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South Lake Tahoe, California, United States

Echo Lakes & Desolation Wilderness, Lake Tahoe

What better way to begin a hike than skimming across the crystal clear alpine waters of Echo Lakes ..

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Difficulty: Easy
Length: 6.0 miles / 9.7 km
Duration: Half day
Family Friendly
Overview: What better way to begin a hike than by skimming across the crystal clear waters of Echo Lakes, which nestle in between some of the highest peaks in the Lake Tahoe area. Hail your water taxi from Echo Chalet on the shores of the Lower Echo Lake, and you'll soon find yourself deep in the Desolation Wilderness.

Elevation gain:
• 800ft (from 7,420 - 7,800ft)

• The water taxi runs from Labor Day to Memorial Day - check out more information in the Echo Lake Chalet link included in this guide.
• Late summer is the best time to visit, especially if you were thinking about taking a quick dip in one of the lakes.
• Wilderness permits for both day and overnight hikes are required, both of which are available at Echo Chalet.
• There is a phone system by the Upper Echo Lake boat dock should you wish to call for a return taxi back to the East end of the lakes.

• Shorten your hike to 2.5 miles by just utilizing the return route from the Upper Echo Lake boat dock.
• Lengthen your route with a trip to the Lake of the Woods or beyond.

Points of Interest


Echo Chalet Taxi

Begin your hike at Echo Chalet, a summer only resort located just off US Hwy 50, ten miles westward of South Lake Tahoe and 49 miles east of Placerville.

Echo Chalet offers a water taxi service to and from the Public Landing at the far end of Lower Echo Lake, taking you through a small channel to Upper Echo Lake. Here the taxi will drop you off at the trailhead to Desolation Wilderness, for a great day hike or backpacking trip.

Navigating the Lakes

The small nippy water taxi may skip across Lower Echo Lake at a fair old lick, but a slower approach is needed to navigate through the channel which connects this chain of two lakes, before the engine can open up again and propel you to the Upper Echo Lake boat dock.

Desolation Wilderness

The water taxi drops you off on the Desolation Wilderness trail and from here you'll be heading off to explore more lakes, each very different and more secluded than the last.

You'll find only slight elevation changes throughout this hike.

[JCT] Left Turn to Tamarack Lake

When you find this trail marker, take a sharp left turn off the main trail and head out in search of lakes.

The official trail route will fade away to nothing at times thanks to exposed granite, scree and vegetation, but it's difficult to get lost here. Stick to the roughly level terrain and you'll soon stumble upon a cluster of lakes.

Tamarack and Ralston Lakes

Past Tamarack lake on your right you should continue onward to check out Ralston Lake, possibly the best place for a refreshing dip - weather dependant of course.

At this point you may want to take it easy and admire the plentiful scenery and the sparkling lakes, or you may be refreshed enough to check out some other lakes deeper into Desolation Wilderness.

Hike Back to Echo Chalet

On the return trip skip the taxi and take the 2.5 mile trail that runs parallel to the Echo Lakes and leads back to the trailhead. This return journey is virtually without any elevation change, making it a great way to enjoy the scenery for a little longer.

Also, just before you make it back to the Echo Lake Chalet check out the views of the Lake Tahoe basin just off the trail to the right.
Pictures in this guide taken by: Trailspotting

Trailspotting content © Stuart Green 2010 including text, images, videos and route detail.
Plenty of beautiful views!! Also, if you are tired on the way back you can take the water taxi. The trail is pretty busy, maybe the only downside, but its nice to know you won't get lost.
Visited on Aug 07, 2011

by voldre on Aug 08, 2011

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