Backpack Desolation's Primitive Western Edge through Rockbound Pass

Lake Tahoe Rockbound Trailhead, Wrights Lake

  • Activities:

    Camping, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    26 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    1700 Feet


Hike some of the most primitive trails in Desolation Wilderness on this 2-3 day backpacking trip.

This 26 mile loop meanders through some of the most primitive trails in Desolation Wilderness. Starting from Wrights Lake, the route proceeds over Rockbound Pass, loops around several lakes, and returns to Wrights Lake. Not many hikers venture past the steep and rocky Rockbound Pass to enter this part of the wilderness which makes for a truly desolate experience. Along with passing tens of named and unnamed lakes, this route also offers the opportunity to summit Red Peak, a rocky extension of the Crystal Range. This loop can be done in two to three days depending on your time frame.

This hike is not for those without map and compass skills. The trail from Horseshoe Lake to Camper Flat is nearly nonexistent, with the exception of small cairns often a few hundred yards apart. We had a tough time locating the cairns, but as long as you have a map and can determine location through topography you should be fine!

Head to the Wrights Lake entrance, which is about 8 miles up Wrights Lake Road from Highway 50. At the trailhead follow the signposts to Rockbound Pass, which is about 6.5 miles away. The signposts are all clearly marked until Rockbound Pass. On the way up, you'll pass Maud Lake, which could be a great spot for camping about 4 miles in. After Modd Lake, 2 miles of steep switchbacks take you up to the pass.

After cresting the pass, you'll see views of Dicks and Jacks Peak, as well as Jacks Meadow. Right below the pass is Doris Lake, which is where we camped in our short 30 hour adventure. Less than two miles past Doris Lake is Lake Lois, which also has nice camping spots (although close to the trail), small but sandy beaches, and a historic dam. A bit more downhill brings you to Lake Schmidell, a large and iconic lake with lots of space for camping. From here, take the left fork to Leland Lakes. This leads you up a steep pass for .75 miles.

At this pass, you'll have the option to summit Red Peak. This peak is rather unattainable as a day hike since its difficult to access, so if you're up for a scramble give it a shot! A faint trail exists for the first five minutes and then a decently exposed rock scramble is required. Depending on your speed, summit should only take 20 to 40 minutes from this point as its only 700 feet. The views from Red Peak are epic, since you can see the full extension of the Crystal Range starting from Pyramid all the way down to the northern unnamed peaks.

After Red Peak and the pass, you'll meander through meadows and dried up stream beds for about 3 miles, passing by Leland and McConnell Lakes, until another signpost at Horseshoe Lake. At Horseshoe Lake, there is a signpost marking a trail that leads to Lake Zitella (if you're up for another excursion), although this isn't on the map.

Shortly after Horseshoe Lake, the trail disappears onto a large granite slab marked with cairns. At the bottom of this slab is a drainage area, where the trail cuts back south instead of continuing on north east. Pay attention to the map and topographic features here, because although cairns exist, they are small and seldom! After 2 miles or so, you'll arrive at 4-Q's Lakes, an iconic destination with lots of options for camping. From here, take the trail or bushwhack another mile until Camper Flat, where the trail picks up again.

At the Mineral Spring near Camper Flat, be sure to take the south west trail (Blakely Trail) back towards Lake Schmidell (Not the trail towards China Flat). Follow the well-marked Blakely Trail for 2.5 miles back to Lake Schmidell. From here, you can decide whether to camp at Lake Schmidell, Lake Lois, or Lake Doris based on available energy and time. Lastly, follow the same path through Rockbound Pass back out!

Pack List

  • Tent
  • Overnight wilderness permit (can be attained online or at Forest Service Stations)
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Camera
  • Food
  • Bear bags/boxes
  • Warm clothes for cold Sierra nights
  • Map
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Overall rating: 

Leave a Review

We did the Rockbound Pass Loops over the Labor Day weekend. It is exactly as described by Kira's review. It was truly a desolate experience on a super hot weekend, especially out in the open rockbound areas. Pay very close attention to this part of the trail, "Shortly after Horseshoe Lake, the trail disappears onto a large granite slab marked with cairns. At the bottom of this slab is a drainage area, where the trail cuts back south instead of continuing on north east. Pay attention to the map and topographic features here, because although cairns exist, they are small and seldom!" This was where we got lost for nearly 2 hours trying to locate the cairns. 4-Q's Lakes was heavenly, unlike anywhere else out there. Imagine being surrounded by water all around you. It's definitely one of the highlights of the trail. I definitely want to come back and explore other areas of Desolation Wilderness.

13 days ago
13 days ago

A great moderate level trip with very few people. We only saw people hiking up the day we were leaving (though going midweek might have had something to do with that). Crystal clear water up past Maud lake. Definitely recommend the views up Red Rock and a compass. A lot of the areas we explored over the three days required reliance on compass direction back to our packs. Not a whole lot of wildlife except birds, hawks, and chipmunks. Rained one night and froze the other so be prepared for some funky storm systems over the pass (weather the night before we left predicted sunny skies the whole time). Trip taken late Sept. 2016

12 months ago
12 months ago

The loop from Camper Flat around 4-Q Lakes, past Horseshoe, McConnell, Leland, and Schmidell Lakes is one of my favorite parts of Desolation Wilderness. Out here you can usually find true solitude compared to Desolation's busy Western Slope. I highly recommend it later in the season and prepare to be alone.

about 1 year ago
about 1 year ago

A good friend and I did this trip over the summer, it was one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had. Throughout the 3 and a half day trip we saw maybe 3 other hikers. The nights were dead silent and the stars were absolutely stunning. If you wake up before sunrise you can also catch the sun as it begins to hit the rock faces which makes for a truly amazing sight. The climbs can be pretty difficult but they are definitely worth the panoramic views you're rewarded with at the top. Overall, great trip!

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

Are we missing something? Suggest an edit

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