Backpacking: Stony Ridge Lake, Desolation Wilderness

If there is one place I can never get enough of in the Lake Tahoe area, it is Desolation Wilderness. The 63,000 acre area with endless trail systems and lakes has a solid permit system that keeps it from being overcrowded. Although this sometimes works to your disadvantage if you can’t secure a permit, it is worth the solitude. Every time I go, it is a different experience with memories to cherish for a lifetime. This past weekend with Brian and our fur babies was no different.

I’ve written several blog posts about my time in Desolation Wilderness. Other adventures include:

This weekend we opted to backpack to Stony Ridge Lake, a zone and trail that I have never explored. We entered from the Meeks Bay trailhead, which is on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe. If you are coming from Tahoe City, the trailhead is just past the Meeks Bay Resort on the right side. There is a small parking lot with room for maybe 8 cars, but plenty of parking on the road. We parked on the road and didn’t have any problems. In the parking lot, you’ll see the trailhead, map, and permit kiosk for day hikers.

From the trailhead, you’ll hike 1.2 miles on a flat dirt service road until it splits. Here, you’ll want to take the single track trail up and to the right. There is a sign for the trail here and it’s pretty hard to miss.


This is where the trail splits and begins the climb into Desolation Wilderness.

The next mile or so is a moderate uphill on mostly dirt, with some rocky sections. After about a mile, you’ll reach Meeks Creek and the trail will start to level out. This section was probably my favorite of the whole hike. It is lush and still full of wildflowers for this late in the season.


So many beautiful wildflowers on the trail in late August.


Another stunning part of the trail, full of old growth.

Continuing on the trail, you’ll come to creek crossing after a little bit. There are logs that you can balance across or do what I did, and just walk across the very shallow creek. I also wanted to check out the water resistance on my newish Solomon Quest 4d 2 Gtx W Backpacking Boots. (That has to be the longest boot model name evveeer.) I was happy to say that I still had dry feet on the other side of the creek!


Creek crossing on the trail, or you could just walk across the very shallow creek.


Taking a break on the trail to Lake Genevieve.

After this, the trail begins another moderate ascent until you reach the first of the lakes on this trail, Lake Genevieve. This is a pretty little gem of a lake that we stopped at for a minute to let the dogs swim. We saw one other couple camped on this lake.


Lake Genevieve, Desolation Wilderness.

We continued on and passed the next lake shortly after, Crag Lake. This is a bigger, beautiful lake with several islands and it looks like it would be great for swimming. We saw several good campsites and only one other group was there.


Crag Lake, Desolation Wilderness.

After Crag Lake, the trail starts going up again over some rocky terrain and another creek to make the final 1.5 mile push to Stony Ridge Lake. At one point, there is a junction in the trail to the right and down a steep hill where you can see Hidden Lake from above. We opted to stay on our trail to Stony Ridge and did not make the side trip.


Final ascent to Stony Ridge Lake. It’s definitely stony!

We made it to Stony Ridge in a little over 3 hours and according to my Apple watch‘s GPS, exactly 6 miles. In that 6 miles, you’ve climbed 1,500+ feet of elevation, which makes the arrival at your final destination that much sweeter.

As soon as we got to the lake, we took a hard left across the dam to the other side, away from the trail. There is a bit of an awkward boulder in the middle of the dam crossing, so I opted to go downstream a couple hundred feet and find a nice little rock crossing instead.


Dam crossing coming back to the main trail from our campsite.

We continued on for less than an eighth of a mile and found an amazing little spot that was perched above the lake, but still had good water access and was flat dirt. There were also some great trees for our hammocks since we planned on spending the night in those. We brought a small tent, but that was really just to keep the dogs from wondering off at night. Although, I don’t think it did any good… Sometime in the middle of the night my little Jack Russell, Roxanne, jumped up in my hammock with me and cuddled in the space behind my knees until I woke up in the morning and realized she was there. I still have no idea how she got out of the tent and into my hammock. She is a little Houdini!


Our campsite at Stony Ridge Lake and little Houdini herself (front).

Our time spent at the lake consisted of floating in tubes, playing Yahtzee, making some amazing sloppy joes for dinner (recipe here), watching the Milky Way light up the sky, and sipping on boxed wine. To top it off, we had the whole lake to ourselves and didn’t see any other campers the entire time we were there.


