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 is 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).
Trail Data (approximations):
- Location: South Tahoe – Carson Pass
- Category of Route: Family Fun Hike, Day Hike
- Total Mileage: 5.0 miles
- Total Elevation Gain: 850 feet
- Highest Point: 9,100 feet
- Trail: Hard-packed soil with exposed rocks and roots
- 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
Park at the Visitor’s Center/Sno-Park at the top of Carson Pass in order to travel south. There is 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. For winter travel you will need a Sno-Park permit ($5/day, $25/season). The permits can be purchased in Meyers or South Lake Tahoe (not at the actual Sno-Park) and they will save you the $100 ticket if you park without a permit. 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.
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.
Here’s a map to assist you in finding the parking area for Carson Pass.
The route to Winnemucca Lake is mostly uphill, so be prepared for some elevation gain. The trail is hard-packed and obvious in the summer. However, in the winter it’s less obvious unless there are already clearly laid tracks. Also, due to the elevation gain and exposed rocks and roots (particularly in early and late winter) on the way to Winnemucca Lake the route can be a little technical. If you’re cross-country skiing, don’t be afraid to pull off the skis and walk in order to negotiate the more challenging and dangerous aspects of the trail (if you aren’t experienced with cross-country skiing in mountainous terrain). If the technical nature of this route doesn’t sound appealing, just throw on your snowshoes instead. Either way you’ll have a great adventure!
The route travels through diverse terrain (forests and exposed granite and grassy fields) and once you travel past Frog Lake, you’ll be exposed to the elements. The wind can be quite aggressive by the time you reach the Pacific Crest Trail/Elephants Back junction, so bring extra layers and sun protection if you plan to stay long. 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 and takes you past 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. Traveling further along this route will take you to Round Top Lake, Fourth of July Lake, and further down to Summit City Canyon which is the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail route.
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 parting shot of the sun setting behind The Sisters from one of my first cross-country ski treks of the 2017/18 winter season. Round Top is on the left and directly above Winnemucca Lake.