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The Mother of All Beginner Trips

Imagine that your well-coiffed, country club mother calls and says, "I want to go backpacking." Would it be your worst nightmare or a family dream come true?

Desolation Wilderness Area, California

With its stunning alpine lakes, high peaks, open meadows, and California sunshine, Desolation Wilderness was the perfect destination for my mom’s first hiking adventure-or any backpacking trip, for that matter. The trails are in good shape, and the elevation gains aren’t brutal.

Location: To get to the Eagle Falls trailhead from Tahoe City, head south on CA 89 for about 20 miles. Parking is on the right.

Season: Mid-June to mid-October. We went midweek in June and didn’t see anyone. Mosquitoes can be a nuisance through mid-July, although they steered clear of us. August is the prime visitor month because the days are warm and the lakes are swimable; weekends are downright crowded. The bulk of the wilderness area is at about 8,000 feet, so be prepared for cool nights and unpredictable mountain weather, regardless of the month.

Permits: Backcountry permits are required, and quotas are in effect from June to August. You can make an advance reservation by phone (530-644-6048) for a $5 reservation fee, or you can show up at a ranger station and try to score one the day you start your trip. Either way, it will cost $5 per person for the first night and $10 per person for two or more nights. For more information, call Desolation Wilderness Area Information Center, (530) 644-6048.

Map: Desolation Wilderness, Tom Harrison Cartography, 2 Falmouth Cove, San Raphael, CA 94901; (415) 456-7940. $7.95.

-K. Hostetter

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