If you've never tried snowshoeing, what are you waiting for? And if you have? Well, like we said, what are you waiting for?
With apologies to Robert Frost, conditions for stopping by woods on a snowy morning are generally ideal in late March and early April, with temperatures warm enough that you may find yourself hiking in a T-shirt and without gloves. You'll have to use a little ingenuity, however, if you'd like to enjoy the company of Rocky romping (legally) off-leash at your side, at least in the Lake Tahoe area. And in a dry year like this one, with the snowpack melting off fast, you may have to climb higher than in previous years to find your just rewards.
To smooth the way, purchase a Sno-Park permit ($5 per day, $25 per season) that allows you to park and play at 19 locations in the Sierra Nevada, most of them around Tahoe.
One of our faves for trekking with dogs is the Echo Lakes Sno-Park at Johnson’s Pass Road on Highway 50. The elevation here, a cool 7,500 feet, makes it a good bet in spring. From the parking lot, three ski trails loop through the woods while a main trail, actually a snow-covered road, winds down to the shore of Lower Echo Lake. The lake freezes over in winter, attracting many cross-county skiers and their canine companions, but your safest bet when the ice begins to break up in spring is to follow the trail hugging the right (north) side of the lake for as far as it’s comfortably navigable. (This year, you may be able to hike some of it in boots.) It’s about a mile to the far side of Lower Echo and another 2.5 miles to the far end of the upper lake and a marker at the boundary of the Desolation Wilderness Area.
No matter how far you go, prepare for scenic overload—and save plenty of energy for the uphill slog back to your car. At the end of the day, you’ll wish you were mushing behind a fresh team of dogs rather than panting beside a tired Rover.