PCT: Echo Lake to Barker Pass

Desolation Wilderness

Lake Tahoe

Miles 1092.3-1124.8 of the northbound PCT: Through the Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe, packed with alpine lakes and prime camping within polished granite basins.

Hiking Moderate

Distance
50 km
Ascent
1.7 km
Descent
1.6 km
Duration
1 day +
Low Point
2.1 km
High Point
2.9 km
Gradient
VIEW ON MAP
PCT: Echo Lake to Barker Pass Map

Description

Notice: This portion of the PCT is currently closed due to wildfire danger. See the PCTA closures page for more information.

This is the start of California Section K, where the PCT joins the Tahoe Rim Trail through the Desolation Wilderness. It’s a dramatic landscape gouged with granite basins, studded with blue lakes, and crowned with snowy peaks. The beginning of the section comes with a taste of Tahoe bustle, but crowds thin out as the PCT delves farther into the wilderness, reaching unpopulated lakeshores and swaths of quiet forest.

From the Echo Lake dock (NB mile 1092.3) the trail rises to contour above the water. Several private cabins line the end of the lake, but these are left behind after passing Upper Echo Lake and entering the Desolation Wilderness (NB mile 1095.5). Note that camping is not allowed until the wilderness boundary is reached.

The trail climbs steadily above the Echo Lakes, among bare rock and twisted pines into a glacially-carved valley filled with more lakes and streams. Along this ascent are a handful of side trails to shoreline campsites. First is Tamarack Lake (NB mile 1096), then Lake of the Woods (NB mile 1097), followed by Lake Lucille (NB mile 1097.3). Most hikers press on, however, to camp on the panoramic benches above Lake Aloha (NB mile 1098.4). This lake is especially large and dotted by innumerable islands of polished granite, with the snowy hulk of Pyramid Peak as a stately backdrop.

From the end of Lake Aloha the trail turns and drops downward, through flowery meadows and rock gardens to the talus-slope shore of Heather Lake (NB mile 1100.5), where some campsites are scattered about. Next is Susie Lake (NB mile 1101.6), and the last chance to camp before the trail begins its climb to Dicks Pass. It’s a fairly gradual but prolonged incline, first through spacious forest and then mountainside meadows, with expanding views of the valleys just traversed.

The top of Dicks Pass (NB mile 1105.7) grants vantage over the next phase, which is a steep descent to another pair of lakes and cluster of campsites (NB mile 1107.6). Beyond there the landscape becomes more heavily treed, and after Middle Velma Lake (NB mile 1109.9) water sources are fewer. There’s nothing but seasonal streams for the next several miles, as the trail rolls through conifers and clearings, eventually exiting the wilderness and soon reaching Richardson Lake (NB mile 1118.6). This lake has forest road access but is not heavily visited.

The next few miles are a rather casual stroll through more forest, passing additional seasonal streams and possible campsites, to reach the unpaved road at Barker Pass (NB mile 1124.8). There is a trailhead area with parking, signage, and an outhouse. It’s not a common point for distance hikers to enter or exit the trail, but makes a reasonable trailhead for a section hike.

Permits: Most of this segment is within the Desolation Wilderness, which requires a permit to be reserved online. The PCT long-distance Permit is also honored, but hikers are responsible for knowing and following the regulations specific to this wilderness.

Sources: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/ltbmu/recarea/?recid=11786 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.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause 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, October

Features

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

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area