The Desolation Wilderness is located just to the southwest of Lake Tahoe, north of Highway 50.
It is accessible from all sides, though most hikers begin their visit in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The Pacific Crest Trail passes through the length of the wilderness, and its proximity to roads makes it one of the more easily accessible wildernesses in the Sierra.
Due to its popularity and fragile ecosystem, permits are required year-around for both day and overnight use. Permits are available for all entry points from either the Eldorado National Forest or the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. Day hikers may issue themselves a permit at most trailheads, or in advance from local offices. Overnight visitors must secure a permit from Recreation.gov, and there are limits on the locations and quantity of permits issued.