Cradled in a lush valley below jagged, granite peaks, the glacially sculpted Echo Lakes basin offers ideal opportunities for novice and seasoned day hikers alike to explore and wander through one of Lake Tahoe’s most scenic and popular wilderness destinations. With minimal elevation gain and the luxury of a water taxi to shave miles off your hike, the sparkling alpine lakes in Desolation Wilderness can be as close as 1.5 miles away from the Echo Lakes trailhead. Although this trail does see high use during peak summer periods, there are still pockets of solitude to be found in this pristine valley.
What Makes It Great
Several alpine lakes are less than six miles from the Echo Lakes Trailhead. Their crystal clear, cold waters are an enticing draw on hot summer days. The Echo Lakes region also acts as a portal to the rest of Desolation Wilderness, with more than 63,000 acres of untouched wilderness at your fingertips.
From the Echo Lakes trailhead, hikers have the option to either hike 2.5 miles along the Northeastern shore of Echo Lakes, which also opens up peakbagging opportunities, or to pay a fee to take the water shuttle across Lower and Upper Echo Lakes, depositing you at the Desolation Wilderness boundary. After a brief 0.6 mile jaunt, hikers are greeted with a junction to Triangle Lake, a cool shaded lake that makes a perfect resting point on the way to Echo Peak. If skipping Triangle Lake, it is a 1.5 mile hike from Echo Lake with 300 feet of elevation gain to reach the trio of Ralston, Tamarack, and Cagwin lakes offering plentiful logs and granite slabs for a picnic underneath towering hemlock trees.
Approximately 1.7 miles past the junction to Ralston, Tamarack, and Cagwin lakes, hikers pass through verdant Haypress Meadows and can choose to turn left to Lake of the Woods and Ropi Lake, or continue straight toward Lake Margery, Lake Lucille, and Lake Aloha.
Who is Going to Love It
Hiking in the Echo Lakes region is a worthwhile experience for all ability levels, including seasoned hikers, peak-baggers, families, and novices. Those with small children or lower ability levels may consider the convenient water taxi service that drops you at the doorstep of Desolation Wilderness. More experienced hikers will enjoy the warm hike around Echo Lakes before opening up myriad opportunities to explore lush alpine lakes within the boundaries of Desolation. Dogs are not necessarily recommended in this area, as the sharp granite talus can often wreak havoc on their paws.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Day use permits are required for all travel in Desolation Wilderness. These help land managers assess trailhead use and help emergency responders locate people in case of backcountry emergencies. Free day use permits can be obtained at the Echo Lakes Trailhead. For more information on rules and regulations in Desolation Wilderness, 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.