Distance: 12 miles
Type: Overnight; Out-&-Back
Length: 3.5 to 4 hours one-way
Trailhead Directions: Google Maps
Permits: Day-use permits are located at the trailhead. Overnight backpacking permits are located here.
NOTE: Make sure to reserve your overnight permit well in advance. The “Destination Zone” is Aloha (#33).
Parking: Parking is located in a small dirt lot or on Echo Lakes Road up the hill from the Echo Chalet and water-taxi dock. It is free to park.
NOTE: If leaving your car overnight, make sure to hide valuables and keep doors locked. Since the lot is not well marked, it is also likely that your car may get boxed in (this happened to us).
Preparation: Check out A Quick Checklist for information on what to bring. For this backpacking trip I recommend:
- 80L backpack
- Sleeping Bag
- Water (1.5-2 gallons/person)
- Food (power bars, trail mix, sandwiches, etc.)
- Bear Canister
- Bear Spray
- Sturdy Shoes & Extra Socks
- Bug Spray
Begin walking on the paved path (next to the water taxi dock and Echo Chalet). The trailhead has a map of Desolation Wilderness (it’s helpful to take a picture to have an idea of the trail and locations of other lakes along the hike, including Lake Lucille, Lake of the Woods, Tamarack Lake and Triangle Lake).
The trailhead to the end of the Upper Echo Lake is about 2.65 miles and is also known as “The Scenic Trail”. Taking the water taxi shaves off this portion of the hike. If you choose to hike along Lower and Upper Echo Lakes, be prepared for the first of many killer views:
After completing the first portion of the hike, the trail terrain turns into loose rocks and gravel, which can be slippery at times. After about 3.5 miles into the hike, the Scenic Trail turns into the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) at this sign:
For the remainder of the hike, follow a series of signs that are labelled “Lake Aloha”. The first Lake that you will see before reaching Lake Aloha is Tamarack Lake, located to the left of the trail:
After Tamarack Lake, the trail continues upward until the Haypress Meadows are reached (note that this is where the bug spray came in handy!):
Lake Aloha Signage:
The last mile of the hike is marked by a split in the trail that gives two different options for reaching Lake Aloha:
- To the left, the trail leads down to the south shore of Lake Aloha. It’s a beautiful trail and many campsites can be found along the path.
- To the right, the trail continues through a heavily wooded portion of the forest and leads to the shore on the southeastern side of the lake. (We took this trail and I highly recommend it). The further along the shore you hike, the less campers there are.
After we reached the shore, we continued hiking another quarter mile to find a secluded campsite next to the water:
The evening was quiet and beautiful:
After waking up around 6:30a, we took our time packing up our camp. We were on the trail again at 8:45a. We followed the trail along the shore until we reached the south end of the lake (we picked up on the trail that turned “left” on the split mentioned above). We reached the sign that gave the two options for reaching Lake Aloha and continued the same way we hiked the previous day. Luckily, the way back is more downhill than uphill and we were able to finish the hike in less than 4 hours.
Note: The Echo Lakes portion of the hike is a popular destination and crowds are large during the weekends.
This is the perfect “beginner” backpacking trip; whether it’s your first time doing an overnight backpacking trip or if you’re testing new gear, it is a well-marked trail with amazing views to match!