Eldorado National Forest, Crystal Basin, Desolation Wilderness, Loon Lake

Right after the 4th of July weekend I took a last minute camping/hiking trip to The Eldorado National Forest Area. When I say last minute, I mean, woke up that day and decided to go…and was on the road in 30 minutes. So this was a half assed camping trip I suppose.

Not knowing the area, and not being able to make reservations ahead of time on http://www.recreation.gov/ I decided to stay at the Placerville KOA for piece of mind since it was so close to the holiday and I thought campgrounds might be full. Also, I didn’t have time to buy food and pack it, so being near a town was awesome, hike all day, and have someone else make my food for me!  Placerville is about 40 minutes from the Eldorado National Forest/Crystal Basin Recreation Area. Really beautiful drive getting there, and even more beautiful once you are in the park.


Loon Lake Eldorado National Forest Crystal Basin /Desolation Wilderness

The Crystal Basin Recreataion Area is accessed from Ice House Road, after you are on this road for a few miles or so, you come across a Rest Stop/ Ranger station.  On our first day, a super nice Ranger here gave me a couple maps and recommended a hike to Bassi Falls, a bit of a longer hike that the usual trek there, that involved looking at road markers and such to know where to turn off.  I’m sorry I lost this map with this info, but there are many ways to get to Bassi Falls, which were still flowing nice in July.  The Ranger said, Mother Nature was taking her time with the thaw. I took three ways to get here, and on my 2nd day, this is where I had my water catastrophe!


On our first day we started the trail to Bassi Falls near a primitive camp area, and the trail was fairly easy about half sunny half shady, sometimes sandy, sometimes rocky.  It was a tad hot so Chico ended up with his Ruffwear Swamp Cooler which worked great to cool him off! I wish I had purchased this sooner. This was almost 4 miles round trip.


Beautiful streams with gigantic boulders for parts of the hike.




Chico would not go in the water here, the next day I found out why…


Liked this spot so much we returned the next day after doing some hiking in the Desolation Wilderness…This time taking a path that required following rocks stacked in three…While fun, a bit confusing when several people are stacking rocks for their own personal path lol.

We were low on water so I went down to the waterhole from the waterfall, and was bending over to fill Chico’s water bottle, when I thought it would just be easier to sit down….the granite rock was angled more than I realized, and it was super slippery from wear, that combined with the material on my pants, and I slow motion slid into the water. I could not grab onto anything to stop myself lol. I thought I’ll just get out after the sliding was done, but it was such an awkward angle…I realized, “Oh, this is why my dog who loves water would not go in here…he knew he couldn’t get out.”

To make things worse,  I was a noob and had my backpack on, as well as my boots. Usually if one is going to hang out by water, they take their backpack off.   Chico did come down and try to help me out, but he fell in and couldn’t get out, so I used his harness to pull him out.  Just as I was taking my boots and backpack off, a guy came down and helped me, and he slid and almost fell in as well!  My phone was in my backpack, in the hip pocket, and though it was ruined, I was able to get these photos, yay!  Now I always carry an emergency wet phone bag, even though my current phone is water resistent.


The Desolation Wilderness Hike earlier that day was superb!  I saw Loon Lake on our trusty map, and just decided to go look for some hiking there. To get to it we drove about a 1/2 hour past The Ice House Area, on 3 the same road that you pretty much take through the main area of the park. Such a beautiful drive, as well as educational as we drove all over the area, and I got to see many different kinds of campgrounds.


This part of the Desolation Wilderness is accessed at the end of the main Loon Lake  Campground in a parking lot, and you pay I think $6 for Day use parking. We took The Rubicon Hiking Trail as it runs along side the lake, you can also catch Loon Lake Trail here, but that leads away from thre lake at this point. There are permits at the trailhead as well as a more detailed map that I took a photo of, though the trail was pretty straight forward. You have to have a permit to hike or camp in The Desolation Wilderness. I had been to the Desolation Wilderness from the Tahoe side, it was nice to see it from this side too.



About 3/4 to a mile in, we saw a side trail heading to a small beach.







Chico ran around on this beach for about 10 minutes, and then I decided to move on.  As you hike down The Rubicon Hiking Trail, there are several other paths down to Loon Lake. And jaw dropping scenary.  This trail is fairly easy with really gentle elevation, but can be rough in spots with uneven rocks and tree roots.


This was a great trip despite the water mishap and ruining my phone.  I can’t wait to go back and actually camp in The Elderado National Forest, it might have to wait til next Spring or Summer though, as I am not a winter camper 🙂

This was also the last trip that we used our Budget Coleman Tent.  It is a great tent, and held up just fine under many conditions, but the no windows thing drove me crazy,.  I was soak and wet when I got back to camp on our 2nd day, and we had to sit in our tent while my clothes dried, cuz last minute also meant I didn’t bring too much clothing wise. It was hot out too. Our new tent has the option to pull the fly back a little or a lot, and still have a screen for a bit of privacy and to keep the bugs out.  We finally got our dream tent, the Nemo Galaxi 2p.

Helpful Links for this Area:





One thought on “Eldorado National Forest, Crystal Basin, Desolation Wilderness, Loon Lake

  1. Those boulders in the stream look fantastic. And it looks like dogs are allowed down in the water, which is terrific (so many bodies of water in CA don’t allow dogs)

    Liked by 1 person

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