Tahoe Rim Trail and Pacific Crest Trail: Echo Summit to Bryan Meadow

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This hike was on a section of trail just south of Echo Summit, where the Tahoe Rim Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail are coincident. It was an out-and-back day hike and is one of the hikes selected for the Tahoe Rim Trail Association’s 2015 Trail Challenge. I did the Trail Explorers version of the challenge hike, to Bryan Meadow and back. The route is within El Dorado National Forest.

The GPS track shows an overview of the route, with the orange dot denoting the trailhead just off US-50 at Echo Summit, not far from South Lake Tahoe.

GPS track

GPS track

Although I have hiked this section of the Tahoe Rim Trail previously, for some reason I didn’t remember exactly how to find the trail access from the trailhead. As a result, I kind of wandered around the parking area of an out-of-season adventure company before finding the trail; this added about 0.5 mile at the beginning of the hike. However, I enjoyed finding some seep monkey flower (Mimulus guttatus) and blue penstemon while on my little detour.

The trail climbs pretty steadily to about 8700 feet elevation before dropping down about 200 feet to the area around Bryan Meadow.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

I should note that it was definitely “in season” for Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) through-hikers, and I met at least a dozen hiking in groups of 1 to 3 during the day. I enjoy these encounters and particularly enjoy wishing everyone a wonderful – and safe – experience. At times I was a bit apologetic that I was only doing a short day hike, with a correspondingly light pack, but one of the through hikers had a great response. Of his own through hike with his wife, he said “every day is another day hike”.

Besides being the season for PCT through-hikers – and Tahoe Rim Trail through-hikers – it was definitely wildflower season. Very soon after starting up the trail proper I passed by a large colony of white-flowering tobacco brush (Ceanothus velutinous) along the trail. The characteristic fragrance was especially strong in the warm sun.

photo of tobacco brush

Tobacco brush

Not much farther I passed a pretty patch of lupine.

image of lupine


There was also a second white-flowering shrub that I think is mountain red elderberry (Sambucus microbotrys). The trail passes back and forth between open and forested areas, where I saw snowplant (Sarcodes sanguinea), pussypaws (Calyptridium umbellatum), and wandering daisy (Erigeron peregrinus) among large boulders and outcroppings. In a damp, shaded area there were several beautiful crimson columbine (Aquilegia formosa).

picture of crimson columbine

Crimson columbine

In many places along and near the trail there was mountain pride (Penstemon newberryi), with masses of brilliant pink-purple blossoms.

photo of mountain pride brightening up the trail

Mountain pride brightened up the trail

About 1.5 miles up the trail (not counting my detour at the beginning) it crosses a creek on a simple wooden bridge, just above Benwood Meadow. In this area I saw pretty face (Triteleia ixioides), spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa), paintbrush, and a yellow flower that looked a lot like chicory – except that I can’t find any reference to a yellow-colored type of chicory or similar flower. I also saw a flower that reminded me of mule ears, but the entire plant is shorter, with different leaves and more profuse flowers. I think it is seep-spring arnica (Arnica longifolia).

image of seep-spring arnica

Seep-spring arnica

After the bridge the trail begins to climb, with a grade of about 11.5%. It winds and climbs about 400 vertical feet through a rocky area.

picture of trail at the beginning of a rocky area

Trail at the beginning of a rocky area

Part way through this section I stopped for a short break where there was a nice view of nearby Little Round Top, about 3½ miles away.

photo of Little Round Top

Little Round Top

There was a beautiful, old-looking Jeffrey pine growing among the boulders.

image of Jeffrey pine

Jeffrey pine

About 2.7 miles up the trail it crosses the same stream again, around 8300 feet elevation. Near this stream crossing there was marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala, sometimes designated C. howellii), which grows in damp, marshy places.

picture of marsh marigold next to a stream crossing

Marsh marigold next to a stream crossing

Shortly after this, at a switchback in the trail, there is a distant view of the southeastern corner of Lake Tahoe some 2200 feet below, with the South Lake Tahoe Airport clearly visible. The Carson Range, including Genoa Peak, is visible on the skyline.

photo of Lake Tahoe view

Lake Tahoe view

Not far past this viewpoint I found a pretty, low-growing evergreen shrub with needle-like leaves and distinctive pink blossoms with long, protruding stamens. It is called purple mountain heath or red heather (Phyllodoce breweri).

image of purple mountain heath

Purple mountain heath

About 3.3 miles from the trailhead the trail crosses over a slight ridge and begins to descend toward Bryan Meadow. In this area it passes through forest, passing shooting stars, forget-me-nots, pine violets, and other shade-loving wildflowers such as these tiny (less than ¼“ long) blue-eyed Marys (Collinsia parviflora). I have seen these dainty flowers elsewhere but I generally have a difficult time getting an in-focus picture.

picture of tiny blue-eyed Marys

Tiny blue-eyed Marys

I intended to turn around at Bryan Meadow. It’s possible that I didn’t hike quite far enough, or else the meadow is more like a hillside clearing filled with meadow-like flora, including flowering corn lilies. In any case, at 3.8 miles from the trailhead I decided to turn around. Near my turnaround I noticed a patch of several of these low-growing wildflowers: western springbeauty (Claytonia lanceolata).

photo of western springbeauty

Western springbeauty

As I returned through the forested area I paused to appreciate some Douglas wallflower (Erysimum perenne).

image of Douglas wallflower

Douglas wallflower

I happened to notice a small butterfly as it landed on a plant and then slowly pirouetted almost a full circle before continuing to another plant. I think it is a Hoffman’s checkerspot, based on the coloring and pattern.

picture of Hoffman’s checkerspot, I think

Hoffman’s checkerspot, I think

From time to time I heard (rather than saw) birds in the forest. Suddenly I noticed a bird with an orange head. While I didn’t get any really good pictures, I was able to determine that it was either a female or an immature male pine grosbeak.

Later on during the descent I decided to photograph some of the manzanita (Arctostaphylos) blossoms. There are over 100 species of manzanita found in California, so I do not want to try to guess which one it is!

photo of manzanita blossoms

Manzanita blossoms

Near the trailhead I stopped to photograph another wildflower I’d been seeing in numerous locations but had had difficulty photographing. I found some with good lighting, as well as several nearby blossoms, which facilitated getting a good picture. It is called sticky cinquefoil (Potentilla glandulosa).

image of sticky cinquefoil

Sticky cinquefoil

Near the trailhead I noticed that a list was posted of local PCT trail angels, available to support through-hikers with rides (presumably to South Lake Tahoe) or lodging. Angels indeed!

As I had driven to the trailhead in the morning I had noticed that there was some visible smoke from a wildfire that had started a few days earlier not far from Markleeville. There were a couple of places along the trail where it was possible to see some smoke. Fortunately it did not impact the hike – and, more importantly, has been progressively contained without property damage.

This entry was posted in Eldorado National Forest, Pacific Crest Trail, South Tahoe, Tahoe Rim Trail and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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