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Lake of the Woods Trail via PCT

Lake of the Woods Trail via Pacific Crest Trail

Recently I had the great fortune of hiking to Lake of the Woods with two of our sons. We took a chance, late in the hiking season (Early November), to travel a small portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. This wonderful little trail offered a variety of terrain, lakes and foliage. While challenging, in my current athletic ability, this well-traveled trail gives both the day hiker and backpacker stunning views and beautiful scenery.

Lake of the Woods camp with Peak 8383 in the background

Beginning at Echo Lake, you have two options for the beginning section of your hike. You can hire a water taxi to travel the length of Echo Lake or you can pick up the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) just North of the boat dock. We chose the later and made the gentle climb on the north-east side of the lake and walked along the cliffs 2.5 mile to the north-west end of Upper Echo Lake.

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From Upper Echo Lake (approx. 7400 ft elevation) you begin your steady climb for the next 2+ mile where you veer left departing the PCT (approx. 8300 ft elevation) and travel west towards Lake of the Woods. A little more climbing until you cross Ralston Peak (8400 ft elevation) before you begin your 400 ft descent to the Lake. Once at this beautiful alpine lake, you are welcomed with a wonderful panoramic view that melts away any pain from the last few hours.

November Sunset at Lake of the Woods

In all, our hike took us just over five hours to reach Lake of the Woods. Granted, my sons had to stop often, so the old man could catch his breath or straighten his back, but I think they welcomed the slow pace too. We lucked out between the weather, bugs and foot traffic, it could not have been better! With high temperatures in the 60’s and lows in the 30’s it was very comfortable. We covered the same ground on the return trip in three and a half hours, taking our time to stop and enjoy the views along the way.

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I read several reviews that complained about mosquitos during the summer months, but this was not an issue for us. The cold nights took care of our bug problems. The late season hike also helped with a normally persistent pest issue (other people). 😊 With the exception of a handful of thru-hikers and daytime trail runners, we had the lake to ourselves.

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We took full advantage of having the lake to ourselves, spending a lot of time exploring all the way around the lake. I even ventured up peak 8383 during an early morning walk about just to see what I could see. I was not disappointed. There is a two-night limit on camping at Lake of the Woods which was disappointing but… We’ll just come back sooner rather than later.

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Next trip through this section of the PCT will take us to Lake Aloha and beyond but I guarantee we will stay at this lovely little gem on our way back in.


Hope to see you on the trail,

Gene Chamberlin


Leave No Trace


See trail and trailhead details below

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Here is general information related to this hike:

Trailhead: Echo Lake

Distance 11+ miles out and back

Difficulty: Moderate

Type: Day hike or 2- to 3-day backpacking trip

Elevation gain: 1750 feet

High point: 8400 feet

Season: July to November, or earlier in years with low snowfall

Contact: Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

Maps: USGS Echo Lake, USGS Pyramid Peak, Desolation Wilderness by Tom Harrison Maps

Trailhead GPS coordinates: N 38 50.021 W 120 02.564


Notes: Dogs allowed on-leash. Free day-hiker permit at trailhead. Distance and elevation based on taking the water taxi across Echo Lakes. Toilet near trailhead.


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Desolation Wilderness Permits: Backpacking and Day Hiking

You must have a permit and pay a fee for all overnight trips in Desolation Wilderness. It’s best to obtain your permit from (Be sure to print it out and have it with you on your trip.) There are also a limited number of same-day permits available on a first-come, first-served basis at the following locations:


1. Taylor Creek Visitor Center, located on CA Highway 89 on the west side, 3.2 miles north of the junctions of CA Highway 89 and US Highway 50 in South Lake Tahoe (24.4 miles south of the intersections of CA Highways 89 and 28). Open daily from Memorial Day through October. 530-543-2674.


2. Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit supervisor’s office, located at 35 College Drive in South Lake Tahoe. Open weekdays year-round. 530-543-2600.


3. Pacific Ranger District, Eldorado National Forest, located 4 miles east of Pollock Pines on US Highway 50. Open daily from Memorial Day weekend through the end of September; open weekdays the rest of the year. 530-644-2349.


4. Incline Village office, located at 855 Alder Street in Incline Village, Nevada, on Lake Tahoe’s north shore. Open Wednesday through Friday year-round. 775-831-0914.


Note that day hikers also need a permit; these are available for free at all major trailheads.

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