Sunday, April 5, 2015

Best Hikes In Tahoe - South Shore - Meyer's Grade To Echo Lake

Category - Moderate
View Rating - 6 out of 10
Distance - Approximately 6 miles round trip (As always on any hike of any distance, bring extra food, water, and clothes!)
Elevation Gain - 1200 feet
Highest Point - 7600 feet along Echo Lakes Road

Note that this hike is NOT a classic, single-track trail through the mountains.
This is another "Road hike," easy for a group "Walk-and-Talk." The views are quite grand from certain points, the access is easy, and the two Echo Lakes, at 7400 feet, are certainly gems of the Sierra.
To access this hike, drive to the base of Meyer's Grade, the old highway up Echo Summit. To get there, you drive southwest from Meyers toward the base of Echo Summit. Just after you cross the Upper Truckee River, take a left on South Upper Truckee Road. Then take the first right and drive up to the closed gate. You can park along side the road.

Note that I did a previous post on "The Grade" that only describes the lower section up to Hwy 50. You can see that here: Meyer's Grade. This post also describes the upper section, above Hwy 50 and continuing on to Echo Lake.

Here's the gate at the bottom, making "The Grade" perfect for strollers, hikers, and the occasional bicyclist. In normal years, there would be four or five feet of snowpack here at the beginning of April, and people would be on snowshoes and cross-country skis.

As you head up The Grade, you can see the ridge up ahead, that's our eventual destination.

At the end of Christmas Valley, you can see Steven's Peak. Despite the worst snowpack in history, it still has some snow fields above 8000 feet.

This is the gate at the top of The Grade. (We've just come up from behind it to the right.) Here is where you cross the highway. Be careful as the traffic moves fast! Once you are across the highway, go down to where that dark car is. Old Meyer's Grade continues up the mountain on the other side of the highway. If you look closely, you can see the embankment where it rises up above the far side of the highway.

Occasionally as you walk up the switchbacks, you will get great views. Here's looking to the north at Mt. Tallac. It still has a little bit of snow on the south-facing slopes.

At the top of the switchbacks, you come to Echo Summit Lodge, the domain of the California Alpine Club. You can join the club, if you like, and then participate in their activities. In addition to the Echo Summit Lodge, they have a lodge on Mt. Tam in Marin County. Here's the website: California Alpine Club.

From the Echo Summit Lodge, head west down Johnson Pass Road. You'll go past a dirt trail called Echo Rd. Don't go there. Continue to the slightly larger paved road, Echo Lakes Rd. and turn right. It is marked with the sign above. 

As we walked northwest on Echo Lakes Rd., we came to our first snow. Normally, this road is covered in six feet of snow at the beginning of April and is impassable until the middle of June.

On the right, you'll come to Berkeley Echo Lake Camp, a fantastic recreation site operated by the city of Berkeley. Check out the website: BerkeleyEcho Lake Camp.

The view from Berkeley Camp shows Lake Baron in the foreground and a pretty swanky view of Tahoe in the distance!

There are quite a few cute Forest Service cabins along Echo Lakes Road. These are cabins that sit on Forest Service land that is leased from the Forest Service. Owners will tell you that it is very hard to keep up with changing Forest Service regulations. Some think that the ultimate goal of the Forest Service is to reclaim the land and remove the cabins. Many of us know of cabins that have been removed under the government complaint that the owners didn't keep up to standards such as waste disposal and such.

This cabin has an amazing view!

Now we come to our first view of Lower Echo Lake. Peeking out from the tree branch on the left is Pyramid Peak, then comes Mt. Agassiz and Mt. Price. All three are just shy of 10,000 feet and within 16 feet of each other in elevation.

Here's the upper parking lot at Echo Lakes.

Here's the lower lot. Despite a fair number of spaces in both lots, if you come here between July 4th and Labor Day, you won't find a space unless you arrive early.

This is the Echo Lakes Lodge, a great place to get treats like ice cream cones during the summer.

Note that there is a great trail that goes over the dam and then along the entire north shore of the lakes. Although Echo Lakes themselves are not in Desolation Wilderness, this sign reminds you that if you intend to enter the wilderness, you need a permit.

Kayakers enjoying ice cold water. Although this pic was taken April 3rd, we've been up here on July 4th and found Echo Lakes still frozen! Despite climate change, in the future you would want to plan for Echo Lakes to be frozen at least well into May and maybe even until sometime in June.

Echo Lakes is a fantastic place to hike to and hike along. In a future post, I'll describe hiking along the shore back toward Desolation Wilderness.

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