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.

September 26, 2012

Finding Umpa Lake in Desolation Wilderness

A Cross Country Day Hike

A young boy thought this small lake, off the beaten track, should be named "Grampa" but he couldn't pronounce that yet, and actually said, "Umpa", which the park adopted.

Twin Lakes taken in Sept. 2012

Distance: 8.44 miles hiked; tracks are for 6.8 (per Garmin BaseCamp) miles.
Elevation changes: 3135 feet actual climbing and descending. 
Elevation ranges between 6636 to 8134.
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.
Advisories:  There is a vault toilet at the parking, but not water.  Campfires are not allowed.  Even to use your JetBoil or other cooking device you need your fire permit.  Bring snacks, water, an extra layer for warmth, and me?  I wouldn't do it without a camera.  That's just me!  Swimming at the lakes is also an option.  Wind is not uncommon.

Because it was so beautiful, I have posted more photos than usual.  

The trip delivered skies with clouds roaming freely from horizon to ranges above, winds playfully unrestrained and cool, then a sunset and sunrise equally rewarding.  Fall colors splashed all around, even in rocky crevices.  It was a photographers play land!

Umpa Lake from the west side looking east to the notch in the saddle leading to Twin Lakes.  Taken in Sept. 2012

     To find the trail, start at the Twin Lakes Trailhead parking lot.  On the northwest, there is a closed forestry gate.  Follow the road a short distance to the trail.  There is a sign pointing the way to the trailhead near Wrights Lake.  When you get to the bridge there is a large forestry sign at which it only takes a minute to fill out the required day use permit (no fees but donations accepted).  Follow the trail to the right, not over the bridge. 
     At the first junction, there is a wooden sign giving directions; take the trail heading eastward, to the right, on a fairly steep uphill section of clearly marked trail.  (My trek was counter clockwise, but either way works, and a map is posted at the bottom of this article, as well as a link for GPS Tracks.)

 You will pass a sign clearly marking the entry into Desolation Wilderness.

The next junction has a easily visible post pointing left to Twin Lakes and right to Grouse Lake.  Follow it left across the open granite where you will head gradually upward.

There are some creek crossings, although at this time of year (September) most are dry or close to it.

There are also unnamed ponds, swimming holes, and a lake. 

As you climb you are treated to some sweeping views of the valley; have your camera ready.
Hikers are also treated to colorful views of the peaks ahead. 
In the spring and summertime the colors are from wildflowers.

If you feel you have lost sight of the trail on the granite, do a visual sweep and most likely you will see the obvious trail marked by rows of rocks, or stacks of large rocks, resume. 

Volunteering  at Twin Lakes western shore.
The trickiest place for me was at Twin Lakes where I read that you cross the saddle on the left (WNW of the lake) going up. From here it is a cross country hike. I had a hard time finding the "trail" since it is just a use trail and is not maintained or marked. It is narrow at first then disappears. To assist your search, I hope my photos help. This lone tree was right on my way up and a hard to miss landmark.
This photo was taken as I reached the top of the saddle.  The tracks I had downloaded led down through the dirt and grasses.  My personal preference is to hike on the granite, so I went down on the right side of the creek bed using the rocks.

Umpa Lake was smaller than I expected, barely a pond! With all the granite

surrounding it, it is a small oasis.

When you get to the top of the saddle, head downward going northwest.  You will see Umpa in the distance below.  It is small, marshy, surrounded by a few trees.  A scenic distant view will open up on the west to as far away as the eye can see!

Looking back up toward Umpa.

I made the loop by hiking cross country downhill to the west, looking for a place to camp in less wind! As the day grew shorter, the wind got a little blustery with me! The pressure was on!  I spotted sparse trees on the southwest but the wind was still more than I wanted to battle overnight and there wasn't a water supply.

I didn't have an exact destination and I ended up camping near Enchanted Pools largest pool. I got there at sunset and quickly set up camp.
I had somehow not packed my headlamp so I didn't want to be searching for things in the dark.  I got water purified, my tent set up, and was eating my dehydrated teryiaki chicken and rice (two servings!).  The moon was bright and dimmed the stars, but created postcard perfect reflections on the pool. 

  Please respect the no fire orders for this reason.  One tiny mistake could forever change the wilderness.
I hiked out going downstream, from one enchanted pool to another pool, each brighter and more beautiful than the one before!

Once I reached the point where the trail leads back up onto the granite and away from the creek, I headed southwest across the granite. 

To the east you won't miss these tall dark cliffs.
You will head back into these woods, already brightly dressed for autumn,
and will meet up with the familiar Twin Lakes/Grouse Lake trail.  From there it is westward to return to the trailhead through the woods.  Fall colors are settling in already, and although the cold temperatures haven't hit, it won't be long.  Take a rain parka at least; I recommend something for a warmer layer.  When you get up higher, the winds sometimes get colder and have nothing to restrain them!

Overnight permits
GPS Tracks

More trails to discover:

Desolation Wilderness
10+ miles
30 miles
Moderate to Strenuous/Difficult
18 miles
12+ miles
Moderate to Strenuous
13+ miles
Moderate to Strenuous
Umpa Lake & Enchanted Pools
8+ miles
Cross country ~ Moderate
Horsetail Falls via Pyramid Creek TH
Aprox.  10 miles to lakes at the top of the falls
"Difficult, and potentially dangerous" miles
10 miles
8 miles
Lyons Lake via Lyons Creek Trail
10+ miles
9.2 miles
6+ miles
Lyons Creek Trail with melting snow
9+ miles
3.8 miles
2010-09 We hiked 12 days.
167 total
Moderate to Strenuous

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 Happy Trails!