A portion of this route follows the same path as the Echo Lake Trail. It begins from the Summit Lake North Campground and forms and 11-mile loop to several alpine lakes. The total elevation gain for this loop is only 1,300 feet, which makes this a very moderate, but long and scenic trek.
Begin the hike from the day-use parking area in Summit Lake North Campground. From the parking area walk eastward on the paved campground road. Bear right as the road leaves the lake shore and a path continues to follow shoreline. After walking a few minutes around the lake you'll reach a signed junction. Follow the signs to Echo Lake, which will be the left side of the fork.
From the eastern shores of Summit Lake the trail climbs 450 feet in three quarters of a mile to a trail junction. This junction marks the beginning of the Cluster Lakes loop. At this point you can bear left or right and return to this junction in approximately nine and a half miles. This description follows the trail clockwise. This way you'll reach the Cluster Lakes first then end the loop at Echo Lake.
Bear left at the trail junction and begin walking northward. After a few minutes you'll start the descent toward the first of the alpine lakes on this trek. The next mile will lead you down 240 feet to a small depression containing the first of the lakes. This is two miles from the trailhead.
Continue walking northward along the eastern shore of this pond. The trail descends 400 feet on a moderate grade during the next mile to the eastern shore of Little Bear Lake. Turning to the east beyond Little Bear Lake the route descends 90 feet and arrives at Big Bear Lake in a quarter mile. The path traverses the southeastern shore of Big Bear Lake and continues descending.
One half mile past Big Bear Lake is a trail junction. The left fork leads to the western shore of a large lake in the Cluster chain. Beyond the lake the trail leads northwestward to join the Pacific Crest Trail in approximately three miles. Follow the right side of the fork to the northern shore of Silver Lake, which is also in the Cluster chain. This large lake lies a quarter mile from the trail junction. After leaving Silver Lake you'll quickly reach Feather Lake, which is the last in this chain. At this point your loop is halfway complete.
From Feather Lake the trail leads through a thickly forested area. It is one and a half miles of relatively level hiking to reach the northern shore of Lower Twin Lake. The last half mile to the lake shore the path is shared with the Pacific Crest Trail. You'll also be paralleling a small stream that dumps into Lower Twin Lake.
Once you reach the lake the trail splits. The left fork circles the southern shoreline of the lake, while the right fork contours the northern shoreline. The route around the northern shore is shorter and just as scenic as that around the southern shore. Beyond Lower Twin Lake is Upper Twin Lake. The trail hugs the northern shore of this large water body and continues westward. West of Upper Twin Lake your ascent begins.
Follow the switchbacks from the lake to a level, forested area. Cross this stretch and you arrive at a small pond. The trail ascends slightly after passing the pond to a level area then descends into the basin that holds Echo Lake. Contour the lakes northern shoreline and begin the final ascent to the trailhead. The route climbs 240 feet to a ridge and crosses it. In the center of this flat area is the trail junction where you began this loop. Follow the trail to the left, which will bring you to the final descent and Summit Lake. Descend 450 feet to the trailhead.
Directions from Northwest Entrance: Follow Highway 89 southeastward 12 miles to the entrance for Summit Lake North Campground. Turn left into the campground and park in the day-use parking area on the northern shore of the lake. Hike eastward along the lake shore to reach the trailhead.
Directions from Southwest Entrnace: Follow Highway 89 17.5 miles northward to the entrance for Summit Lake Campground North. Turn right into the campground and park in the day-use area on the northern shore of the lake. Hike eastward along the lake shore to reach the trailhead.
June through Mid-October
(NOTE: The trail may be snow covered, or inaccessible due to road closings, in the Early Summer and Fall months.)