Echo Lakes

These two glaciated lakes have become one of the most popular Nordic ski destinations in the Tahoe vicinity.  The convenient access from Tahoe's south shore and moderate terrain can provide a great cross-country skiing experience.  Echo Lakes is also the most popular trailhead for extended ski camping excursions into Desolation Wilderness.  Please be aware the area from the Echo Chalet down to the Berkeley Camp and Highway 50 is closed to skiing due to high avalanche danger.  Weekends may be crowded in this area, and skiers seeking solitude may wish to consider other areas.  Please respect the privacy of the residential cabins in the Echo Lakes basin.  Echo Lakes is a day use area only!  A topographic map and compass are recommended.  A link to the PDF version of the Echo Lakes Recreational Opportunity Guide with Map is provided below.


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Trail Descriptions


 Trail  Difficulty  Elevation
1. Little Shorty Loop A green circle which denotes a trail rating of easy. 7,300' 0.4 M/0.7 km
2. Echo Lakes Ski Trail A green circle which denotes a trail rating of easy. 7,300' 1.1 M/1.8 km
3. Big Shorty Loop A green circle which denotes a trail rating of easy. 7,300' 0.5 M/0.7 km
4. Ridge Loop A blue square whice denotes a trail rating of moderate. 7,300'/7,400' 1.1 M/1.8 km








1. Little Shorty Loop
This loop can be accessed from the southeast corner of the Echo Lakes Sno-Park.  The loop trail starts about 100 feet south of the parking lot down a main stem trail that leads you to the other two loop trails. Blue diamonds and blue signs with yellow arrows guide you through this high elevation forest.  The predominant trees in this forest are called conifers.  The trees bear cones to produce their seeds, and their leaves are in the shape of various needles.  The variety of tree species includes red fir, western white pine, Jeffrey pine, sugar pine, and lodgepole pine.  It is a good warm-up trail to start your skiing with.  It takes you over some rolling terrain as you meander through the trees.

2. Echo Lakes Ski Trail
This trail follows the Echo Lakes Road.  The terrain is fairly gentle.  Views of the glacier-created Echo Lakes await the cross-country skiers of this trail.

3. Big Shorty Loop
This ski trail loop starts about 200 feet south of the junction with the Little Shorty Loop, and takes you through and around a small basin.  The predominant trees of this loop are lodgepole pine.  Lodgepole pine has a high tolerance for moisture and can live in soils that would drown roots of other trees.  Yes, a tree’s roots need to breather in order to uptake the water and minerals that a tree needs to grow.  This trail will eventually lead you back to the main stem trail, but it will be further south than where the trail first connects to the main stem trail.

4. Ridge Loop
This trail involves some steeper terrain than the two shorter loops.  It will take you through a forest with three distinct sizes of trees.  You will see the saplings grouped together among a fairly open forest of intermediate-sized trees.  As the trail gets close to Highway 50, you will encounter scattered large trees.  This is an opportunity to see trees in a variety of sizes.



A Sno-Park Permit is required to park in the Echo Lakes Sno-Park.  Overnight parking is allowed.  Daily permits are $5.00 and a season pass is $25.00.  Permits are available from the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Forest Supervisor's Office during regular office hours.  On evenings and weekends, permits may be purchased from the Chevron Gas Station in Meyers or CVS at the "Y" in South Lake Tahoe.  You may also purchase a Sno-Park permit from Permit Vendors located throughout Northern California.  Parking is not allowed along Highway 50.  During snow removal, any vehicle parked illegally may be towed at the owner's expense.  Please observe the signs.  Echo Lakes is a day use area only!


Camping is permitted in Desolation Wilderness with a valid wilderness permit.  Overnight permits must be obtained in person from either the El Dorado Information Center in Camino on Hwy 50 or the Forest Service Office in South Lake Tahoe.  Portable gas stoves are allowed, campfires are not permitted.


Winter Off-Highway Vehicle recreational use, including snowmobiles, is not permitted in this area except for authorized personnel.  Please see our Snowmobile web page for information on where snowmobiles are allowed.

Safety Tips

Be on the alert for avalanches, the Echo Lakes area is especially susceptible.  Watch for avalanche paths; avoid old slide paths, open gullies and slopes.  Snow falling at the rate of one inch per hour increases avalanche danger.  Be extra cautious during and shortly after storms.  Skiing over frozen lakes, rivers and streams may be hazardous and is not recommended!  Please see our Avalanche Hazards web page for more information.

Weather conditions can change rapidly in the mountains.  Be prepared with the proper clothing by dressing in layers.  A topographic map and compass are recommended for unmarked trails.  For more safety tips and other cross-country ski information see the menu on the right side of this page.

Questions? Contact the Forest Service at:

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit
35 College Drive
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150
(530) 543-2600 (voice)
(530) 543-0956 (Hearing Impaired)
Hours: Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.