Trails in Northern California

Trails in Northern California

Leave No Trace!

Visit for more information about Desolation Wilderness. Visit or call 1- 877-444-6777 to make park reservations. Visit Campfire Permits to get a permit online. More about Leave No Trace principles.

July 03, 2012

Twin Lakes Trail to Island Lake, Desolation Wilderness 2013

There are some amazingly rugged waterfalls and cascades along the creeks,

with especially inviting pools on the way to Island Lake.

Fall colors are vivid contrasts to the granite along the Twin Lakes Trail. 

Taken in Sept. 2012
Miles: Our round trip was 7.95 miles with stops at ponds, lakes, creeks and waterfalls.
Elevation range:  7,000 - 8,120 feet  (3,197 total per Basecamp, Garmin 62s)
Difficulty:   Moderate~Strenuous.  It is uphill, rocky, and around 8 miles.  Some skill is needed to look for and keep on the trail.  Avoid following cairns.  They are often down on your return trip and unreliable.  You never know who placed them or why, or if their destination was the same as yours.  Same idea if you set them up. They could very well be gone on your return trip.  Use the terrain, lakes and creeks as guides to stay found, and GPS, map, and a compass if you can.
Driving Directions:  From Highway 50 near Kyburz, CA turn north onto Wrights Lake Road.  Note that the sign I saw only said "Wrights Road".  Follow the signs passing Lyons Creek Parking, and Bloodsucker Lake parking, on to Twin Lakes Trailhead parking.

To the Trailhead:  From the north side of the parking lot you'll see a closed metal gate.  Go around it and follow the pavement a short distance until you see a sign for the Twin Lakes Trail and Grouse-Hemlock Trail that points to your right.  Follow that and there is a big sign at the trailhead where you need to fill out a day permit, no fees, for entering Desolation Wilderness.  The hike is pretty strenuous up to the fork toward Twin Lakes and Island Lake.  It is rocky and has carved boulder stairs off and on.  It winds through the trees alongside a creek, in and out of the sun.  Once you head north again toward the lakes you'll spend a lot of time on the granite in the sun.

Notes:   Sunscreen and sunglasses are a must.  I suggest packing along a parka or hoodie in case of weather changes.  It tends to be more windy up top too.  Take plenty of water and snacks.  Hiking poles are a fantastic help!  To backpack, you'll need to contact a ranger station or go online to Desolation Wilderness website and get a permit there.  There are minimal fees.  Other regulations or restrictions can be found on that link also.  Fishing there is very popular; be sure to have your license with you.

WILDFLOWERS IN JUNE:  I am no expert but try to name them for the curious. 

Along with wildflowers come moths and butterflies like this beauty, a Field Crescent Butterfly, and this one was camera friendly!


Lily, the dog is playing in the water behind the Camas Lilies.

Crimson Columbine

Meadow Larkspur

Pink Indian Paintbrush

Monkey Flowers

Small Larkspur

Along the way the views behind you are startlingly clear and distant.
Lily found every pond and creek to play in!
We were looking up along the way to the uppermost lake, Island Lake.
We found the trail fairly easy to follow by looking for landmarks like these rock walls.
Other places were rocky but had a well groomed path leading into sections like this one of well placed rocks, obviously not built by nature, but unobtrusively leading the way.  Desolation Volunteer and his dog hiking to Island Lake.  Volunteers are out on the trails to help visitors, so feel free to approach them.
There were stunted trees along the mostly granite hike on Twin Lakes Trail that 
offered us some shady respites
from the glaring sun.  Wear sunglasses.

The trail over large areas of flat granite slabs were lined with large stones that made it clear enough to follow without doubt.
This is one of several inviting brilliant pools along the way.  They
stood out vividly from the grey acres of granite.
Not so inviting, but very helpful stones placed in the path so hikers
didn't have to slug through the muddy area.
Peachy Hiker (take by me) at Twin Lakes on the west side. My tripod was almost useless
due to the winds up there, but the weather was perfect for this hike.

Boomerang Lake
And finally we reached Island Lake!  The wind up there was pretty cold and swimming wasn't a big option.  It can be though and backpackers have plenty of room to camp at this lake and others along the way.
This was the south side of Island Lake, still snowy in September!
Another lake along the way.
The last part of your return hike will take you back through the woods and shade, and yes, the dreaded carnivorous biting black beasts some kindly call mosquitoes.  Repellent didn't seem to phase them!

Nearing the end of a long day, sunset makes the trailhead picturesque. The parking and restroom will be to your left after you stroll through the cabin area.
This map courtesy of Every Trail shows my GPS tracks and our speed.
GPS tracks of my hike can be found at
Every Trail:
Island Lake in Desolation Wilderness has elevation profile graph too!  But ignore the stated speed.  We were doing trail work along the way.
Island Lake in Desolation Wilderness at Wikiloc.

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Happy Trails!  Thanks for dropping by!

Updated links and facts, corrected spelling 06-2016

Updated Oct. 2013