Tamarack Lake Trail begins from a nondescript trailhead along Glen Alpine Road, just before the end of the road at Lily Lake and Glen Alpine Trailhead. Upon starting this trail, it becomes immediately apparent that few people venture here. It is brushy, loose, and hard to follow in places, but attentive hikers should be able to stay on track. It starts uphill immediately on sparsely forested talus slopes, which reveal an intimidating view of your objective: the saddle west of Echo Peak. The way seems guarded by cliffs and snowfields, but the trail somehow picks its way through to the top.
On the way up you will catch stunning views over your shoulder of Fallen Leaf Lake and Lake Tahoe. The bare, gray slopes of Cathedral Peak rise sharply above Fallen Leaf Lake, and as you get higher you’ll see the craggy summit of Mount Tallac appear behind and above Cathedral. But you can’t focus on the view the whole time, because following the trail requires attention to your feet. The path is faint, the footing loose in some places, and the terrain is constantly steep.
At the top, a panorama unfolds to make the whole climb worth it. Beyond lies the Desolation Wilderness, a land of shimmering blue lakes in folds of bright granite, beneath snow-streaked high peaks. A junction at the saddle provides the option to summit Echo Peak—an impressive side trip or a worthy destination all its own.
To get to Tamarack Lake, descend through wind-warped pine and fir to reach the junction with the Pacific Crest/Tahoe Rim Trail. Follow this trail east for a short distance before dropping down the spur trail to Tamarack Lake, and enjoy your hard-earned reward of a splash in the crisp water.
A network of faint trails weaves its way around Tamarack Lake and over to its neighbor, Ralston Lake. With the proper overnight permit, you can camp in the vicinity of these lakes, or continue along the PCT deeper into the wilderness. If doing this as an out-and-back day hike, you should turn around with plenty of daylight to spare. On the way back down Tamarack Trail from the saddle, numerous horizon lines over cliffs and boulders make the trail harder to follow than on the way up.