Hiking Winnemucca Lake

Copyright © 2017 Jared Manninen

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The trip to Winnemucca Lake is a favorite by many Tahoe locals. It’s a relatively short, but rewarding adventure with excellent views in all directions. You can see Caples Lake, Red Lake Peak, Elephants Back, Round Top, and Freel Peak and Little Round Top (if you have a clear enough day). You’ll also travel past Frog Lake which is a nice place to take a short break.

There’s good fishing at Winnemucca Lake in the summer, and you’ll be on the right track traveling along this trail if you are hiking either the Pacific Crest Trail or Tahoe-Yosemite Trail (just know they diverge at mile 1.3).

In the winter, this route provides access to great, but technical cross-country skiing, as well as backcountry alpine skiing (namely Elephants Back and Round Top). Visit XC Skiing & Snowshoeing to Winnemucca Lake for specific details regarding winter travel to Winnemucca Lake.

Winnemucca Lake Hiking Trail Data (approximations):

  • Location: South TahoeCarson Pass
  • Category of Hike: Short Hike, Day Hike
  • Total Mileage: 5.0 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain: 850 feet
  • Highest Point: 9,100 feet
  • Trail Conditions: Hard-packed soil with exposed rocks and roots

Considerations for Hiking Winnemucca Lake Trail:

  • Parking at the Visitor’s Center/Sno-Park on top of Carson Pass, but have a Sno-Park permit from November 1 – May 30 and between June 1 – October 31 bring at least $10 cash ($5 and $1s)
  • Dogs are allowed, but keep them on leash and pick up after them
  • Adhere to all Leave No Trace principles
  • The trail is well-trodden, but ultimately there are few signs and markers on public lands in the Tahoe region, so pay attention to where you are going (when in doubt, turn back)
  • Be prepared for inclement weather that includes high exposure to sun and wind, and carry with you plenty of warm clothes, food, and water
  • Leave an itinerary of your plans with someone who’ll call emergency services if you don’t return by your prescribed time
Click on the above map to enlarge it for better viewing. Elevation along the route is indicated by color (green=lower elevation, red=higher elevations). This map is only for reference and shows the hiking trail to Winnemucca Lake. Always carry a traditional topographic map and compass when traveling in the backcountry.

Parking Directions for the Winnemucca Lake Hiking Trail:

Park at the Visitor’s Center/Sno-Park at the top of Carson Pass in order to travel south.

There’s another parking lot just around the corner on the north side of State Route 88, but only use it if the Visitor’s Center lot is full (or if you plan to travel north from Carson Pass). Crossing the road can be dangerous due to the serpentine nature of State Route 88 and resultant blind corners.

In the summer you’ll need to pay for day use parking (at the south or north parking lots), which was $5 in 2017. Probably bring at least $10 in cash ($5 and $1s) just in case the price changes.

For travel between November 1 and May 30th every year (regardless of snow levels), you’ll need a Sno-Park permit ($5/day, $25/season). The permits need to be purchased prior to your arrival
(not at the actual Sno-Park). You can buy them in Meyers or South Lake Tahoe, and they’ll save you a $100 ticket (parking without a permit).

If the Carson Pass Information Station is open while you’re at Carson Pass, stop in and check out their selection of books and maps. Lots of cool stuff to get you interested and more informed about the flora/fauna and history of the region.

The trailhead to Winnemucca Lake is located just behind the Carson Pass Information Station.

Here’s a map to assist you in finding the parking area for Carson Pass.

Travel along the Winnemucca Lake Hiking Trail:

The trail to Winnemucca Lake is mostly uphill, so be prepared for some elevation gain. The trail is hard-packed and obvious in the summer.

It’s a favorite hiking trail for many people, so I recommend arriving early at the trailhead. This way you’ll be guaranteed to find a parking spot and to avoid any crowds.

The trail travels through diverse terrain, including forests and exposed rocky and grassy fields.

For much of the summer, the trail is lined with multiple varieties of Sierra Nevada wildflowers. Keep in mind that because this location sits above 8,000 feet, the snow tends to remain later into the summer. After big snow years, the wildflowers may not start blooming until July or August, whereas at lower elevations they’ll start showing up in May and June.

Copyright © 2017 Jared Manninen
Large-leaf Lupine on the trail to Winnemucca Lake. Round Top Mountain is in the background, and many large patches of snow still remain even though this photo was taken on August 9, 2017. © Jared Manninen

Once you hike past Frog Lake, you’ll be exposed to the elements. The wind can be aggressive by the time you reach the Pacific Crest Trail at the Elephants Back junction. Bring extra layers and sun protection if you plan to spend the whole day out there.

The first 1.3 miles south from Carson Pass is the actual Pacific Crest Trail, but then it branches off from the route to Winnemucca Lake taking you west of Elephants Back.

This intersection is also where the Pacific Crest Trail and Tahoe-Yosemite Trail diverge. Continue straight along the trail to arrive at Winnemucca Lake.

Then, you could travel further along this trail to Round Top Lake, Fourth of July Lake, and way down into Summit City Canyon (which is the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail route).

Copyright © 2015 Jared Manninen
The trail to Winnemucca Lake on September 29, 2015. Round Top is the prominent peak left of center, while The Sisters or right of Round Top along the ridge. © Jared Manninen.

During the winter, the actual trail is less obvious but it sees a lot of use so most likely there’ll be some clearly laid tracks upon your arrival.

That said, there are some challenging sections early on with regard to cross-country skiing. So, I recommend reading Cross-Country Skiing to Winnemucca Lake for more specific information regarding this route for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Copyright © 2017 Jared Manninen
Sierra Nevada Wildflowers along the trail to Winnemucca Lake on August 9, 2017. Round Top is prominently featured in the background. Note the amounts of snow still present even though this photo was taken in August. © Jared Manninen

These are two poster designs I created based on photographs I took while hiking the trail to Winnemucca Lake.

You can purchase them (and other Tahoe Swag) at my RedBubble account. There are many other products available, in addition to posters, so please check out my Lake Tahoe-related art & designs.

A fisherman casting a line at Winnemucca Lake in the Lake Tahoe Region.Paintbrush near the trail to Winnemucca Lake in the Lake Tahoe Region.