Crystal Range - Desolation Wilderness



Elevation: 3,225 feet


Some Favorites From Our Expeditions

  • Connector.

    Go to Worton’s Market to gaze through the window behind the butcher counter for a prime Sierra view of forest and the mountains of the Crystal Range.

  • Connector.

    Look for the horse’s grave. Old Joe pulled Wells Fargo stagecoaches until a robber shot him during a heist. A marker along Foresthill Road pays tribute to him.

San Francisco-Sized Plans

Today Foresthill is an unincorporated town with fewer than 2,000 people, but in its early days as a crossroads trading post, there were visions of a much larger city. In 1850, its planners anticipated an eventual population exceeding San Francisco’s and acted on their great expectations by making the main street wider than the City by the Bay’s main drag of Market Street. Like the other Gold Rush towns, it encountered a boom and then a bust. After the gold played out, a thriving timber industry emerged, but Foresthill’s destiny was to be a small town and not a new California metropolis.

Robbers Roost — A Beacon through the Ages

On the outskirts of Foresthill is a limestone rock formation more than 1,000 feet high that is known as “Lime Rock.” Before the Gold Rush, Indians sent smoke signals from this lofty perch to communicate with others across the river. Years later, it became a hideout and lookout for outlaws plotting stage coach robberies. It became known as Robbers Roost and was again a place to send signals. Reportedly, a woman used a mirror to alert the rest of the Gassaway Gang when a coach was nearing so that they would be ready to strike.

Desolation Wilderness & Crystal Range: Foothills Give Way to Mountains

Though beautiful with rolling hills, fields and forests, most of Gold Country doesn’t offer alpine views. But beyond Foresthill, the mountains make themselves more known. Where the Crystal Range comes into sight is likely the northernmost point in the Sierra that has a high alpine feel.

The sub-range has four primary mountains: Tells and Pyramid Peaks and Mounts Price and Agassiz. Pyramid Peak is the chief, rising 9,987 feet. On a clear day, it’s easily visible from the Central Valley and even the far-off Coast Range some 300 miles away. It’s also the standout among the mountains ringing Lake Tahoe. Tells Peak also has a claim to fame, being the northernmost Sierra mountain to have been named.

The Desolation Wilderness that surrounds the Crystal Range is nearly 64,000 acres of forest, granite and glacially formed valleys and lakes. The name doesn’t fit — it’s easily accessible. So much so that it is one of the most heavily used wilderness areas in the United States. To protect the backcountry beauty, various regulations are enforced. One is a quota system for overnighting summer visitors to help maintain some semblance of solitude even though desolation is unlikely.

A Beautiful Butcher Counter: Worton’s Market

Foresthill’s Worton’s Market offers likely one of the best supermarket views in the world. At its meat counter, customers can choose a steak or chop while taking in the Crystal Range through the window on the back wall. Its outdoor picnic area offers the same vista.

Northernmost Opportunity for Sequoia Spying: Placer Grove

Besides the forests of Desolation Wilderness, the Sierra’s most famous trees are accessible near Foresthill. The nearby Placer Grove 20 miles to the east is the northernmost stand of giant sequoias — some of the largest living things on Earth.

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