Trip Report: Backpacking Lake Aloha, Desolation Wilderness — CA
Trip Date: June 18–19, 2022
Lake Aloha is one of Rosie’s favorite childhood places to backpack with her dad. I felt honored when she wanted to take us for our annual friends and doggos backpacking trip. After several attempts over the years held up by fires, COVID, and thunderstorms, we finally made it out there and I can see why she chose to come here year after year; it truly is a beautiful place!
Permit: On Recreation.gov, search Desolation Wilderness permits and select “33 Aloha”. There is a limit of 36 permits per day, 70% of which are available to reserve online 6 months in advance. Cost is $6 flat for the reservation fee and $5 additional for each person. There is an option to print your permit within 7 days of entry date or to pick it up at a ranger station. Remember to bring a copy of your permit with you. A ranger checked ours before we started! An overnight parking pass comes with your permit and should be left on your car dashboard.
Getting There: Route Google maps to Echo Lakes trailhead
Parking: Small lot at the Echo Lakes trailhead with additional parking available along the side of the road. Place the overnight parking pass that comes with your permit on the dash before leaving the car.
Route: Echo Lakes Trailhead > Lake Aloha
Trail length: 12.0 miles
Elevation Change: 1,889 ft
Weather: High 70s/low 40s at night the week prior to our trip turned into high 50s/ low 30s, with wind gusts up to 18MPH. There was also a chance of rain and snow showers the night before. We debated whether to cancel once again but after looking at the hourly forecast winds were set to die down by 8:00 pm before sunset. We agreed that seemed like bearable conditions and adjusted our expectations from swimming in the lake to looking at the lake from afar while bundled up on the rocks.
- No fires allowed
- Dogs allowed but must be leashed or controlled
- Bear canisters are not required but highly recommended. You could bring a bear bag, but from what I observed there aren’t many trees by the shoreline. During our trip, the ranger informed us of two active bears and some cubs in the area. Luckily, they hadn’t been seen around Lake Aloha. Caren noted the park ranger she spoke to said bears in the early season are foraging and won’t typically bother with seeking out human food until later in the season when they’ve exhausted their resources. UPDATE: As of July 18, 2022 bear canisters are now required!
- Marmots and chipmunks are common and can steal your food from right under your nose if you’re not paying attention or leave your backpack unattended
- Mosquitos were out and about during our trip due to the stagnant pools of water from melted snow
- Water taxi is available by Echo Chalet if you want to cut 3 miles one way from your trip. It only operates in the summer. Dogs are allowed on the boat. There is a 3 person minimum and costs $20 per person. During our trip, the water taxi phone on the other side of the lake was vandalized and not operating. You can still call whenever you have service on the way back and give them an estimated time of arrival. Take down the number before leaving for the trailhead. UPDATE: Phone was fixed by July 23, 2022! The phone can found by the upper echo lake docks.
Day 1: Sunday, June 18 2022
We stayed in Folsom the night before and grabbed coffee from Temple Coffee before heading towards the trail. I got a drink named Bliss (peppermint tea, coconut milk, honey) and it was delightful!
We took the I-50 onto Porcupine Rd., which became narrow about 1.5 miles before reaching the destination. Once we arrived at the chalet around 10:00 am, the parking lot was full but we were able to find a spot further down on the side of the road.
At the chalet area, there is cell phone service, toilets, and trash cans available.
Rosie and David went to arrange our water taxi ride down by the docks. We were the only group looking for a ride and there was no line.
We loaded our packs, doggos, and bodies into the small boat and set off towards the other side of the lake. A wind shirt would help here, it’s a cold ride! Taking the taxi basically removes the flat portion of the trail that meanders alongside the lake and cabins nearby. Once we docked, we started right at the incline and followed the gentle ascent towards the lake.
We hiked on rocky terrain most of the way, some parts flowing with water from the rapid snowmelt.
There were great views along the way of Echo Lakes and Tamarack Lakes behind us!
We came across a couple of snow patches, two of which were a bit sketchy and alongside a steep hill. It was doable with boots but a lot easier with poles. I was amazed by Hal and Pedro who were able to maintain graceful composure going through these parts with two large dogs attached to their hips.
We poked fun at Rosie along the way, pointing at small ponds and jokingly asking if it was the Lake Aloha. We were in for a treat and Rosie would have the last laugh when we finally arrived. After emerging from the forest, Lake Aloha came into view and it was a massive lake, sparkling in all it’s glory with islands dotted all around in the water and snow patched mountains surrounding it. We all ooh’d and ahh’d as we continued alongside the shore in search of a good campsite.
After some poking around, we found a trio of spots for us all to set up!
Carne happened to be solo backpacking Lake Aloha the same weekend so I was keeping an eye out for her. Lo’ and behold, I recognized her gear from the trail and called out to her. She set up close by and mostly did her own thing but joined our group at her leisure.
My partner, the sweetheart he is, lugged up our precious bagged wine and we surprised Rosie with it for her birthday! We drank wine, caught up on our lives, and had a photoshoot during golden hour before retreating into our tents for the night.
Day 2: Monday, June 19, 2022
I woke up at 5:00 am to catch the sunrise, thinking the rest of the group would be up for it as well. I looked over and my partner was fully covered with his sleeping bag and quilt over his head, very much deep in slumber. I walked by the rest of the tents to get to the shore hoping someone would be awake but only heard snoring. Solo sunrise viewing it is!
I stretched a bit along the rocky shoreline as I watched the sunrise. Caren ended up joining me (I knew I could count on backpacking wifey!) watched the color show together.
After I was satisfied, I went back to sleep and woke when everyone else did. Caren packed up early and headed to Mt.Ralston for a day hike before heading home. It looked like a great side adventure if you’re looking for it!
We took our time packing up and getting ready. By 11am, we were ready to roll out. We had to be careful on the way back down hill as the rocky trail was slippery. Poles would be nice here.
At about an hour out my partner had cell service and called for the water taxi to meet us at the docks.
Once we got back to the chalet and started our drive home, there was traffic due to construction on the way out with one-way traffic delegated by traffic controllers.
We stopped by In-N-Out on the way home to end the trip and all was well! Another successful trip in the books!
Cheers to Caren for completing her first solo backpacking trip! So proud ❤
Hope this was helpful, see you out on the trails! — Em