|Hiking South out of the Lake Tahoe Basin
Southbound hikers on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail will be in the LTBMU for 41.32 miles from the trailhead at Meeks Bay until climbing out of the South Upper Truckee Headwaters to exit the Lake Tahoe Basin through the Carson Gap in the far Southern corner of the Tahoe Basin.
The Carson Gap marks the Southern extent of the Lake Tahoe drainage and the Southern limit of the authority of the LTBMU for Backpackers hiking South on the long trails.
11.5 miles Southwest of the Meeks Bay Trailhead the TYT joins the PCT and TRT routes in the far Northern end of Desolation Wilderness. The TYT, PCT, and TRT share the trail South across the length of Desolation Wilderness and more than half of the Meiss Country Roadless Area to where the TRT turns Northeast at Meiss Cabin and our still unified TYT and PCT proceed South to exit the Tahoe Basin through the Carson Gap.
Miles and Trails in the Tahoe Basin
Meeks Bay TYT to PCT-TRT trail junction: 11.5 miles.
TYT-PCT-TRT Junction to our Carson Gap exit from the Tahoe Basin: 29.82 miles.
Meeks Bay to Carson Gap
The TYT across the Tahoe Basin
Meeks Bay to Echo Summit
TYT Miles and Elevations
The unified PCT and TYT cross 29.82 miles of the Tahoe to Yosemite's route's 41.32 miles from Meeks Bay to the Carson Gap together through dense forests, over great granite passes, and around the deep blue lakes bounding the Western shore of Lake Tahoe in Desolation Wilderness and the Meiss Country Roadless Area.
Miles and Elevations
South from the Edge of the Lake Tahoe Basin
From the Carson Gap overlooking Highway 88 we can see Elephant Back and the Round Top-Sisters massif. Our PCT to Ebbetts Pass and our TYT to Lake Alpine pass East and West of these features, respectively.
Our unified PCT/TYT route divides into two very different trails with very different characters South of the Lake Tahoe Basin.
Miles and Elevations
South from the Lake Tahoe Basin
Highway 88 to Highway 4
Highway 88 to Highway 4
Trail Guide Index
South from the Lake Tahoe Basin
This guide continues South covering both the PCT and TYT routes South to where they rejoin just inside the Northern boundary of Yosemite National Park for most of their remaining hike South to Tuolumne Meadows across the North Yosemite Backcountry.
The only variation between the Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trails across North Yosemite is where the TYT takes a different route over Bailey Ridge than the PCT. The TYT crosses via Tilden Lake up higher on the ridgeline than the PCT's lower route around Wilmer Lake.
The Permit Situation on the Ground
The Standard System
Potential Tahoe to Yosemite Trail hikers and anyone else interested in backpacking Desolation Wilderness must deal with the fact that Desolation Wilderness is often the busiest Wilderness Area in the United States.
This has induced Desolation Wilderness to institute a web-based permit registration system that is basically the same one used by Yosemite and Hoover Wilderness. These permit systems are administered through the Recreation.Gov and SierraWild sites.
This means that anyone hiking out of Desolation Wilderness must make sure to seriously consider having reservations for their backpacking dates, and certainly checking with the LTBMU about the permit situation at their desired trailhead for their Tahoe to Yosemite or Mount Whitney backpacking trip as long in advance of their potential start date as possible.
That would be six months in advance, which is the advance time one may make reservations for desired backpacking dates through the reservation system.
Fifty percent of the permits allotted for Desolation Wilderness zones and trailheads are made available for reservations six months in advance, while the other fifty percent of permits for a given date are available at the permit stations on the date of departure.
It is wise to assume that mid-Summer weekends and holiday dates are highly sought-after through both the reservation system and at the trailheads.
Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
I have always gotten the LTBMU to send me a detailed custom permit for my
Tahoe to Yosemite Trail backpacking trips.
They don't like to send out permits anymore, and generally will not do it.
I am generally hitch-hiking to Meeks Bay from the San Francisco Bay Area to start a very long trip requiring a detailed, complex permit that is really hard to get correct through the reservation system.
