Why, you ask? Because backpacking Southbound out of Meeks Bay trailhead, where you begin the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route, to the Echo Lake Chalet only covers a grand total of 28.71 miles.
Because of this short distance, I have not needed to use the Echo Lake Chalet for Resupply purposes when coming South out of Meeks Bay. It's just too soon to resupply for my pace and carrying capacity. But you may decide to use Echo Lake as your first resupply point out of Meeks Bay trailhead on your Classic Tahoe to Yosemite backpacking trip.
Echo Lake is listed here as a resupply point more to assist Northbound Pacific Crest Trail hikers with resupply information, rather than Southbound Tahoe to Whitney backpackers.
Read more about your route options and the differences between the Pacific Crest Trail and the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail in the Trail Guide Index, on the Carson Gap Trail Guide page, in the maps section, and in the miles and elevations pages.
But now, how Southbound hikers can best utilize Echo Lake Chalet.
Southbound on the Tahoe to Yosemite Route
Meeks Bay to Echo Lake Chalet
Resupplying at Echo Lake will allow you to take an easy pace and carry a lighter load through the majestic beauties of Desolation Wilderness. Sending food to Echo Lake Chalet will lighten your pack for the first couple of days of your trip from Meeks Bay to the Echo Chalet.
Meeks Bay to Echo Lake Chalet: 28.71 miles
If you resupply at Echo Lake Chalet coming South out of Meeks Bay you can pack two, or even three nights of food for a very leisurely pace to start your trip from Meeks Bay across the Desolation Wilderness. Or, your ultralight pack can give you the ability to cover long distances quickly.
Otherwise, without resupplying at Echo Lake Chalet, you will have to pack at least five nights of food to cover the 63 mile distance between Meeks Bay to the Lake Alpine Lodge. Passing by Echo Lake Chalet, and using Lake Alpine as your first resupply demands this section of your backpacking trip South will require at least an average of 12 miles a day.
Meeks Bay to Lake Alpine Lodge: 63 miles
If you decided to resupply at Echo Chalet, you only needed to carry enough food to cover the 29 miles from Meeks to Echo, and can now pick up your light resupply for the remaining 34 miles between Echo Chalet and the Lake Alpine Lodge, where you will pick up your next resupply package. As you can see, you can keep your pack weight very low by resupplying at both Echo Lake Chalet and the Lake Alpine lodge.
Echo Lake Chalet to Lake Alpine Lodge: 34 miles
How much time you plan on taking between Meeks Bay and your first resupply at Echo Lake Chalet will determine the amount of food you need to pack to cross Desolation Wilderness. This in turn depends on your capabilities, your expectations, and most importantly, if you plan on resupplying at the Echo Lake Chalet at all.
Or, you can pack all of the food you need for the whole 68 mile distance between Meeks Bay and the Lake Alpine Lodge on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route. It's up to you.
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The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route South to the Lake Alpine Lodge
Echo Lake to the Lake Alpine Lodge
Instead of stopping to resupply at Echo Lake Chalet, I pick up my first resupply at The Lake Alpine Lodge on Highway 4.
The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail passes .5 of a mile East of the Lake Alpine Lodge where the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail crosses Highway 4. (map) It is an easy walk to the Lake Alpine Lodge on a paved path alongside scenic Lake Alpine.
The Lake Alpine Lodge is 62.73 miles South of Meeks Bay on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail Route.
Thus Lake Alpine Lodge is 34.02 miles South of Echo Lake Chalet on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, for those who resupplied at Echo Lake Chalet.
Resupply options along the Pacific Crest Trail route South to the Lake Alpine Lodge
Ebbetts Pass is where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses Highway 4. Ebbetts Pass's location requires that the resupplying backpacker make about a 15 mile hitchhike down the Western Flank of the Sierras on Highway 4 to the Lake Alpine Lodge. It is worth it. The Lake Alpine Lodge has fine food, cheaper bar food, a bar, showers, and laundry facilities. And they take and hold your resupply bucket for free!
Ebbetts Pass is 40.1 miles South of the Echo Lake Chalet along the Pacific Crest Trail.
Sonora Pass is 68.42 miles South of the Echo Lake Chalet on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Sonora Pass is 28.32 miles South of Ebbetts Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Kennedy Meadows Pack Station is your best resupply spot on the whole Tahoe to Whitney Trail, and sits a mere 8 miles West of the Sonora Pass.
The Difference Between the Southbound Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trail Routes
(Also see the discussion on route differences between the Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trails between the Carson Gap and Lake Alpine on the Carson Gap trail guide page.)
