Echo Lakes


Summary

Difficulty 2 Beginner-intermediate
Length 2.4 to 6.6 miles round trip
Starting
Elevation
7350 feet
Cumulative
Elevation
Change
+250, -250 feet
Navigation Road
Time Few hours to half day
Season Mid-December through mid-April (it may not be safe to ski on the lakes early and late in the season)
Snowmobiles Not permitted [Please report illegal use of snowmobiles in this area]
USGS Topo 7.5' series, Echo Lake
Start Echo Lake Sno-Park. From 1.2 miles west of the Echo Summit Maintenance Station on Highway 50, drive 0.6 mile east on Johnson Pass Road toward Berkeley Camp to the Sno-Park. The actual trailhead is the snow-covered road opposite the entrance to the Sno-Park.


Description

Echo Lakes is a very, very popular destination for skiers and snowshoers alike. They are a perfect place for a leisurely day or night tour; by moonlight the skiing seems effortless over the glowing lakes.

Image of skier on south shore of Lower Echo Lake
Skiing along south shore of Lower Echo Lake

Access to the lakes is via an easy to follow road. Once you arrive you can roam the lakes at your leisure and absorb the starkness of the basin that contrasts with the ridges that rise above.

The tour to Echo Lakes is rated beginner-intermediate because of the modestly steep, but short, downhill run from the highest point to Lower Echo Lake. Rank beginners may choose this tour knowing that they will have some difficulty with this section.

Echo Lakes is also notorious for windy conditions. When the winds are strong, two people holding a jacket between them, or even better a small tarp, can literally sail across the hard surface at an amazingly high speed. Kite flying can also be great if you have a durable one and unbreakable string.

Echo Lakes are usually solid enough to safely ski on during the mid-winter months. Regardless, of the month, you should always assess the conditions before skiing on the lakes. Avoid the inlets and the outlets of the lakes where the ice tends to be thinner.

Image of open water at west end of Lower Echo Lake
Open water at west end of Lower Echo Lake

Usually you can ski along the south edge of Echo Lakes when it is unsafe to ski on the lakes themselves. Skiing along the summer trail on the north side of the lakes is slow, more difficult, and no substitute for the open, hard-packed surface of the lakes.

Please stay away from the many privately owned cabins at Echo Lakes. Also, be aware that overnight camping is not permitted in the basin.

A short extension of this tour takes you to Tamarack Lake while the extension to Desolation Valley is long. But if you are looking for a grand view and excellent downhill terrain you will want to climb Echo Peak.

You do not need a permit to visit Echo Lakes. However, a permit is required for day use as well as overnight camping in Desolation Wilderness, which begins approximately one-half mile west of Upper Echo Lake. This means that the Tamarack Lake, Desolation Valley and Echo Peak tours require permits.

Mileage Log
Numbers in parentheses
correspond to mileage points on map

Miles: 0.0 - 1.2
Elevation change: +150, -100 feet

Locate the snow-covered road and trailhead (1)opposite the entrance to the Sno-Park and follow the road northwest for 1.2 miles until you reach the southeast end of Lower Echo Lake (2). You can expect a gradual climb followed by a short, steep descent to the lake. Stay left on the obvious main road if you see any road junctions.

Miles: 1.2 - 2.6
Elevation change: Nil

If it is safe, ski northwest across the lower lake for 1.4 miles until you reach its northwest end (3). Otherwise ski along the south edge of Echo Lakes. Skiing along the summer trail on the north side of the lakes is slow, more difficult, and no substitute for the open, hard-packed surface of the lakes.

Miles: 2.6 - 2.7
Elevation change: Nil

Ski west for 0.1 mile until you reach the southeast end of Upper Echo Lake (4).

Miles: 2.7 - 3.3
Elevation change: Nil

Ski northwest across the upper lake for 0.6 mile until you reach its northwest end (5).

Miles: 3.3 - 6.6
Elevation change: +100, -150 feet

Retrace the route for 3.3 miles back to the trailhead (1).

Elevation Profile
Elevation profile
Link to elevation profile
Link to waypoint data
Link to full page map
Link to see and submit reviews and corrections about tour