With the heat on in the Valley, it's time for a trek into the cool Sierra. But let's not stress over it. One of the easier hikes is along the trail that parallels Lower and Upper Echo Lakes. It's part of the Pacific Crest Trail. Though the altitude is around 7,400 feet, the elevation gain is negligible. This hike is ideal for beginners and hearty children, and for veteran hikers wishing to enter the Desolation Wilderness beyond Upper Echo.
Four of us drove to the Echo Summit area and spotted the Echo Lakes turnoff on the left (look for the sign on the right). Though we got lucky and found a parking spot at the compound known as Echo Chalet, usually it's crowded. In the past, we've found it more convenient to park in the lot above and walk down.
Echo Chalet (open through Sept. 11) offers bungalow and boat rentals, and goods are sold at a deli-grocery store. The marina has a launch ramp for those with their own boats.
We walked past all that and stopped at the kiosk to fill out the paperwork for a day-use permit, then hit the trail. We planned to hike back to the boat-taxi dock, at the end of Upper Echo Lake, and return, a six-mile round trip. But first we strolled just past the trailhead (on the left) for a fine eagle's-eye view toward Lake Tahoe.
On the trail, we saw towering formations of granite and weird, wind-twisted fir trees. On the left, a tangle of manzanita and boulders formed a barrier between us and the shoreline, though it's possible to bushwhack through. The lake glittered invitingly like a field of sapphires.
Toward the end of Lower Echo Lake is a handful of waterfront cabins. They are privately owned, though they sit on federal land in a somewhat controversial arrangement. They are passed on from generation to generation within the families that own them.
The trail takes an uphill swing at the Lower and Upper Echo Lakes junction. We walked onto the boat-taxi dock, where we had lunch and fished for a while. Yes, the fish are still there, waiting for something more tempting than a Mepps spinner or a dry fly.
The dock is a nice place to hang out, dangle your tired feet in the chilly water or get a running start and cannonball into the lake. Or follow the trail a little farther and discover an old Boy Scout camp.
If you don't want to hike back to Echo Chalet, a nearby kiosk houses two phones to call the boat taxi. One is a direct link to Echo Chalet; the other is a pay phone that works with a credit card only.
Where: Echo Lakes
When: Late spring to early fall
Getting there: Take Highway 50 east to the Echo Summit area and look on the right for the Echo Lakes sign. Turn left there and then turn left again at Johnson Pass Road. You'll come to a parking lot in view of the lake.
Water taxi: The taxi runs on request. The fee is $9.50 per person each way, with a $20 minimum.
For more information: (530) 659-7207 or www.echochalet.com.