Photograph by Victor Volta, Alamy
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Mountain peaks reflect off Upper Velma Lake in California's Desolation Wilderness.

Photograph by Victor Volta, Alamy

Hike the Alpine Forests of California's Desolation Wilderness

This region is easy to access and easier to enjoy.

Recommended by: Gregg Treinish, Conservationist

"The Desolation Wilderness in California is one of my favorite places," Treinish says. Considering that Treinish has been to six continents, that’s saying a lot. The wilderness area, just southwest of Lake Tahoe, is not big—about 100 square miles—but it packs in a lot: alpine forests, granite spires, empty meadows, and tiny, mirrorlike lakes. "It looks like a moonscape," Treinish says.

Though it’s one of the most popular wilderness areas in the country and is easy to access by road, there are still spots where there’s more wildlife than people. Another bonus: the variety of routes. There are opportunities for 150-mile thru-hikes down to two-mile jaunts. Even the 4.8-mile day hike to the top of Mount Tallac packs a mean payoff: a view over rocky peaks and the sprawling blue of Lake Tahoe.

Plan This Trip: Obtain a permit to backpack the wilderness through recreation.gov. The Eldorado National Forest and the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit have more information.

Gregg Treinish hiked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail and, over two years, some 7,800 miles of the Andes, but the accomplishment Treinish is most proud of is founding Adventurer Scientists, an organization that connects adventurous travelers with scientific organizations in need of data in remote locales. So far, more than a thousand travelers have volunteered to collect samples and observations, from grizzly scat on the Continental Divide Trail to high-altitude plants on Mount Everest.