Fontanillis Lake Loop
ElevationAscent: 2,542' 775 m
Descent: -2,540' -774 m
High: 8,471' 2,582 m
Low: 6,819' 2,078 m
GradeAvg Grade: 9% (5°)
Max Grade: 28% (16°)
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“A loop trail that passes multiple alpine lakes and offers picturesque shots of the Tahoe backcountry.”— Dylan Taylor
Family Friendly Kids would enjoy Granite Lake while simultaneously getting some exercise. Taking them on the full loop, which spans roughly 12 miles, may pose some issues for families.
There have been reports of black bears breaking into cars and feasting on whatever goods are located inside. Make sure you don't leave any open food inside your car.
There are two minor creek crossings (Fontanillis outflow, Upper Velma Lake outflow), both which have makeshift bridges. The former has a series of twigs and logs to aid with crossing, the latter with some rocks and stones. I found that simply walking through the streams was both refreshing and safer than the alternative.
The trail requires a permit, as it passes through the Desolation Wilderness. Free permits are available at the trailhead. They, along with parking, are limited, so it's prudent to arrive early before it becomes crowded.
Don't disturb backcountry campers. They can be crabby in the morning.
Granite Lake Trail—up to the junction with Maggie's Peak Summit Spur—is steep yet entirely doable. Soft footing (sand, dirt), switchbacks, and some natural steps aid the incline. The ascent for this trail is split up into two sections: the climb up to Granite Lake (~750ft), and the climb up to Maggie's Peak Summit Spur Junction (~700ft). This section spans two miles and sees 1,450 feet of uphill. The immediate views are somewhat bleak, with moderate forest and boulders obstructing the views. The notable viewpoints are at the northern side of Granite Lake (beautiful during sunrise) and at the base of the junction with Maggie's Peak (Eagle Lake, Phipps Peak, Jake's Peak). Occasional glances of Emerald Bay are visible during the incline.
The section of trail between Maggie's Peak Summit Spur and Dicks Lake is uneventful. The trail winds its way through forest and granite (and the occasional pond) for some 2.5-miles before reaching the northeastern base of Dicks Lake. The trail is established, albeit occasionally rocky/loose, and has some easy ascents and descents. The final ascent to Dicks Lake is the only notable portion of exertion; the rest of the section is relatively leisurely.
Dicks Lake is stunning on a clear morning. The water reflects the surrounding peaks like glass. The unbelievably clear water provides a peek at submerged boulders. The surrounding vegetation offers some vibrant color, completing one of the most tranquil (yet dramatic) views the Tahoe backcountry has to offer. It's common—rather, it should be expected—to see some backpackers either sleeping or just waking up. Dicks Lake is a popular spot; regardless, possible viewpoints are abundant enough so as to find one without disturbing backcountry campers.
The trail continues along the PCT, descending to Fontanillis Lake. The lake and surrounding marshes make it prime mosquito territory, especially during the summer months, so make sure to bring bug spray. The further north along the lake you travel, the less mosquitoes there will be. The very northern tip of the lake is optimal for a quick snack/water break. After you depart the lake, the PCT descends gradually to a triple junction with Velma Lakes Trail and Eagle Lake Trail. The route calls for you to take the Velma Lakes Trail back up to Granite Lake Trail, where you'll travel the remaining ~3.5 miles to complete the hike. The trail is occasionally loose and travels over slabs of granite, so exercise caution with your footing.
Expect many tourists, dogs, and children as you're descending to and past Granite Lake. The descent on Granite Lake Trail is soft (dirt and/or sand) and can be done quickly with some care. Restrooms are available at the trailhead.
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ADA Accessible, Flora & Fauna, History & Background
Land Manager: USFS - Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Office
Oct 3, 2019: Prescribed fire operations continue in Tahoe Basin
Oct 1, 2019: Taylor Creek area closure focuses on public safety