PCT: Ebbetts Pass to Echo Lake

Lake Tahoe

Sierra-at-Tahoe

Miles 1048.8-1092.3 of the northbound PCT: Approaching Lake Tahoe through a mosaic of volcanic peaks and granite mounds, with mountainside meadows and alpine lakes around every turn.

Hiking Moderate

Distance
69 km
Ascent
2.2 km
Descent
2.6 km
Duration
1 day +
Low Point
2.2 km
High Point
2.8 km
Gradient
VIEW ON MAP
PCT: Ebbetts Pass to Echo Lake Map

Description

<i>Notice: Most of this segment is closed due to the Caldor Fire. See the PCTA closures page for more information.</i>

This is the northern extent of CA Section J on the PCT, traveling from the remote road at Ebbetts Pass to the comparatively bustling highways near Lake Tahoe. In between are expanses of wilderness, however, and this segment is likely to feel refreshing for those who have hiked northbound through Yosemite. The elevation changes are much less severe, and the scenery is unique in this northern region of the Sierra. There is also the option to leave trail for the lavish comforts of South Lake Tahoe, which is one of the largest towns near the PCT.

After crossing State Route 4 at Ebbetts Pass, the PCT immediately climbs over a ridge beneath the summit cone of Ebbetts Peak, then drops to a little lake on a bench where good campsites can be found (NB mile 1048.9). Continuing through scattered pines on meadowy slopes, the trail passes a view of the two Kinney Lakes with their backdrop of volcanic crags. A bit farther on, a sign marks entry to the Mokelumne Wilderness (NB mile 1050.3). In early season, and even into the summer, there can be a lot of snow on this stretch of trail. Later in the season these miles can become quite dry, however. There is seasonal water in Eagle Creek (NB mile 1053.2) and more reliable water in Pennsylvania Creek (NB mile 1055), as well as campsites near both.

As the trail wraps around Raymond Peak and into the drainage of Pleasant Valley Creek (NB mile 1060.5), it leaves the wilderness and enters an area with dirt roads and trailheads near a handful of small lakes. Here the trail weaves among pine forest and granite slabs, crossing a few unpaved roads.

After crossing the paved Blue Lakes Road (NB mile 1065.5), the PCT returns to more remote territory. A meandering climb among granite mounds and pine forest leads to the timberline. Then ascending rocky, flower-flecked slopes on a high ridge, the trail tops 9000 feet and gains the crest (NB mile 1068.7). On the other side is a rewarding panorama over the Lost Lakes, which collect above a headwall over the West Fork Carson River valley.

The trail briefly reenters the forest but soon climbs to another bare ridge, crossing some more unpaved roads in the process, then dips into a beautiful alpine basin with ponds and meadows beneath craggy peaks (NB mile 1072). This makes a nice place to camp before the trail rises again to drier and more exposed terrain. On the rocky slopes of Elephants Back mountain (NB mile1074.5), snow can linger well into summer. After climbing among volcanic outcrops and reaching the bench above, it’s an easy downhill through brushy meadows to reach the road at Carson Pass (NB mile 1076.7).

At the pass is a major road (State Route 88) with large trailhead parking lots. Hikers can find toilets and trash cans here, plus the opportunity to hitch to nearby Kirkwood. It’s a spot where section hikers might begin or end the PCT south of Lake Tahoe, but there are miles remaining before the official end of the section at Echo Lake. North of Carson Pass the trail climbs to a higher gap (NB mile 1078.1), between grassy mountain slopes, and the first glimpse of Tahoe’s blue water awaits on the other side. Then it’s a pleasant descent along the headwaters of the Upper Truckee River, crossing small streams in verdant meadows. Shortly after the PCT joins the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT), there’s another uphill to reach Showers Lake and a cluster of campsites (NB mile 1081.9).

Next the trail arcs through an alpine bowl on Little Round Top mountain, then starts a long and gradual descent through rock-strewn forest to reach Highway 50 at Echo Summit (NB mile 1090.8). This is where PCTers commonly hitch into South Lake Tahoe for a night of indulgence and rest. The official end of CA Section J is a bit farther on, however, at Echo Lake (NB mile 1092.3). The Echo Lake Chalet is a restaurant and shop that offers good food and modest resupply. Note that camping is not allowed in this stretch of trail near Echo Lake, between Highway 50 and the Desolation Wilderness boundary (NB mile 1095.5).

Permits: This segment of the PCT straddles two national forests and goes through parts of a wilderness area co-managed by them both. A permit is not needed for day-hiking through, but is required if camping within the wilderness bounds. Stanislaus National Forest can issue these permits, but the PCT long-distance Permit is also valid. Campfires are allowed in most areas (barring any seasonal restrictions) if you have the California fire permit. Note that regulations for camping, fires, and food storage are different on these forests than on the lands along the PCT to the north and south. You are responsible for knowing the specifics that apply to where you are.

Sources: https://www.sierrawild.gov/wilderness/mokelumne/ https://pctmap.net/trail-notes/ https://pctwater.com/

Difficulty

Moderate

Hiking along trails with some uneven terrain and small hills. Small rocks and roots may be present.

High Exposure

3 out of 4

Some trail sections have exposed ledges or steep ascents/descents where falling could cause serious injury.

Remoteness

3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

June, July, August, September, November

Features

  • Alpine
  • Wildlife
  • Historical
  • Picturesque
  • Dog friendly
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Family friendly
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Guidebooks in this area