Lake Aloha is one of the most popular destinations for day hikers and overnight backpackers who want to explore the 63,000-acre Desolation Wilderness west of Lake Tahoe. Once a series of smaller lakes that has since been dammed for small-scale hydroelectric, Lake Aloha’s iridescent blue waters lie in stark contrast to the sheer granite walls of the Crystal Range peaks. This straightforward hike offers options for hikers of all abilities as you follow the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) up the glacial valley leading to Lake Aloha.
What Makes It Great
This visually stunning hike begins from the Echo Lakes Trailhead, approximately 10 miles southeast of South Lake Tahoe. Hikers and backpackers can choose to follow the PCT northbound along the shoreline of Lower and Upper Echo Lakes for 2.5 miles, or opt for a paid water shuttle across both lakes. Speedy hikers can often outpace the slow moving water taxi, but the service comes in handy when hiking with a group of varying abilities.
After hiking 2.5 miles around Echo Lakes (or opting for the water taxi), the route to Lake Aloha continues to follow the PCT for an additional 3.5 miles and 600 feet of elevation gain. The trail from Echo Lakes climbs steadily through a glacially sculpted valley filled with shale and loose rocks. Soon after passing the junction for Ralston, Tamarack, and Cagwin Lakes, the path takes you through Haypress Meadows and thick groves of hemlock pines before ultimately emerging at the southeastern shore of Lake Aloha.
As the largest body of water in Desolation Wilderness, Lake Aloha offers a myriad opportunities for exploration. The PCT continues to skirt Aloha’s eastern shoreline, with spectacular views of the Crystal Range that seem to change with every step along the trail.
Who is Going to Love It
This is a fantastic hike for day hikers and backpackers alike. Lake Aloha often serves as a perfect introduction to overnight backpacking because of its relative proximity to the trailhead, especially considering the water taxi option. Wildflowers above Echo Lakes and in Haypress Meadows will keep both amateur and professional photographers entertained.
For those with canine companions, several miles of the trail are covered with sharp granite that can be damaging to your pups’ paws.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Camping in the Desolation Wilderness is strictly regulated, with Lake Aloha being one of the most popular destinations. Day hikers are required to fill out a free day-use permit at the trailhead. Campfires are never allowed in Desolation Wilderness. For more information, visit the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
From South Lake Tahoe, drive west on Highway 50 toward Sacramento. As you drive over Echo Summit, a short passing lane emerges with the single lane Johnson Pass Road branching off to the right. Bear right on Johnson Pass Road, then take your second right following signs for Echo Lakes. Parking can be challenging during busy summer months.
Featured image provided by Aaron Hussman
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