This article and video were produced in partnership with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, which reminds you to leave no trace when you Enjoy Outdoors.
A few hours east of Sacramento, the Desolation Wilderness sounds forbidding. While it’s not for the faint of lungs, it’s arguably the best zone in the Sierra Nevada mountains to get away from people and get into the kind of ice blue glacial lakes you see on postcards and beer cans.
Rockbound Pass is a seven-mile hike through wildflower-strewn low-alpine forest that quickly climbs into the granite-faced steeps for which the whole Lake Tahoe region is known. Just below the pass, Lake Doris offers as picturesque an objective as you could hope to find this close to a city of a half million people – most of whom are far more likely to be wandering Desolation’s more popular hikes to the east of Rockbound.
More importantly for those grappling with summer heat, it’s cold – like, “Wim Hof probably gets out after a few minutes” cold.
- Take Highway 50 east out of Sacramento about 80 miles to Wrights Lake Road. If you hit the town of Strawberry, you’ve gone too far.
- Follow Wrights Lake Road for eight miles, following signs to the Wrights Lake Campground.
- Entering the campground, stay left and look for signs to the Rockbound trailhead.
- The Desolation Wilderness requires a permit, even for day use, which you can fill out at a self-serve station in the trailhead parking lot. If you’re bringing a dog (you should definitely bring a dog), they can be off leash once you get away from the campground, so long as they’re under your “direct control.” They are not, however, allowed in the water. Sorry Fido, looks like you’ll have to just pant harder.
- Find the Rockbound trailhead at the northeast corner of the parking lot.
- The trail starts out gradual and rolling; enjoy it while it lasts.
- At the 1.5-mile mark is Beauty Lake. Ironically, this is probably the least beautiful lake on the hike.
- You’ll encounter several forks and go left at all of them, following signs to Rockbound Pass.
- Once you officially enter the Desolation Wilderness, the pitch increases and the trail begins to traverse large swaths of granite, on which it’s demarcated with rows of rock cairns.
- At the 4.9-mile mark is Maud Lake, which is a lot more beautiful than Beauty Lake but is not the lake you’re looking for. Not a bad place for a snack, though.
- From Maud Lake, you can see Rockbound Pass. If it looks rather high up there, that’s because you’re about to gain one thousand feet of vert. Get climbing.
- The next mile and a half feature several steep rock and stair sections. You can lose the trail in a few spots here if you’re not paying attention.
- You’ll know that you’ve reached Rockbound Pass when you see the stunning 360 degree views and are being blasted in the face with a stiff wind.
- You can see Lake Doris, which sits less than a half mile from the pass, down to the east.
- Once you reach Doris, put your Pale Ales into the water. They won’t need long to cool off, which is good because you won’t be in the water long.
- Get into your suit, take a deep breath, and dive.
- Come up for air and scream loudly.
- Dry off and enjoy a well-earned beer.
What to Bring
Rockbound Pass is a big day of hiking – it’s just under 14 miles, round trip, with 2,387 feet of elevation gain. It will bring you through some of the less traveled and most beautiful sections of the Desolation Wilderness, but plan for a full day on the trail.
- Plenty of food and water; there are numerous running streams from which you can filter or treat water, as well.
- Sunscreen and, if you think you’ll still be out near dusk, bug spray.
- Layers. Even in the dead of summer the top of Rockbound Pass will be breezy enough to cool you down a bit, and temperatures drop quickly in the evenings.
- A bathing suit – not jumping in Lake Doris is against the rules.
- A few cans of Pale Ale to toast the lake.
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