Backpacking Day Hikes Hiking PCT Trails

Best Places to Hike the PCT in Central Sierra Mountains

PCT Segment Hikes near Lake Tahoe

Exploring the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) is bound to become even more popular as the general public falls in love with the ideas and scenes in the New movie ” Wild”.
For many who call Sierra’s home the PCT trail is still something of a myth/ legend. So close to some of the best wilderness hiking in the world and yet because many carry the illusion that if you’re going on the PCT, you must be an avid backpacker or just a little bit more wild than most. We often stay away from these local hikes.

The truth is most people who experience the PCT Trail are average hikers out on a day trip experience. And in the Sierra Mountain Range, we are privileged to have many great access points to the trail as it crossed our hwy systems and travels near some our favorite recreational areas.
Here is a short list of some of the Top PCT Hiking opportunities around Lake Tahoe and the Central Sierra Region. These Hikes can range from 2-12 mile hikes for beginners to 17-25 mile hikes for more experienced backpackers. Whichever you choose, we can pretty much guarantee you some incredible scenes, stunning mountain lakes and a chance to met some very enjoyable people on the trail. #gofindyourwild #goexplore

kinney Lake
kinney Lake
  1. HWY 4 – Ebbetts Pass
    1. South – On the top of Ebbetts Pass just past the Kinney reservoir The PCT crosses Hwy 4. On the South route, a popular day hike is to hike into the PCT and then south down the Wolf Creek Drainage.Hardier hikers can follow the trail southerly as it enters the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness and climbs about four miles to Noble Lake and beyond, affording spectacular views of Noble Canyon and Highland Peak, as well as a profusion of wildflowers in mid-summer.
    2. North – On the Northern route Off HWY 4 the trail follows scenic, rolling terrain about three miles to Upper Kinney Lake, passing smaller Sherrold Lake along the way.  See below for a longer 2-3 day hike between Ebbetts  & Carson Pass.

For local trail information, contact the Alpine County Chamber of Commerce in Markleeville, at (530) 694-2475 or

  • Distances vary from the Ebbetts Pass trailheads. Visit for distances and maps.
  • Hwy 88- Carson Pass
    1. South– A popular Day Hike Destination with easy access to Frog Lake, Winnemucca Lake and Hardier Hikes to Lost Lakes and Blue Lakes region. This route is likely the easiest PCT section for average day hikers as the terrain only has modest elevation changes on most of this segment. Looking for a 2-3 day trail experience try the HWY 88 to Hwy 4 PCT extension which is roughly 23 miles featuring a  variety of landscapes and Mtn. lakes.
    2. North – Northbound from HWY 88 is a very rewarding Day hike also. It features a shorter hike in and back to Showers lake or a longer day hike of 13 miles to Echo summit. Most of the route is through a forested country with elevation changes of no more than 500 hundred feet at a time until the final descent to Echo Summit. Five miles out on the trail you pass Showers Lake. Alternative Routes here would include a diversion down to Round Lake and Big Meadow coming out on HWY 89 instead of the climb up to Echo Summit.
  • HWY 50 – Echo Summit
    1. South – The Southern Route off HWY 50 is a popular starting point as it avoids the big climb associated with the Northern Route on HWY 88. However, it does still feature a 1200’ft elevation change at about the 2-mile mark. Also popular for a party to split cars and park one team on HWY 88 and hike North and another team Parks on 50 hikes south. Meet in the middle for lunch then swap car keys and finish your hikes through. Alternative routes also include dropping off the trail on to Tahoe Rim trail and going down to Round Lake and Dardanelle Lakes and Big Meadow coming out on HWY 89.
    2. North- The Northern Route off HWY 50 is not typically a place for first
  • Echo Lake Early Spring 2014
    Echo Lake Early Spring 2014

    time hikers, However, it is probably the most used segment for Backpackers and explorers into the Desolation Wilderness area. The majority of hikes on this segment are thru. hikes from Mexico or Canada, or individuals hiking into the Desolation Wilderness for an overnight backpacking adventure and following a Clockwise route on the Tahoe Rim trail System. However, a great day hike can be captured along Echo Lake to Lake Aloha and Susie Lakes. A cool feature of this hike is the Water Shuttle that runs on Echo lake allowing you to hike deeper in on your day hike then take a quicker Water Ride back out once you get back to Echo Lake.

  • An extended 2-3 day hiking trip to the North is the Echo pass to Barkers Pass Hike on the Tahoe Rim / PCT Trail. The Tahoe Rim Trail association has a great feature on this hike here.
  • Interstate 80 – Donner Summit
    1. South – The South Route at Donner Summit to Squaw Valley is a long day hike of 17.5 miles. Follows the crest of the Sierra and is often a very exposed hike, so bring water. However, from a day hike perspective, you can also take shorter timed hikes to places such as Mt. Lincoln, Anderson Peak, Tinkers Knob. Check out this link for Donner Summit Hikes a good resource on the trip
    2. North – Popular Northbound Destinations: Paradise Lake (8.5 miles), White Rock Lake (10 miles), Jackson Meadows Reservoir (24 miles)From Donner Summit, the PCT climbs over Castle Pass with Castle Peak rising to the east. After dipping into Round Valley, the trail ascends to its highest point, 8,400 feet, and then drops into Paradise Valley, a nice stopping place (mile 7.5). Near mile 10 the PCT intersects the Mt. Lola Trail. White Rock Lake is just half a mile up the Lola trail. At mile 18 begins a long descent to Jackson Meadows Reservoir (6,000′).

    About the author

    Charlie REC magazine - Charlie Pankey ~ Publisher

    Add Comment

    Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    %d bloggers like this: