There are reasons why the section of the Pacific Crest Trail leading from†Echo Chaletinto Desolation Wilderness(part of theEldorado National Forest†) is so doggone popular: It's easy most of the way, you can take a boat taxi back if you tucker out-and you can grab a cold one at the store by the trailhead. Not to mention that the scenery, from snow-capped peaks to sparkling water to the cute little cabins on the shoreline, is so arresting you'll have trouble keeping your eyes on the trail.
Due to the Sierra snowpack, the popular Echo Lakes summer resort area at Echo Summit on Highway 50 didn't open until July 1 this year, and the upper reaches of Desolation promise to remain deliciously spotted with snow into August. The 2.5 miles of trail from the Chalet to the far end of scenic Upper Echo Lake are free and clear for hiking, however, and the resort's boat taxi goes back and forth all day.
Hit the trail early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day and the crowds that will come later. On weekends, it can seem as if as many dogs as people are making the trek into Desolation, and half the canines are carrying backpacks. If your time is short and your goal is to head up to the beautiful lakes -Tamarack, Lake of the Woods, Aloha-that can be accessed in a day trip, consider taking the boat taxi to or from the dock at the wilderness boundary ($10 per person; dogs free; make arrangements at the Chalet). You'll knock off 90 minutes of dusty hiking either way, and Fido will thank you for getting him to the water faster. If you plan to go past Upper Echo and into Desolation, remember to fill out a (free) wilderness permit at the Chalet.
Photos: "Echo Chalet" - Glen Gould (CC); "Boat Taxi" - Janet Fullwood