Half Moon Lake is a beautiful destination nestled against majestic peaks and a cascading waterfall. Located within the Desolation Wilderness area of El Dorado National Forest in California, this lake is perfect for backpackers and day hikers alike.
The hike is rated at a moderate experience level and eleven miles in and out from the Glen Alpine trail head near Fallen Leaf Lake. Elevation gain is close to 2,000 feet and the lake sits at 8,030 feet. Permits are required. If day hiking, you can obtain a day permit at the trail head, also if going on a multi-day backpacking trip make sure you plan your trip and obtain permits in advance online here.
The hike starts out just past the parking area for the Glen Alpine Trailhead through a fire road access gate. The first portion of this hike will take you up a wide gravel roadway, which can have some standing water to navigate(if hiking in early to mid summer). Don’t miss some of the old structures and water falls that border the road. If you are heading in on a Friday or weekend, expect a lot of day hikers early on as you make it to the single width trail when starting your elevation gain the foot traffic dissipates quickly.
The hike in is breathtaking as you are surrounded by granite rock formations, rushing water just off the trail, and distant peaks. A couple of miles in you will come to the trail intersection for Grass Lake and you will keep to your right to continue to climb to Half Moon Lake. As the landscape changes from open granite to a partly shaded forest setting, you will come to the trail marker for Half Moon/ Gilmore Lake. Here you will keep to the left as you notice the trail steepness declines and the shade patches bring some welcome relief from the sun.
Make sure you apply some insect repellent if you have not done so already. The shade is satisfying but the marshy patches you will come upon also bring unwanted mosquitos. Again, you will find patches of standing water that you can easily navigate and if you are hiking early in the season around June-late July you will start seeing patches of snow. Some of these snow patches are large and it is easier to walk over them then around.
Halfmoon Lake at this point is getting closer with every step and you can sense from the surrounding terrain that you are almost there. The thought of taking off your pack, taking a deep breath, a gulp of fresh water that you refilled from the rushing water on the trek in, and finally relaxing and setting up camp starts racing through your head as you crest over the last small granite rock cropping. As the surrounding ridge lines of Jack’s and Dick’s Peak come into full view surrounding Halfmoon, you can’t help but stop for a few minutes and take in the views before continuing to the edge of the lake to find a camp spot.
You have a couple of options for camping around the lake. You can continue to hike around the North East edge of the lake which will take you through soft, lush grassy fields with wildflowers and lead you to the North West side of the lake in which you will pass close by a beautiful cascading waterfall and find a campsite along the way. I would not recommend this route during the early season after heavy snowfall earlier in the season since the region closer to the ridgeline and waterfall may become impassable and even potential danger from landslides.
There are a few areas you can camp on this side of the lake, but I have always setup camp on the South East side of the lake which is also a shorter distance and you will soon be setting up camp. The downside of camp on this side of the lake is you will be setting up a camp on granite flat areas since almost the entire area on this side of the lake is rock formations. I have never had a problem setting up camp and have even been lucky enough to setup my tent right on the waters edge with spectacular views right from my tent. Waking up in the morning and seeing glass smooth water only a few feet from your tent and the surrounding peaks are incredible. Make sure you bring a good amount of tie downs and use the plentiful amount of loose rock in the area to secure your tent with. The winds can pick up during the day and night and you don’t want to turn your tent into a kite.
Every time I have been to Half Moon Lake the fishing has been outstanding. There have been times I will cast and as soon as the lure hits the water I get a bite. I have found the blue and silver Kastmasters, 1/8 oz and 1/4 oz work best. If you like to fish you will not be disappointed and will have plenty to eat. Make sure you bring some good spices and a small frying pan that won’t add to much weight to your pack. There are some great day hikes you can take in the surrounding area and you will come back with plenty of awesome pictures. Although you can day hike this trek and be in and out before sunset I would recommend a two-day overnighter and consider packing out to one of the other surrounding lakes like Gilmore, Alta Morris, or Lake Aloha. As always if you have any questions, feedback, or want to share your own adventure to Desolation Wilderness please leave a comment.