• Activities:

    Skiing, Snowshoeing, Backpacking

  • Skill Level:

    Intermediate

  • Season:

    Winter

Forest
Lake
Scenic

A great, 15 mile entry-level loop for those interested in winter camping and cross country snow travel. Total elevation gain is around 1,700 ft., although the majority of the route is gradual aside from summiting Ralston. Opportunities to see icy lakes, ample snow covered peaks, and winter wildlife.

This loop is best accomplished in 2 days, spending a night at either Ralston, Tamarack, or Cagwin Lake. Although this route is similar to hiking Ralston Peak in the summer, the trails are completely covered by snow so solid navigation skills are necessary. A map is required to find the best possible route, but note that even signposts may be covered with snow.

In winter, you must park at the Echo Lakes Sno-Park to access the Echo Lakes trail. Follow the PCT signposts west through a forested cabin neighborhood until emerging at Lower Echo Lake. From here, continue on the north side of the Echo Lakes until you reach the "entering Desolation Wilderness sign" (about 4.5 miles in.) You will travel up a small pass (about 300 ft. elevation gain) shortly after this sign. From the wilderness boundary, you'll see Ralston Peak and Tamarack Lake below it. Meander to this lake (only about .5 miles further) and decide to camp either here or at Ralston or Cagwin Lakes. (5 miles total.)

Day two: Wake up early in order to summit Ralston and make it back to the car all in one day. Directly west from the lakes, there is a very gradually sloping ridge that leads up to Ralston Peak. Since the trails are of no use in winter, find an efficient path to get on top of the ridge. There is a nice pass directly west of the lakes, try to aim for it. (It should be about .5 miles west and 600 ft. of elevation gain.) Once atop the ridge, travel south for ~1 mile until another signpost, or until you see another ridgeline to the east, which extends up to the peak. Follow this ridge east for half a mile until the summit!

To descend, one can either snowshoe or ski the bowl that is straight down from Ralston. Although this isn't an option in summer, its quite fun in the winter! Aim to go descend the northeastern ridge of Ralston, which will lead you back to Ralston, Cagwin, and Tamarack lakes (about 1 mile.)

From here, follow the initial route back down to Echo Lakes.

Camping Coordinates: 38.844380, -120.095335

Pack List

  • Snowshoes
  • Backcountry skis
  • Tent
  • Warm Layers
  • Backcountry Permit
  • Cooking and food supplies
  • Headlamp
  • Desolation Wilderness Map
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