If you head to the Southwest from the Carson Gap, and cross the Southwest flank of Round Top and the Sisters, you will be following the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route along the Western Flank of the Sierras through Summit City Creek and across the West Mokelumne River to Lake Alpine.
Your other option from the Carson Gap is to turn Southeast and follow the Pacific Crest Trail through the Carson Pass. The Pacific Crest Trail traces its route to Ebbetts Pass along the Easter Flank of the Sierras. Check this USGS Topo Map for details.
Both Ebbetts Pass and the Lake Alpine Lodge are located on Highway 4. Lake Alpine is located about 25 miles down the Western Flank of the Sierras from Ebbetts Pass. Check this google road map for details.
Thus it is advantageous to ultimately explore both routes, if you want to gain a fuller knowledge of both flanks of this amazing section of the Sierra Crest.
Resupply strategy for Northbound backpackers on the Pacific Crest Trail
When heading North from Tuolumne Meadows, I suggest that the Pacific Crest Trail backpacker resupply at the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station, Lake Alpine Lodge, and Echo Lake Chalet. These are all of the easily available resupply points between Tuolumne Meadows and Lake Tahoe, and I suggest that the Pacific Crest Trail hiker visit them all.
Many Pacific Crest Trailers are ready to use Kennedy Meadows Pack Station as their first resupply point, as it sits 75 miles North of Tuolumne Meadows. This causes many Pacific Crest Trail hikers to bypass the Lake Alpine Lodge, because it is only 30 miles North of Kennedy Meadows on the PCT. This means that the majority of Pacific Crest Trail hikers will choose to pick up their next resupply at the Echo Lake Chalet, which sits 69 miles North of Kennedy Meadows.
This strategy roughly splits the 144 mile distance between Tuolumne Meadows and Echo Lake Chalet in half, putting each resupply point about 75 miles apart. Most Pacific Crest Trail hikers find this the most efficient plan.
I have found that a large percentage of Northbound Pacific Crest Trail hikers are ready to take a couple of days off to rest and resupply in South Lake Tahoe, where all backpacker resources are available in ample quantities.
Distances on the Pacific Crest Trail North from Tuolumne Meadows
Sonora Pass: 75 miles (Kennedy Meadows Pack Station) Resupply. Map.
Ebbetts Pass: 105 miles (Lake Alpine Lodge or Bear Valley) Resupply. Map.
Echo Lake Chalet: 144 miles (South Lake Tahoe is also in close proximity) Resupply. Map.
Your Southbound Resupply Options from other Lake Tahoe Trailheads
Other Southbound Trailhead Options
Another option is to begin your Southbound trip from Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney from other Lake Tahoe trailheads, such as the South Upper Truckee or Echo Summit trailheads. Both of these trailheads lay South of the Echo Lake Chalet, making the Echo Lake Chalet irrelevant for backpackers starting Southbound trips out of these trailheads.
In any case, and independent of where you finally decide to resupply, I always strongly suggest stopping and feeding up at every resupply point between Lake Tahoe and Mount Whitney that you cross, whether you are picking up a resupply there or not. Echo Lake Chalet is known for its Milkshakes.
Character Analysis: The Echo Lake trailhead, and Desolation Wilderness in general
There is one big problem with backpacking out of either the Meeks Bay or Echo Lake trailheads through Desolation Wilderness along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route during Summertime.
Desolation Wilderness is one of the most congested Wilderness Areas in the whole country. It runs at capacity from the Meeks Bay trailhead to the Echo Lake trailhead during the length of the Summer backpacking season.
Echo Lake is the main Southern trailhead into the Desolation Wilderness. Echo Lake is packed with people during the Summertime, with the heavy backpacker traffic supplementing the lakeside homeowners and their guests, the patrons of the Chalet's Cabins, as well as visiting tourists and people from the nearby Berkeley Camp.
It's a frk'n zoo during the Summertime.
Meeks Bay is on Desolation's Northern boundary, and though it is a bit quieter up there, that trailhead will also be running at capacity during the Summer. Desolation Wilderness is crazy busy during the peak Summer months. So don't expect any desolation in the Desolation Wilderness during Summer, or you will be very disappointed. This is an excellent circumstance for new backpackers uncertain in the wilderness: You are not alone in the Desolation Wilderness. This makes this a great place to work out your issues.
In practical terms this means that you should not expect to obtain a permit at the trailhead for the classic Tahoe to Yosemite Trail rout that begins in Meeks Bay during the peak Summer period.
I strongly suggest that you preorder your permit. Check the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit page on this site for more information on ordering permits and contact information for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
Any questions or thoughts on all this? Contact me through my email link below, or post up on the TahoetoWhitney.Org backpacker's resupply forum for Echo Lake.
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