From Echo Lakes trailhead to Lake Aloha, the hike is 12 miles round trip. If you opt to take the water shuttle across Echo Lakes, the hike becomes only 7 miles round trip.
Destination Distance From Downtown
3 of 5 diamonds
The rocky, talus trail can sometimes prove difficult to navigate. Overall, though, the short distance and mild elevation gain make this an easily accomplished overnight trip.
Time To Complete
If not taking the water shuttle across Echo Lakes, the trip to Lake Aloha is 12 miles roundtrip. The water shuttle can cut the time of this hike down to 3.5-4 hours.
Spring, Summer, and Fall
The Echo Lakes water shuttle only operates during summer months.
On Leash Only
The rocky trail can be harmful to pups' paws. Keep a close eye on your dog's feet and turn back if their pads begin to crack.
Overnight permits and campfire permits are required. Campfire permits are free, while overnight permits cost $5 for the first night and $10 for nights 2-14. Permits can be obtained from the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit in South Lake Tahoe.
With one of the highest concentrations of lakes in Desolation Wilderness, the Lake Aloha region is one of the most popular overnight backpacking destinations in Lake Tahoe. Once a series of smaller lakes that was dammed for hydroelectric power before Wilderness designation, Lake Aloha itself is the largest body of water in Desolation Wilderness. Aloha’s iridescent blue waters lie in stark contrast to the sheer granite walls of Pyramid Peak, Mt. Agassiz, and Mt. Price that make up the Crystal Range. The Lake Aloha region opens itself up as a basecamp for multiple days of exploration of the many surrounding peaks and lakes.
What Makes It Great
This stunning hike begins from the Echo Lakes Trailhead. Backpackers can choose to follow the Pacific Crest Trail along the shoreline of Echo Lakes for 2.5 miles, or opt for a paid water shuttle across both lakes. The service comes in handy when for first-time backpackers or those hiking with a group of varying abilities, but fit backpackers can often beat the shuttle to its destination and earn an extra workout.
Once at the opposite end of Echo Lakes, the route to Lake Aloha continues to follow the PCT for an additional 3.5 miles and 600 feet of elevation gain. The trail from Echo Lakes climbs steadily through a glacially sculpted valley filled with shale and loose rocks. In this short 3.5 mile distance, the trail will present junctions for Triangle Lake on the right, Ralston, Tamarack, and Cagwin Lakes on the left, Lake of the Woods and Ropi Lake on the left, and Lakes Marjorie and Lucille on the right. All of these options offer a unique experience for overnight camping or a worthwhile day hike from basecamp. Opting to continue toward Lake Aloha, the path takes you through Haypress Meadows and thick groves of Hemlock pines before ultimately emerging at the southeastern shore of Lake Aloha.
Bountiful opportunities for exploration exist using Lake Aloha as a departure point. The PCT continues to skirt Aloha’s eastern shoreline, yielding spectacular views of the Crystal Range that seem to change with every step down the trail and can take you deeper into Desolation Wilderness. Other options include exploring the the collection of smaller lakes just south of Lake Aloha, though a map and proficient navigation skills can be necessary.
Who is Going to Love It
Expert and amateur backpackers alike will love this trail. Experts will find plentiful options for peakbagging and exploration from basecamp while the beginner will love the well-defined path and relative ease of access of the many lakes in this region.
For those with canine companions, several miles of the trail are covered with sharp granite that can be damaging to your pups’ paws.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Camping in Desolation Wilderness is regulated by a strict quota system, with Lake Aloha being one of the fastest filling destinations. Day hikers are required to fill out a free day-use permit at the trailhead. Campfires are never allowed in Desolation Wilderness. For more information, visit the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
From South Lake Tahoe, drive west on Highway 50 toward Sacramento. As you drive over Echo Summit, a short passing lane emerges with the single lane Johnson Pass Road branching off to the right. Bear right on Johnson Pass Road, then take your second right following signs for Echo Lakes. Parking can be challenging during busy summer months.