the city. During the summer, most lakes in the wilderness surrounding Tahoe have people camping at them every night. All these people mean lots of human waste. Human waste carries loads of disease and, lets face it, is just downright disgusting. To help ensure that the next camper is not effected by your waste, the Forest Service requites that you:

  • Stay a minimum of 200 yards away from any water when eliminating waste. Two hundred yards is two football fields, 250 steps, in other words, a long way. When in doubt...keep going!

  • Bury waste at least 6-8 inches deep. This means you'll have to give some thought to where you go to be sure you can dig down deep enough.

  • Be sure to cover your waste completely.

  • Carry a plastic, sealing bag to carry out your used toilet paper. We know...that's gross, but with as much use as our backcountry gets, it is necessary. In many highly used areas, like Mt. Shasta, you are required to carry out ALL your waste as well! In the near future, it is possible that this will be added to the zero impact requirements around Tahoe as well.

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Food Storage

Bears are an increasing problem in Tahoe. It is not as bad as Yosemite...yet. Bears don't charge people and bear-proof containers are not required. You can help keep it that way by making sure bears NEVER get any of your food. Beside bears, smaller animals like marmots, squirrels, skunks and raccoons can become dependent on human food and also do irreparable damage to tents and packs, so it is always a good idea to hang food properly whenever possible. Food should be suspended at least 12 feet off the ground, 10feet from the trunk on a branch that is less than 4 inches in diameter using the double weighted method, not the tie-off method. Be sure to store food away from your campsite. For more information about how to live, hike, and backpack with bears, visit this US Forest Service website.

Fires

In many areas around Lake Tahoe, notably Desolation Wilderness and the Carson/Iceberg Wilderness, fires are no longer allowed. And yet, when you are out there, and the temperature drops, there's nothing like a campfire to bring warmth and cheer to your camp. But here is why you need to follow this irritating directive. Desolation Wilderness is appropriately named. It is desolate. In many places it's rock on rock with a few scrubby trees clinging desperately to the rock. Even around most of the lakes, the forest is thin and scrubby due to high winds and deep snows. Deadwood is an important part of the ecosystem providing homes and food for many insects and animal. With tens of thousands of visitors each year, the available supply of deadwood for fires in this area would be gone in no time, effectively removing that entire element from the ecosystem. In addition, before the restriction on fires, we had seen campers attack live trees when deadwood was not handy! In areas that do allow wood fires, fire permits are required. These are available when you pick up your permit. If no permit is required, you still need a fire permit to have a wood fire. Fire permits are good for the entire calendar year.

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Trail Etiquette:

Many of the trails around Tahoe are multi-use trails which means that on any day, you might see hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, or even a motorcycle or OHV using the same trail. It is important that we all respect the legal use of the trails. Hikers are the most mobile of these groups and should give way to the other groups by stepping off the trail. For their part, the other groups should slow way down to ensure the safety of the hiker.

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