Wez was not impressed with our Yahtzee game.


Stony Ridge Lake at sunrise.

We only had time for a one-night trip and had to pack up the next morning and head back to reality. It is always bittersweet coming back from a weekend in wilderness, but dang, did that shower and cold beer feel good when we got home!

Of all the places (and the list is small compared to the possibilities!) that I have explored in Desolation Wilderness, the Meeks Bay trailhead has to be one of my favorites. The climb is moderate, the trail is in good condition (and dog friendly), and the scenery is stunning. I am definitely looking forward to going back. What is your favorite place in Desolation? Leave a comment below!

17 Comments on “Backpacking: Stony Ridge Lake, Desolation Wilderness

  1. Pingback: 2018: A Time for Reflecting and Goal-Setting | Forever Adventuring

  2. Hey, Emily! I have a dumb question… When you get to the Meeks Bay trailhead, there is a path that leads up past the house on the right and there is a road next to the info board that has an arm across it that says “trail.” I’m assuming the trail is on the road with the arm that says trail. But there aren’t any other markers or signs so it really isn’t as clear as it seems. Will you please ease my mind and verify the right way to go?


    • Hi Chello! So sorry it has taken this long to get back to you. I recently got married and went on a honeymoon, so this little blog took a back burner. Have you done the trail yet? You are absolutely correct that you follow the road with the gate that says trail. After a while (like at least a mile), the trail will turn into a single track that goes up to the right. This is very clearly marked at that point and impossible to miss. Let me know how it goes!


    • Hi Lorrie, I’d recommend the Gaia GPS app. You can follow the trail along the way and it will still work even if you don’t have cell reception. Hope this helps!


  3. Hi Emily! Thank you for such a detailed description of the trail. I planned a trip following in your footsteps this weekend! 🙂
    It looks like I might have to get a late start in the morning. How late would you say I can start and still get to Stony Ridge Lake at a decent hour? I’m a slow backpacker btw. 🙂


    • Hi Regina! That is awesome you’re going to Stony Ridge. It is a beautiful lake! Given that it’s about 6 miles to the lake, if you were to hike at least one mile per hour (and that should give you plenty of time for stops), you should be fine as long as you leave before noon. Enjoy and have so much fun! 🙂


      • Thanks so much for getting back to me so quickly! We managed to get the last minute gear we needed and we’ll get started at 11:30.
        I love your blog!


  4. One last question… our dog overheats kind of easily (he’s pretty furry). Are there any long sections of the trail with no shade?


    • There are definitely a couple and it is supposed to be in the mid-80’s this weekend. They aren’t long though and our 12 year-old lab, 5 year-old Aussie mix, and 10 year-old Jack Russell all did really good. If he hikes regularly, he should be okay as long as you have plenty of water for him. I love backpacking with our fur kids!


  5. He was just fine! He got in the creek to cool off. We had the most wonderful time! I can’t wait to try some of the other trip ideas from your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s awesome! I am so glad you had a great time. Off the grid is my FAVORITE place. Let me know where else your feet end up taking you!


  6. Hey Emily! Used your Stoney Ridge Guide as a launch pad for a multi-family through-hike from Meeks to Bayview. Thanks for all the detail which really helped set expectations. I’ll keep an eye on your blog for future adventures; I hope all goes well for you and Brian in So Cal. We will miss him at school immensely!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s awesome, Courtney! I am so glad that you and your families had a great time. I’m working through some herniated disc issues, but can’t wait to get back on the trails. I will definitely blog about our adventures as soon as we are back out there. Thanks so much for the kind words. I know Brian misses all of you, too! Take care and happy trails!


  7. Hi Emily! Are there designated camp sites at Stony Ridge? I imagine the dam shows up right off of the trailhead, and it looks like you crossed directly over to the left. But if you stay on the trail, are there designated/existing campsites?
    I’m going to be meeting up with my backpacking partner for my second night at the Lake, and I was looking for a destination marker for us to find each other.


    • Hi Taylor! We actually didn’t explore the right side of the lake but I’d imagine there are some sites there. The main trail goes that way, which is why we decided to go left at the dam and get off the main trail. Either way, we had the whole lake to ourselves that night and it was magical. Enjoy and happy trails!


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