So I call the main office in South Lake Tahoe, and they've always cut me a break and sent me the TYT wilderness and fire permits covering the complex routes I hike along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail and on down to the Whitney Portal, through the mail as far in advance as possible.
A big cause of my concern is the confusion of the reservation system with permits that extend far outside
of their normal area of concern.
My other reason is that it is really hard for me to get to one of their permit stations to pick up a pre-arranged permit while taking public transportation and hitch-hiking to the trailhead. It is even more difficult for me to expect to get a permit the day I am leaving at the Meeks Bay Permit Station. That may not happen, due to excess hiker traffic exceeding zone and trailhead quotas.
So I call them up and sweet talk them into sending me my custom, complex Tahoe to Yosemite or Tahoe to Whitney permit through the mail.
Hitch-hiking there, and arriving late in the day expecting to get a permit may well put me over the daily "quota" out of that trailhead into this hiking zone.
Make Sure about your Permit Six Months in Advance
We've put in too much time, effort, and planning for our Tahoe to Yosemite backpacking trip (if we are not hiking the whole Tahoe to Whitney) not to have our permit "in-hand" when arriving at the Meeks Bay Trailhead, whatever it takes.
I only obtain custom permits from the Ranger Station for long backpacking trips leaving the Tahoe Basin. We must use the standard reservation system if our trips through the Meeks Bay Trailhead remain within the Tahoe Basin.
Our Tahoe to Whitney permit needs to specifically cite around fifty campsites in every national forest, park, and wilderness between Tahoe and Whitney. One of the front office folks usually fills me out a custom permit over the phone or I send them my itinerary.
I generally get a permit
that has a second page attached to the standard permit listing all my campsites and dates, and they send it to me long before my departure date.
This saves a tremendous amount of hassle with the online permit system, and at the trailhead.
The LTBMU charges various fees for Desolation Wilderness permits. Check the permits information pages for specifics. The LTBMU DOES NOT charge fees for long distance backpacking starting out of Desolation Wilderness.
The LTBMU waives their permit fees for trips starting in Desolation Wilderness that cross more than one National Forest. If we are only staying in Desolation Wilderness or remaining within the boundaries of the LTBMU we pay a fee. If we are hiking South into the El Dorado and points further South, out of the LTBMU, permits are free. Yeah!
Many Desolation Wilderness Trailheads
We can see on the Desolation Wilderness Map (click the black dots for detailed maps-the red dots for trail guide info) that there are many trailheads leading to the Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trails from Highway 89 running North and South along the Western Shore of Lake Tahoe.
We can start our Tahoe to Yosemite or Tahoe to Whitney hike out of the trailhead of our choice, our favorite local trailhead, or the classic start point of the TYT out of Meeks Bay.
Just take note of the fact that all of these Desolation Wilderness Trailheads are busy during Summertime, that all have limited access due to permit restrictions triggered by quotas, and that all access to Desolation Wilderness requires some degree of forethought to assure acquiring a permit for our preferred departure date.
It is wise to reserve our permit as far in advance as practically possible for any local or long distance backpacking trip starting anywhere in the Desolation Wilderness, and especially if we are starting our long distance Tahoe to Yosemite Trail backpacking trip out of Meeks Bay during mid-Summer.
This forethought also applies to backpackers who's short backpacking trips will remain in the Desolation Wilderness. My main concern as a long distance backpacker is to establish a firm start date by obtaining my permit so I can properly time the sending of my resupply packages with my start date.
The ability to obtain reservations-permits from Desolation Wilderness will factor into, and ultimately be the final factor determining our start date.
Our permit is the final product of working out or food needs, our itinerary, and our resupply plan. Once we decide to begin our hike to Tuolumne Meadows or Mount Whitney through Desolation Wilderness we should call the LTBMU and inquire about long distance permits out of Meeks Bay.
Long and short distance backpackers both need to take the popularity and resulting permit restrictions and quotas at Desolation Wilderness into consideration when planning the TYT out of Desolation, especially if you are hiking short backpacking trips remaining within Desolation.
If we do not hit up the LTBMU far in advance we may not get permits for our desired departure date. If we don't, or don't want to deal with the hassle of obtaining Desolation Wilderness we will have no problem at all getting permits for our Tahoe to Yosemite Trail backpacking trip beginning out of Meiss Country Roadless Area Trailheads.
