Eldorado National Forest
Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region
887,721 acres (686,667 federal/ 201,054 other)
Located in California’s Sierra Nevada, Eldorado National Forest has ghost towns dating back to the 1849 gold rush. El Dorado is Spanish for “the golden one,” which often referred to the fabled Lost City of Gold sought by the Conquistadors. The single-word spelling Eldorado may have been a clerical error dating back to the creation of the National Forest in 1910. Elevations range from 1,000 feet in the foothills to more than 10,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada. In addition to 297 lakes and reservoirs, it contains 611 miles of fishable streams in the drainages of the North Fork of the Mokelumne River, Cosumnes River, and the Middle and South Forks of the American River. There are 349 miles of trails in Eldorado National Forest, including a portion of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail that follows mountain ridges on the west side of Lake Tahoe.
Carson Pass Scenic Highway, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, Tallac Historic Site, Caldor Auto Tour, Silver Lake, Crystal Basin Recreation Area, Loon Lake, Ice House Reservoir, Traverse Creek, Horsetail Falls, Fourth of July Lake, Cascade Falls Loop Trail, Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail
The Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit is composed of 150,000 acres of Eldorado, Tahoe, and Toiyabe National Forests surrounding Lake Tahoe. It was established in 1973 to preserve and restore the ecosystem of one of the nation’s most popular playgrounds. Averaging 1,000 feet in depth, Lake Tahoe is famous for its water clarity and, although it has no outlet to the ocean, it is dammed on the Truckee River to control water levels. After the 1858 discovery of the Comstock Lode in nearby Virginia City, Nevada, extensive deforestation occurred around the lake. This eventually led to conservation efforts to place 78% of its watershed into National Forests starting in 1899. Hiking trails uphill from the lake’s shoreline (mostly privately owned) are almost entirely within National Forests, including the circumnavigating Tahoe Rim Trail.
Near the National Forest’s border with Lake Tahoe, the 63,960-acre Desolation Wilderness is the country’s most visited Wilderness area on a per acre basis. With the exception of thru-hikers on the Tahoe Rim and Pacific Crest Trails, a daily quota limits the number of backpackers in the Desolation Wilderness. Even day hikers are required to carry a permit and a bear box is recommended for all overnight users. We took a smoke-obscured hike five miles one-way from Lower Echo Lake up to Lake Aloha in the Desolation Wilderness, a popular stop for backpackers.
A Mediterranean climate exists in the lower elevation ranges of the National Forest, while alpine regions can receive more than 15 feet of snowfall, so there is a wide diversity of wildlife. In the conifer forests of the Sierra Nevada look for mule deer, black bears, weasels, martens, mountain lions, and bobcats. California quail, mountain quail, sooty grouse, and wild turkeys are common game birds. Watch the skies for raptors like bald eagles, ospreys, red-tailed hawks, and turkey vultures.
By the time we visited in mid-August, Cascade Falls was barely a trickle compared to its raging snowmelt flow in the springtime. The strenuous one-mile hike from Bayview Trailhead was still worth the effort for the sweeping views of Cascade Lake and Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay (at least when it is not so smoky).
Eldorado National Forest has 2,367 miles (3,809 km) of roads, including 400 miles of private roads. Many of these are rough and unpaved and may require high-clearance or four-wheel drive, especially the infamous Rubicon Trail on the western shore of Lake Tahoe.
Bayview Campground is located across Highway 89 from Lake Tahoe at the Bayview Trailhead near scenic Eagle Falls and Emerald Bay State Park. Woods Lake has a campground and a 3.5-mile trail to Fourth of July Lake, plus there are campgrounds at Fallen Leaf Lake, Ice House Reservoir, Loon Lake, Upper Valley Reservoir, and Silver Lake.
Mokelumne Wilderness (also in Stanislaus and Toiyabe National Forests)
Devils Postpile National Monument (California)
Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area (California)
Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park (California)
Nearest National Park
red fir, white fir, Douglas-fir, incense-cedar, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, Jeffrey pine, gray pine, sugar pine, foxtail pine, western juniper
Pacific dogwood, California buckeye, manzanita
Explore More – Traverse Creek near Placerville is known for its exposed serpentine rock, which contains what elements toxic to many trees and plants?
Learn more about this and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods
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