Echo to Emerald: An ideal backpack for the weekend warrior |

Echo to Emerald: An ideal backpack for the weekend warrior

Adam Jensen


SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – The Desolation Wilderness is full of good overnight backpacking trips and short multi-day excursions. The 63,960-acre wilderness area just beyond the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe is accessible from more than a dozen trailheads and seems ready-made for the weekend warrior.

But possibly the best way to see the majority of the southern half of the consistently stunning alpine and sub-alpine wilderness area is taking two nights to backpack between Echo Lakes and Emerald Bay.

The hike sticks mostly to the Pacific Crest Trail and takes travelers through a portion of the Sierra Nevada dominated by granite, but punctuated by the incredibly clear water of nearly a dozen small to medium-sized lakes.

Hikers pass a trio of waterfalls on the route. Healthy winter snowfall has caused a seasonal flourish of lush green vegetation and yellow, red and purple wildflowers.

Dicks Pass (elev. 9,380′) is easily the most challenging portion of the hike, but the straight line across a series of elevation lines on a topographical map looks more intimidating than the switchbacks that go up the pass in real life.

As of July 11, the remnants of winter storms still covered the upper reaches of the north-facing side of the pass. The snow obscures the trail at points, making it easy to lose your way. Small patches of snow also persisted on the south-facing side of Dicks Pass, but were much easier to navigate than large snowfields on the north-facing side earlier this month.

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All that extra water has caused another, less attractive, seasonal member of the wilderness area: mosquitoes.

Finding a campsite away from water and exposed to a slight breeze will help, but for those looking to camp as close to the water as wilderness regulations allow, insect repellent is the only way to go.

But the buzzing of mosquitoes is possibly the only sound travelers will hear at night.

While the wilderness area is one of the most, if not the most, traveled wilderness areas in the country, day hikers clear out at night and leave you with no questions about the appropriateness of Desolation Wilderness’ name.

Completing the hike from Echo Lakes to Emerald Bay requires someone to pick you up or parking a car at both Echo Lakes and the Eagle Falls trailhead. Free parking is available at both. Parking inside the Eagle Falls lot will cost you $5 without an overnight wilderness permit, which is required for overnight stays in the area.

Travel in Desolation Wilderness is regulated by a variety of other special regulations, including a ban on campfires. The area is regularly patrolled by backcountry rangers.

For more information on hiking in Desolation Wilderness, contact the U.S. Forest Service at (530) 543-2600.