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Stories from the valley

Echo Lakes Winter Outing

Contributed by Carl Gwyn

The Echo Lakes area at Echo Summit is a great destination for those wanting an enjoyable winter experience in the Sierra. Within a relatively small area, visitors can enjoy snow play, beautiful views of Lake Tahoe, the peaceful quiet of snow-covered lakes, or the exhilaration of swooping down the challenging slopes of Becker Ridge or Mount Ralston.

Visitors with snowshoes or skis have many choices when starting from the Echo Lakes Road trailhead, located just opposite the Echo Lakes Sno-Park. If you travel right from the road, you will quickly come to beautiful overlooks of Lake Tahoe. Traveling along the road for about a mile will lead you to the Echo Lakes, which are currently frozen. You can explore the area around the dam where water flows from the lakes, which many find fascinating.

Since the lakes are frozen, my recent cross-country trip took me across the surfaces of both Upper and Lower Echo Lake. The snow was wonderful, and it was breathtakingly quiet. My friends and I laid the first tracks. We didn’t encounter other travelers until our return trip, when we met some friendly skiers and snowshoers who were also enjoying what nature had to offer.

The Echo Lakes provide a great trip for beginning to intermediate outdoor travelers. For the advanced enthusiast seeking more challenging terrain, a trek up Becker Ridge will reward you with great views of the Tahoe area.  After crossing the Echo Lakes, the entirety of Desolation Wilderness opens up.

To begin your trip, park in the Echo Lake Sno-Park, located on Johnson Pass Road off Highway 50 just before Echo Summit. I recommend you arrive early because the Sno-park fills up quickly. You will need a Sno-Park Pass, which is available here.

When traveling in the Sierra, make sure you’re appropriately prepared with food and the correct equipment. Many travelers cross the lakes, but there are signs warning visitors to stay off of the lakes because of unstable ice and snow. Travelers must assess the situation for themselves and realize they would be crossing at their own risk. Even though it was safe to travel across the lakes when I visited, be aware that conditions can change and make it unsafe to be on the ice.

If you travel into Desolation Wilderness, you will need a permit obtainable here or at the Placerville Ranger District, 4260 Eight Mile Road, Camino, CA (exit 54 from Highway 50). Their phone number is 530-644-2324.

Have a great trip!