Echo Summit to Donner Pass- Backpacking the PCT

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Spend a week backpacking along one of the most interesting stretches of the PCT where it overlaps with the Tahoe Rim Trail.

Written by

Jill Sanford


64.0 miles

This hike will take about 6-7 days averaging about 10 miles a day.

Destination Distance From Downtown

18.1 miles


4 of 5 diamonds

Steep terrain and beautiful vistas of the Tahoe region are highlights of this multi-day hike.

Time To Complete

6 days

This hike will take about 6-7 days averaging about 10 miles a day.


Spring, Summer, and Fall

The trail will be covered with snow during the winter. Warmer months are the best time to do this hike.

Dog Friendly




The Tahoe stretch of the PCT features 2 wilderness areas and a jaunt along the Tahoe Rim Trail. It is a well loved and highly trafficked route, but you can easily feel like the only soul on earth amid its windswept and remote landscape.

What Makes It Great

Epic granite slopes and sparkling alpine lakes make this 64 mile stretch of the PCT between Echo Summit and Donner Pass one for the record books. Start your hike at the Echo Chalet and follow an easy and well maintained trail past rustic cabins and into Desolation Wilderness. There is no camping until you get into the designated Wilderness area, but you can spend your first night along one of many scenic lakes within it before climbing 1700 feet to summit Dick’s peak on the 2nd day. 

Continue through Desolation Wilderness Area. The next large peak you will come to will be Barker Pass. The trailhead here is another great spot to spend the night if restrooms and picnic tables sound like nice conveniences after life on the trail. 

As you descend from Barker Pass you will begin making your way towards another Wilderness area, Granite Chief. It also boasts magnificent views and as you head north you will notice subtle differences in the landscape. Once you pass by Whiskey Creek and make your way to Granite Chief trail, take a detour to High Camp in Squaw Valley Resort. Along with an ice skating rink and restaurant, High Camp also has a swimming pool, which will be a great respite from life on the PCT. 

End your multi day trip by hiking along Old Highway 40 with stunning vistas of Donner Lake before reaching Donner Pass and Interstate 80. 

Who is Going to Love It

This is a challenging hike but a doable one. Those who have spent a few one and two nighters out in the backcountry might be ready for this if they want to step it up, but for the most part it is recommended for seasoned backpackers. Excellent physical fitness and endurance is also necessary. Expect to spend at least 6 days hiking 8-13 miles a day. 

Backpacking through the Tahoe stretch of the PCT is a breathtaking hike, however, and something locals as well as visitors need to experience at least once.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

From Highway 50, turn north onto Echo Lakes Rd. Follow it to the parking area at the top of the hill overlooking the lake. The trail head begins on the other side of the small dam next to the chalet. 

Donner Pass

Take the Boreal exit and follow a frontage road south to where it dead ends in a parking lot with the trailhead. 

You will need overnight permits for Desolation Wildernesses, available through the Forest Service, but not Granite Chief at this time. There is a quota system in place for Desolation Wilderness, so plan ahead and get those permits early because they only allow a certain amount of people into the backcountry at a time.

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