Gus at Echo Lake. Photo: Kat Stan (CC)
El Dorado County is one of the state’s most diverse when it comes to beguiling attractions. From dog-friendly wineries and hip, historic towns to sparkling lakes (most notably Lake Tahoe), snowy mountains and distinctive lodging, this is one of California’s most visited destinations.
If outdoor recreation with your dog is high on your agenda this summer, consider focusing a visit on the Echo Summit area along the Highway 50 corridor. Echo Lakes, near the top of the 7,382-foot pass, is a popular destination that draws scores of DogTrekkers each weekend to a four-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail leading up to Desolation Wilderness. Leashes aren’t required here, but do keep your pup from sniffing around lakeshore vacation homes, which are private property. By the time you reach the boat-taxi dock at the wilderness boundary, you’ll both be ready for a swim in the cold, clear water. (Insider tip: To beat the weekend pack headed up to Desolation, take the boat taxi from Echo Chalet, where you’ll also want to pick up a free wilderness permit. Cost is $12 per person, $5 per dog.)
Also off the Highway 50 corridor is the Crystal Basin Recreation Area, accessed by Ice House Road. This 85,000-acre region, a joint management venture between the U.S Forest Service and the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, holds five sparkling lakes (Ice House, Union Valley, Gerle Creek, Loon and Wright’s). The largest, Union Valley, has 24 miles of shoreline and several miles of paved bike trail.
More than 700 dog-friendly campsites are scattered throughout the ruggedly scenic Crystal Basin region. A DogTrekker favorite is the campground at Gerle Creek Reservoir, a small lake where only non-motorized watercraft are allowed. At the top of the chain of lakes is Loon Lake, a turquoise gem nestled in a granite basin with a dog-friendly hiking trail leading into Desolation Wilderness. The famous Rubicon 4x4 trail also can be accessed here; expect to see lots of tricked-out Jeeps and other rough-country vehicles parked along the road. Lower down, Bassi Falls makes a great hiking destination even when it’s barely trickling.
One more Highway 50 destination deserves a spot on your summer schedule. Horsetail Falls, visible from the highway at Twin Bridges, is an 800-foot cataract that’s certifiably dramatic even in a drought year. Take the Pyramid Creek Trail to the base of the falls and follow a side creek to a series of granite-rimmed pools where both you and your pup can safely cool off. Word of warning: the trail traverses lots of bare, exposed granite, so go early in the morning or put booties on your dog to protect his feet.