Back to index Grouse, Hemlock & Smith Lakes Hike
Trip Date:  08/27/2011

: 6.3 Miles

Vertical Gain: 1700'

Group Size: 3

Hike Rating:  Easy   Moderate    Hard    Strenuous
Grouse, Hemlock & Smith Lakes Route
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Grouse, Hemlock & Smith Lakes Elevation Profile
Start Coordinates:   N 38 50.975, W 120 13.542
or overflow/winter parking at
N 38 50.542, W 120 14.120
    End Coordinates:   Same as Start Coordinates
Car Shuttle Req'd:   No Parking Directions:   Take Highway 50 to Wrights Lake Road, and head approximately 8 miles north until you get to the entrance to the Wrights Lake recreation area (if this gate is closed you have to park just to the right before this spot and add a mile to the hike from this location each way.)  Turn right at the junction and drive along the south end of the lake for a mile until you reach the Desolation Wilderness Trailhead parking area at the coordinates provided.
Hazards of Note:   The trail is rocky along the first part, and there might be some early season trail finding along the granite before the main rise in the trail toward the lake.  The main section of trail climbs significantly for most of the hike. Crowd Factor:   Moderate.  There are many people who access this trail into Desolation, and getting to the parking area early (before 8) is your best chance on a weekend of getting a spot here.  The trail to Smith Lake will thin out most of the crowds where to leave the shared trail toward Twin Lakes about a mile in.
General Notes:
The first part of the trail heads down toward the east end of Wrights Lake, and then at the Trailhead map make sure to turn right toward Twin Lakes so that you don't just circle around the lake.  Follow the trail for about a mile into the Desolation Wilderness, and then just past the wilderness sign will be a junction.  At this point to get to Smith Lake you will turn right (Twin Lakes is the other destination along the main trail if you don't turn at the junction.)  Follow this up as it rises continually and fairly steeply.  There is a water crossing which in the early spring or after a recent rainstorm will be fairly complicated, and then you will soon first reach
Grouse Lake on the right.  Continue up the trail about 3/10 of a mile and the scenic Hemlock lake will be on your left.  Another 3/10 of a mile past this is Smith Lake at the top of the trail, which is reached after negotiating an easy-to-lose trail up the granite rocks.  If you reach the outlet watefall from the lake, do not cross it but simply follow it up to the lake keeping the water on your right.

Since this is a hike into Desolation Wilderness, you will need a day permit (free at the trailhead) and the group size limit is 12.

Following trail up toward lakes with false Mt. Price summit ahead on the right. Looking up trail
View back down the trail toward Two Peaks in the distance. View back down toward Wrights Lake
Mark heading up the trail just past the "mother-daughter" rocks which will lead you off-trail toward Enchanted Pools as another destination. Heading up
Depending on time of year and conditions, there can be a significant amount of water on and along the trail. Lots of water
On a hike after a recent heavy rain, this water crossing before Grouse Lake was a significant challenge. Water trail crossing Water trail crossing
Grouse lake, which is the first of the three lakes we visited. First view of Grouse Lake
Serene setting of Hemlock Lake, the second of the three lakes on the way. Hemlock Lake
Tristan gracefully negotiating the trail. Gracefully negotiating the trail
Lots of snow still at the Smith Lake elevation. Smith Lake
Tristan skipping rocks at Smith Lake. Skipping rocks at Smith
Myself at Smith Lake. Greg at Smith Lake
Looking east across Smith Lake toward the false summit of Mt. Price. Smith Lake setting
Old rocky dam at the end of Smith Lake. Smith Lake Dam
GPS track of the hike. GPS Track of Hike