Ellis Peak and Ellis Lake

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The day of this hike I wanted to do a moderately short hike with some, but not too much, climbing.  The main reason was that it was only 3 days before I would walk a half marathon in the Bay Area.  I’d gone up to the Lake Tahoe area for a few days of walking and hiking at elevation just prior to the half marathon.  I am a little amused that I thought it was my first time to hike the Ellis Peak Trail, but in fact I’d hiked it once before, a few years earlier.  I discovered this when I uploaded my hike data into my master Excel spreadsheet and the trail designation (starting Ellis) auto-filled in!

The trail is within Tahoe National Forest.  The trailhead is about 7 miles up Barker Pass Road from CA-89, with the turn-off about 4 miles south of Tahoe City at the Kaspian Campground.  The guidebook I used provided clear directions to the trailhead, but some other descriptions of the trail (for example, this one) suggest that it is hard to find.  In any case, just before Barker Pass, where the pavement ends, there is a small parking area with a sign indicating the trail.

GPS track

GPS track

If you know what to look for, it turns out to be possible to see Ellis Peak from very near the trailhead.  In this picture it is the high point just above the bare-looking area in the background.  The cliffs just below Ellis Peak are very distinctive.

image of Ellis Peak from the trailhead

Ellis Peak from the trailhead

From the trailhead the trail immediately gains almost 500 feet in the first 0.7 mile, with a short break before an additional climb.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The spectacular views of the high country make the climb well worth the effort.

image of high country

High country

From several places along the trail a distinctive lake is visible in the distance.  Sometimes it is an interesting exercise to identify lakes and other landmarks, especially if directional information is not noted during the hike.  Based on the shape, I believe it is Loon Lake.

image of Loon Lake

Loon Lake

About 2.5 miles from the trailhead there is a junction where the trail to Ellis Lake branches off.  I saved the side trip to the lake for my return trip.  Approaching Ellis Peak there is actually a secondary peak which is tempting to climb.  In fact, the previous time I hiked this trail I went up to the incorrect peak and turned around.  This time I realized that I wasn’t at the “real” peak and continued a bit further along the main trail until I found the correct peak.  My small detour is barely visible on the GPS track just below the Ellis Peak label.

From Ellis Peak there are wonderful 360-degree views.  One landmark of interest is Twin Peaks, visible across Blackwood Canyon.

image of Twin Peaks from Ellis Peak

Twin Peaks from Ellis Peak

In addition, from Ellis Peak you look almost straight down at Ellis Lake.

image of Ellis Lake from Ellis Peak

Ellis Lake from Ellis Peak

After enjoying the views from Ellis Peak I returned to the junction and took the short side trail to Ellis Lake.  The lake is quite pretty from lake level, with the distinctive cliffs reflecting in the water.  The bare area that is visible from the trailhead is quite obvious.

image of reflections in Ellis Lake

Reflections in Ellis Lake

When I returned to the trail junction I got slightly disoriented and hiked a very short distance along an incorrect trail.  The breadcrumb track on my GPS helped me to confirm quickly that I was not on the correct trail, so this was an easily and quickly correctable navigational error.  Any time I feel directionally challenged at a trail junction I use the GPS track display to clarify the trail layout.

Overall, this is a very satisfying hike because of the spectacular views after only a moderate hike.

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