Explore Nevada: Sierra island hopping
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Ever catch yourself daydreaming about your own private beach?
No matter where it is the scenery is great and you've got the beach to to yourself.
If you've got the cash to rent or buy a beachfront home on Lake Tahoe or fly off to the South Pacific you've got a pretty good chance at turning the daydream into reality.
If you're like the rest of us you might have to get creative, or at least be willing to do a little work, to make it happen.
For those of us lucky enough to live in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada, Lake Aloha is a great place to get started.
It's located south of Lake Tahoe and west of Myers, Calif., in the Desolation Wilderness.
From Reno it's about a 75-mile drive one way. From Carson City, Minden or Gardnerville it's a little closer.
Either way it's worth the drive to get to a destination where, if you're willing to hike in, you've got a decent chance of splashing around in a beautiful setting.
And if you can get there during the week, especially if you go early, you're likely to have a good section of the lake to yourself even though you're in one of the region's most popular wilderness destinations.
If you're looking to backpack and camp in the Desolation Wilderness you'll need to apply in advance for a permit. Numbers are limited and for peak times they're quickly snapped up.
But if you're just looking for a great day hike and some swimming you just need to fill out a permit form, drop it into a box and head onto the trail.
We hiked it on a recent weekday from the Echo Lakes trailhead.
The trail starts behind the Echo Chalet, a small summer resort that serves people fishing, swimming and boating in lower and upper Echo Lakes. There's a public parking area and some roadside spots before you get to the private parking at Echo Chalet.
Echo Chalet is also where you can catch a water taxi that will take you to another trailhead about three miles closer to Lake Aloha.
We took the taxi, $12 per person, each way, on the way in but decided to save some money on the way back by walking.
From the water taxi drop it's about three more miles to Lake Aloha. The first two miles or so are mostly uphill on rugged trail that's covered with loose rock.
The early part of the hike is also mostly treeless which means lots of exposure to sun and wind. Novice and even intermediate hikers could struggle along the route. Trekking poles can help people who want extra stability where footing is loose.
The upside of the challenging portion is that it also has fantastic views of the Echo lakes and Tamarack Lake.
Eventually the trail improves. The tread is wide and smooth and it leads into forested terrain that has plenty of shade. It also winds through some mountain meadows that were bursting with wildflowers when we passed.
For the most part the trail is well marked. We were able to follow signposts that took us to Lake Aloha. Well, they almost took us to Lake Aloha.
The signposts closest to the Lake Aloha didn't mention Lake Aloha which led to a wrong turn within a couple hundred feet of the lake. It didn't help that drastically low snowfall in recent years left the lake much lower than usual which made it difficult to see through the trees.
We were fortunate to have a GPS unit on hand to reference when it became evident we were a little off course.
After turning around we made it to the lake. We entered the from the southeast and walked across the dry lakebed and along a stone retaining wall to reach the water.
The lake itself is in a granite basin which makes it easy to find spots near shore to stow your gear while swimming.
When we visited there were only three other people at the lake, although more were heading in by the time we left.
Still, it's a large lake with lots of islands and an uneven shoreline so it's not difficult to find your own place to swim. The lake is dotted with islands to which people can swim or wade. The water between shore where we swam and the closest island was shoulder-deep at the deepest spot. It would have been easy to hold pack and gear overhead and wade out for an island lunch.
Some points of interest at Lake Aloha include the Crystal Range, which is visible to the south and west and still had a few spots of snow on it. Also, the Pacific Crest Trail runs along the northern edge of the lake. If you hike in from Echo Lakes you'll be on it most of the way.
If you decline the water taxi and walk, which we did on the return hike, you'll be treated to fantastic views of the Echo Lakes and surrounding peaks.
(If you're a print or online subscriber to the RGJ and would like the GPS files from this hike, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The statistics: Lake Aloha hike
Distance: (From trailhead, one-way) 6.2 miles (including water taxi portion)
Time: (One-way to lake, including water taxi) Two hours and five minutes. Add an hour or more each way if you plan to skip the water taxi. We started from Echo Chalet at about 10:15 a.m. and were back by about 4 p.m. The last water taxi is at 5:30 p.m
Minimum elevation: 7,451 feet
Maximum elevation: 8,294 feet
Elevation gain: Approximately 1,000 feet
for day hikes just fill out the form at the self-serve kiosk. Overnight trips require reservation.
Reservations can be made at www.recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777.