Highway 50

Highway 50 / Crystal Basin information

What’s New on Highway 50:

This information is offered to the best of our knowledge. It is not guaranteed to be correct.

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

Trails are open and free of snow. 

Wrights Lake

Everything at Wrights Lake is now open. There have been some water issues so visitors are advised to bring their own water.

The Barrett Lake Jeep Trail is closed

To get more information, please visit ENFIA’s Facebook page by clicking here.

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.