The Tahoe Rim Trail

Echo Summit/Echo Lake to Barker Pass (32.5 miles from Echo Lake, 34.7 miles from Echo Summit)
By Tim Hauserman
Jacks Peak
Jacks Peak and Half Moon Lake from Dicks Pass (Photo © Tim Hauserman)

Excerpted from The Tahoe Rim Trail by Tim Hauserman

This strenuous section has many ascents and descents. While other segments of the Rim Trail can be hiked or biked in a day, this trip for most requires at least two days, and I recommend three. It can also be completed in sections by hiking out to Fallen Leaf Lake on the Glen Alpine trail, or to Emerald Bay from either Dicks Lake or Middle Velma Lake via the Bay View Trail.

Best Seasons
In the typical year, most of this section is snow free from mid-July to late October. Sections of this trail, especially the area on the north side of Dicks Pass, may have patches of snow into August following heavy snow years.

A wonderful wilderness experience awaits you as you travel through the heart of Desolation Wilderness. There are many beautiful lakes, that you will pass by or see from the trail, including Lower Echo, Upper Echo, Cagwin, Ralston, Tamarack, Aloha, Heather, Susie, Grass, Gilmore, Half Moon, Alta Morris, Dicks, Fontanillis, Upper Velma, Middle Velma, and Richardson. If you like to swim in mountain lakes, this is the trail for you. You will also cross a high mountain pass with incredible views into two enormous watersheds.

Heads Up!
The starting elevation is about 7400 feet at Echo Lake, and you will rise to nearly 9400 feet at Dicks Pass. Water is plentiful for most of the trail, until you get north of Middle Velma Lake where the water supplies can quickly decline between it and Richardson Lake. Beyond the latter, there are several streams and springs. The biggest year-round stream along this stretch is Miller Creek, located about 1.75 miles north of Richardson Lake. If you are thru-hiking, consider that north of Barker Pass it is another 2 miles before you reach water again.

Wilderness permits are required to enter Desolation Wilderness. Day-use permits are available at the trailhead. If you are camping you must obtain a permit through the Forest Service. The biggest concern with this section of trail, however, is that it is so magnificent that you may want to stay forever, so be sure to bring along enough food.

Getting There

Echo to Barker
This trail begins at either Echo Summit or Lower Echo Lake. Most people prefer to start at Lower Echo Lake, where you can avoid 2.2 miles of mostly viewless hiking, much of it close to Highway 50 or amongst summer cabins.

Echo Summit to Lower Echo Lake
From Meyers take Highway 50 westbound to Echo Summit. From the summit, drive just 0.3 miles and turn left. You will see an Echo Summit Sno-Park sign and then a California Conservation Corps sign. Park in the large parking lot and then walk to the western edge of the lot where you will see a Pacific Crest Trail/Tahoe Rim Trail sign marker. The trail parallels Highway 50 west through a mostly level to gently downhill, lightly forested area with some large red fir, western white pine, and lodgepole pine. You meet a dirt road 0.7 mile from the start; cross the road and turn right, then cross above a creek to adjacent Highway 50. Cross this very busy highway to where the trail resumes on the other side. Now the trail heads gently uphill through a thicker forest for 0.2 mile to Johnson Pass Road, the access road that you would take if you were starting at Echo Lake. You cross the road and head up a steep embankment and see a swift moving stream to the left. With 1.1 miles to go to Lower Echo Lake, the trail crosses the stream, which could be challenging when filled with mid-summer snowmelt. Walk through a lush and moist forest that will hold the snow until mid-summer, and then provide late summer wildflowers. Soon after, you pass several summer cabins and head downhill to the Lower Echo Lake's parking area. Cross this large paved parking lot, and another smaller dirt parking lot, to a short trail. You will find restroom facilities and the Echo Chalet Store here before you cross the lake's dam and reach the main trailhead.

Lower Echo Lake
From South Lake Tahoe drive west on Highway 50 to Echo Summit. From Echo Summit, drive 1 mile and turn right on Johnson Pass Road. Take this road 0.6 mile to a junction, where you will turn left on Echo Lakes Road. Go an additional 0.9 mile to a large parking lot above the lake. The resort requests that people using the trail not park in the lower parking lot near the lake. You reach the trail by walking from the Echo Chalet Store, and the lower parking lot, over the dam to a Tahoe Rim Trail sign. This section of the Tahoe Rim Trail is also part of the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. It is one of the more popular trails into Desolation Wilderness.

Barker Pass to Echo Lake/Summit
Take Highway 89 (West Lake Blvd.) about 4.25 miles south from Tahoe City and turn right onto Blackwood Canyon Road, starting opposite Kaspian Beach. Drive 7 miles to the crest above Blackwood Canyon to where the paved road turns to dirt, then another 0.2 mile to the Pacific Crest Trail trailhead dirt parking lot on your right. To access the trail, walk south across the dirt road and walk uphill about 50 yards.

Article © Wilderness Press. All rights reserved.


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