Loon Lake to Buck Island Lake Trip

The Loon Lake to Buck Island Lake trip was  ideal for a few reasons. For one thing the trailhead is at a low enough elevation that the trails and lakes were already melted out. Second, the destinations from there are neither too far, nor do they require a lot of elevation gain. Finally, the trailhead is only 3 hours from our house. That means we could get pretty much all the way there on a single tank of gas.As a bonus, Dennis’s brother, Evan and Bamboo the Corgi were able to join us also.

Day 1 – Loon Lake to Buck Island Lake

At the Loon Lake Trailhead

We arrived at the trailhead at about noon. The actual parking was closed, so we parked in an RV parking lot (where others were parking as well). We went up on a Friday in an attempt to avoid crowds over the 3-day weekend. Surprisingly, there were several other groups also getting ready for a trip.

Loon Lake Hiking

After we finished our last minute preparations, we decided to eat lunch at the car. We had ordered Ike’s sandwiches the day before to take with us on the trail. We ate quickly and then we set off.

The first half mile of our trip was through the campground. Due to Covid, certain areas were still restricted to traffic, so we had to walk over pavement to get to the real trailhead. Eventually we got to the real starting point. We took a moment to do some last minute checks and then we head out.

Miles 0-5

For the first mile or so, the trail was not particularly interesting. It was just a walk through the forest. Every so often, there were glimpses of the lake. The further we continued, the more we were surrounded by granite boulders: the icon of Desolation Wilderness.

A couple miles in, we found ourselves walking above Loon Lake. Suddenly we had unobstructed views. These were the easiest miles of the trip. Loon Lake is technically a reservoir, but it is absolutely stunning. The granite domes surrounding the lake give it the high sierra feel with a much more manageable elevation. According to maps, the other side of the lake was a Jeep trail. While we were walking along, we didn’t see any Jeeps, but we certainly heard some.

At the North-Eastern end of the Lake, we had to cross a small waterfall. Since it was still May, the river was flowing so the falls were quite stunning. This was where the turnoff for the Loon Lake Campground is. I think if I were to come here again with a larger group, this would be a great place to stay!

Lake Side Trail

We continued around the Lake and then began climbing up to Buck Island Pass. This was the only real climb of the day, and it was pretty short. However, there was no shade in this part of the trail, so it was really important to wear sunscreen. From the top of the pass, we had expansive views of the entire Loon Lake. 

Miles 5-8

Once it flattened out, we realized that we were not too far from Spider Lake. We decided to make a quick detour to go check it out. As we approached the shore, it was extremely wooded and there were a lot of mosquitos in the area. After a moment of looking at the lake, we continued.

Miles 5 - 8 Loon Lake

After a certain point, the trail sort of disappeared. Since we could already see Buck Island Lake, we had no fear of being lost, but it was still a little bit challenging to follow some of the cairns. As we approached the lake edge, we decided we had probably walked enough for the day and started looking for a campsite.

We found a great spot on the Southern shore of the lake. There was a fire ring surrounded by makeshift chairs on the beach. Plus, there were plenty of flat spaces for tents back in the woods. As Dennis and I were setting up our tent, we discovered that one of the poles (the top one) had broken. This was kind of a bummer. We had been planning on packing up and finding a new campsite the second night, but with the broken poles, we figured we would be better off cutting the trip short.

I am exceptionally proud of my engineering solution that got the tent up. I wish I had gotten a picture, it was truly a work of art.


Day 2 – Buck Island Lake into Desolation Wilderness and Back to Loon Lake

We had a lazy morning at camp. We decided that it wouldn’t take too long to return to the car, so we decided to walk further into the Desolation Wilderness first. Our plan was just to hike to Rockbound Lake and check it out.


Miles 8-11


Once we got back onto the trail, it soon became apparent that it could use a little bit of early season maintenance. There were a few sections completely covered by downed trees. When we got to the Wilderness boundary, I looked for the typical wilderness signage, but found only a lonely pole.

As we came to Rockbound Lake, it was much more wooded than I was expecting. There were only a few good campsites, and they were already occupied. Eventually, we found a nice quiet spot to have some lunch. We had brought a couple tins of seafood with us, and it really hit the spot.

After we finished eating, we returned to our camp and started packing everything up. On the way back, we passed several groups. It was clear the rest of the weekend would be very busy in Desolation Wilderness.

Miles 11-19

Once we had everything ready to go, we started heading out. It was proving to be a scorcher as we climbed back over Buck Island Pass. We passed a few groups coming the other way that told us there was another corgi not too far ahead. Unfortunately, we never caught up with that fellow.

If you find this useful and decide to hike from Loon Lake to Buck Island Lake, then be sure to share your pictures with me by including #elsbethweeks on your IG.


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