Continuing South of Desolation Wilderness
Meiss Country Roadless Area
2 miles South of Lower Echo Lake along the combined TYT and PCT we pass through the Echo Summit trailhead on Highway 50 into the Meiss Country Roadless Area.
The Echo Summit Trailhead on Highway 50 is an excellent potential Northern portal into the Meiss Country Roadless Area (map) for short backpacking trips out to Showers Lake, as well as good start point for Tahoe to Whitney hikers who want to avoid the crowds and permitting hassles at Desolation Wilderness, or those who cannot get a permit to hike through Desolation Wilderness.
We can move our starting trailhead 30 trail miles South of Meeks Bay to begin our trip out of the Echo Summit Trailhead.
Hiking South through the Echo Summit Trailhead marks the beginning of our final 12 miles of trail in the Lake Tahoe Basin. It's actually 10.65 miles to the pond marking our exit point through the Carson Gap, to be exact, with the remaining 1.39 miles covering our hike down to Carson Pass along the PCT, if we did not take one of the two TYT shortcut routes to Woods Lake.
Fire and Permits
Meiss Country Roadless Area
The Meiss Country Roadless Ares does NOT require backpacking permits, but it does require fire permits, even for camp stoves. As of the date of this writing during the Summer of 2013 fires are banned in the Tahoe Basin and along the whole length of the John Muir Trail. I expect these bans to spread and become a permanent fixture in all National Forests and Parks along the Sierra Crest and flanks as Spring turns into Summer.
Fire conditions are historically crazy levels in the deep dry forests around the West shore of Lake Tahoe, as well as along the whole Western flank of the Sierra. The Forest Service's "fire permits for all" program was designed to do all they could to keep backpackers aware of the fact of crazy high fire danger conditions.
That was before this new, much drier seasonal weather pattern fully emerged. Over the past few years the forests and parks up and down the Sierra Nevada have moved towards completely prohibiting fires.
Though I don't make fires, I think it would be unfair to impose a blanket fire ban across the High Sierra. Most folks see the campfire as an icon of backpacking, and would be disappointed without one. I think that's crap, but that's just my opinion. I prefer darkness. Darkness allows full observation, while fires do no more than blind you, and draw outside attention to the fire.
Fires create a bubble of light that we cannot see outside of.
My attention is tuned to the sky, the terrain, and all the things running and flying around them.
I sit quietly and watch...
Fire bans should only begin when Spring's wetness departs.
People are freaking out and making laws to make up for over-development,
rather than stopping the irresponsible growth and over-development that created this tinderbox in the first place.
People think they make a few laws, then continue on with "business as usual." That is not going to work.
All the forests we have dried out are going to burn, and that's all there is to this issue. None of the ill-intentioned and stupid things we do to each other and the Earth do not just go away.
These actions collect up in ecosystems as they do in cultures, until they can take no more, and either we stop our stupidity, or our ecosystems and cultures will radically change or break.
The Long View
IF we are starting a long backpacking trip South from the Echo Summit or South Upper Truckee Trailheads in the Meiss Country Roadless Area we must draw a permit from the LTBMU, even though the LTBMU does not require permits for entering or camping in Meiss Country.
We will need a permit for the forests and parks we subsequently hike through to our South
after departing the Meiss Country Roadless Area.
The National Forests and Wilderness area we hike through South of the Lake Tahoe Basin will require a permit from the Forest administering our starting trailhead. That would be the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, if we start out of Echo Summit or the South Upper Truckee Trailheads.
LTBMU Staff is Real Helpful
Once we explain our circumstances and situation to the folks in the LTBMU office, either being why we need a permit for Meiss Country when that area does not require one, or why they should send us our custom Tahoe to Yosemite to Whitney permit starting out of Meeks Bay, they will generally expedite our custom backpacking permit specifying a start point beginning in the LTBMU and ending at our specified destination far to the South in the High Sierra.
I have uniformly talked to really really nice folks manning the phones in the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit's various offices. Nice folks who want to help you get your permit.
Remember, we catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
Remember, folks judge all backpackers by the behavior of each.