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Everything You Need to Know About Backpacking the Grass Lake Trail in Desolation Wilderness

This one-night backpacking trip is perfect for beginner backpackers and experienced ones alike! Easy incline, great views, and short mileage makes this trip easily accessible for those who are looking for a night under the stars.

Grass Lake Trail Key Information

Trailhead: Glen Alpine

Hike End: Glen Alpine

Hike Type: Out & Back

Length: 4.6 miles out & back

Time: 2.5 hours

Ascent:  847 ft

Difficulty: Beginner! This isn’t a walk in the park, but it’s a short hike with great payoff. A great first backpacking trip!

Grass Lake Permits

To backpack up to Grass Lake, you’ll need a wilderness permit for Desolation Wilderness. The zone you’ll want to reserve is 35-Grass. You can reserve these permits up to six months in advance at Recreation.gov.

Backpacking the Grass Lake Trail: Our experience!

We drove to the trailhead and arrived at about 4:30pm. The trailhead, Glen Alpine, is located just off the Southwest corner of Fallen Leaf Lake. The road around the lake was quite beat up, and while its possible to drive to the trailhead with any car, we were happy we had 4WD. There are quite a few bumps and potholes in the road, so expect the drive to take a little bit longer than you’d initially planned for.

The trailhead is beautiful! Right off the bat, there are great views. We arrived late and there were a few spots for us to choose from. If you’re planning on backpacking into Grass Lake in the morning, I’d suggest getting there on the early side so you don’t miss out on parking! If you do, there are plenty of places to pull over on the side of the road before the trailhead.

The hike is 2.3 miles one way. You start hiking and half the incline happens in the first 30 minutes of your hike. The beginning is a little steep, but the steep section is short. The ground is quite chossy to begin with, but after Glen Alpine Spring, it’ll even out a fair bit.

After the ascent past Glen Alpine Spring, you’ll be mostly out of the forest and on rocky terrain. There’s nothing too technical here. The whole trail has 3 river crossings. The first river crossing is small and there are logs to help you cross. The other two crossings are after the fork in the trail, where you go left. There’s first another small river crossing, then a larger one where you have to hop from rock to rock. I’m 5’2 and needed my poles to help me cross—the water was quite high and the rocks were juuuust far enough apart that it was helpful to have poles for balance.

Once you arrive at Grass Lake, you can choose where to set up camp! There aren’t too many open spots but we found a great flat spot near the water. We were absolutely spoiled and were the only group at the lake for the evening.

The sunset that evening was so beautiful and I’ll dream about it forever. After watching the sunset and eating our dinner, we put our bear canister faaaaaar away from us and went to bed.

Note: Bear canisters are required when camping in Desolation Wilderness.

The next morning, we had a leisurely breakfast and coffee by the water, took our time packing up, and then hiked exactly the way we came! It took us 1.5 hours to hike in and 1 hour to hike out.

On the way back, we broke up the drive by stopping at Apple Hill. We LOVED Delfino Farms. There’s an amazing bake shop to get rid of that hiker hunger, big open space for picnics, and a tasting room.

More California Adventures

Glacier Point to Panorama Point Trail — Yosemite National Park

Half Dome Day Hike — Yosemite National Park

Castle Crags 2 Day Itinerary — Castle Crags State Park

Castle Dome Trail — Castle Crags State Park

Heart Lake Hike — Shasta

Pinnacles 1 or 2 day Itinerary — Pinnacles National Park

Best Day Hike in Pinnacles National Park — Pinnacles National Park

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