Highway 50

Highway 50 / Crystal Basin information

Opportunity for volunteer winter interpretive experience with the US Forest Service. For more information and an application form, please click here.

What’s New on Highway 50:

Updated January 27, 2023.

Rubicon Trail is closed due to safety and environmental concerns. If you would like more information, please call the Desolation Wilderness desk at (530)644-2324 or (530)647-5415.

SNO-Parks are now open. Season runs from Nov. 1 through May 30. Make sure you get one before you head to the mountains. You can easily get a day or seasonal SNO-Park permit by clicking here. They are not available at the SNO-Park.

Crystal Basin Information Station is closed for the season.

 Mormon Emigrant Trail is closed.

Seasonal dirt road closure began Dec. 1, 2022. For more information please click here: Seasonal dirt road and trail closure begins December 1 on the Eldorado National Forest

Prescribed burning in the Eldorado National Forest will be beginning with the reduction of fire danger. For more information, please click here: Annual prescribed fire operations to begin soon on the Eldorado National Forest.

For more information, contact the Placerville Ranger Station, Phone: (530) 644-2324.

More information can be obtained by going to the Eldorado National Forest website by clicking here.

Desolation Wilderness

For recent information on trails in the Desolation Wilderness, please click here to go to the Desolation Wilderness Volunteers list of reported trail conditions. For permits and reservations call 530-647-5415.

Crystal Basin

Crystal Basin Information Station is closed.

Wrights Lake

Campgrounds are closed. Day use of Desolation Wilderness requires Wilderness Permit, available at trailhead. 

Pay parking fee at the Royal Elk credit card stand at the entrance to Wrights Lake.

Bear Canisters Required in Desolation Wilderness

** Beginning July 18, 2022, food and refuse canisters will be required for overnight camping in Desolation Wilderness **
Effective Monday, July 18, 2022, overnight visitors to Desolation Wilderness are required to store their food and trash in a canister designed to prevent access by bears: Order 03-22-11
Forest orders were recently signed by forest supervisors from Eldorado National Forest and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, the agencies tasked with management of Desolation Wilderness. Their purpose is to protect lives of bears and visitors to Desolation Wilderness.
In recent years, bears have become more aggressive in their search for food, relying on human sources rather than natural sources. This causes increased interactions between humans and bears and the possibility of bears becoming habituated to the presence of humans. A person who fights back or gets between the bear and food is risking bodily injury or death. In cases where a bear is known to repeatedly threaten or intimidate visitors, or cause injury, the bear may be euthanized.
When a bear gets human food, it creates a mess with food packaging torn up and left scattered in campsites and along lakeshores. Sometimes bears eat the packaging along with the food. Rangers have observed food wrappers with bar codes in bear scat.
Backpackers at Lake Aloha, Gilmore Lake, and other popular camping areas in Desolation Wilderness have lost as many as ten “bear hangs” a night to bears in recent years. Visitors are left with no food. To continue their backpacking trips, many of these groups must hike out of the wilderness to get more food.
Typical methods of food and trash storage are no longer effective as wildlife has grown accustomed to humans. Whistles, banging pots and pans, yelling, nothing is working. Bears have adapted to even the most experienced campers’ food hangs and brought them down.
One of the principles of Leave No Trace is to respect wildlife. Considerate campers observe wildlife from a distance, store food securely and keep garbage and food scraps away from animals. A camper would be wise to check his or her tent for food in pockets, candy wrappers, and the like.
Backpackers can rent a bear canister at the Placerville Ranger Station when they get their permit. For more information on rental, call (530) 647-5415. They can also purchase a canister at a recreational outlet. Most bear canisters sold at retail recreational stores are highly bear-resistant.
Backpackers who are not in compliance with the forest order will be in violation of 36 C.F.R. § 261.58(cc) and are subject to be cited and fined.
The complete texts of Forest Orders 03-22-11 and 19-22-02 can be found at www.fs.usda.gov/eldorado and www.fs.usda.gov/ltbmu

Wildflowers 101

The wildflower season will return in the spring/summer! To be ready here is a help to learning those wildflowers.

Trying to locate wildflowers in a field guide and learn their names can be a pretty daunting undertaking. To help you begin learning them, Wildflowers 101 has 10 of the most common wildflowers in the higher elevations. Print this off and take it with you when you do your wildflower hikes. After you find these and learn their names, you will be ready for Wildflowers 102 (to follow at a later date), which will have 10 more flowers to find. This way you will start to grow your wildflower knowledge in an easy stepwise manner. This is also a great tool to hand to the younger hikers to turn their trek outside into a treasure hunt. Have a great time enjoying natures bounty of beautiful flowers. Just please remember, don’t pick them- leave them for others to enjoy. 

To get your printable Wildflowers 101, please click here. (Wildflowers 101 states it is for Carson Pass, but it works for all of the high country.)

Highway 50

One of the three major all season routes across the Sierra, Highway 50 provides easy access to the northern portion of the Eldorado National Forest from Placerville to Echo Summit.  Along the highway there are numerous recreation opportunities – camping, biking, fishing, hiking, OHV, and more.  There are two year around forest information stations where maps, permits and specific information is available.  In Placerville, the Forest Supervisor’s Office is located on Forni Road, just off the highway.  Further east in Camino, the Placerville Ranger Station is located on Eight Mile Road.  Both stations are open Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm, and the Placerville Ranger Station is also open Saturday from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm and Sunday 8:00 am to noon.

Summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day) additional services can be found the Information Station at Crystal Basin, off Ice House Road.  

Gateway to California – Highway 50 History

The earliest roads used to cross the Sierra Nevada were branches of the California Trail. From 1848 to the early 1850’s the most popular route was across Carson Pass on the Mormon blazed trail that followed the Iron Mountain Ridge, crossing two summits and having only three river fords, unlike the Truckee Route with 27 river crossings. In 1852, John Calhoun Johnson of Placerville surveyed and cleared a shorter and lower elevation route. It traveled east to meet the South Fork of the American River. Johnson’s Cutoff as it was called became one of the many historic wagon roads that led emigrants to the gold fields. More information about the Johnson’s and their cutoff can be found in Ellen Ford’s book “A Lovely and comfortable Heritage Lost,” which is for sale in our retail outlets.

In 1858 the California legislature created the “Board of Wagon Commissioners” charging them with the task of improving the road, but by 1860 the heavy traffic had once again degraded it to the point it could no longer be used by stagecoaches. Several toll roads were developed and then later purchased by El Dorado County to create what eventually became what is known today as Highway 50. From animal trails and native footpaths, the Gateway to California emerged. 

  • The Pony Express used a portion of the route from April of 1860 to October 1861 when the Union Telegraph line was completed.
  • California’s first state highway was established in 1895 on the wagon roads that became Highway 50.
  • Granite markers were added in 1907 to indicate mileage to Placerville.
  • The Lincoln Highway Association was formed to promote a transcontinental highway. In California it branched into two routes – what is now Highway 80 to the north and Highway 50 in the south.
  • In 1928 the road became United States Highway 50.
  • The highway was paved in 1939.

Take a Driving Tour from Placerville to Lake Tahoe

Whatever the season, there is something to see and do along Highway 50. California was already a state when the road was first surveyed, and evidence of California’s early days as a state can be visited between Placerville and Meyers. As you drive look for historic buildings, tool stations such as Pacific House, evidence of previous wildfires and landslides, and early settlements like Riverton and Strawberry.

For a detailed list and map check out the Eldorado National Forest Recreational Opportunity Guide for Highway 50.