D: Highway 88/Carson Pass

 
This may be the most accessible High Sierra trailhead from the Bay Area, and it has some great trails. 
 
Like Desolation Wilderness, this gets a lot of traffic, so you can expect a few more regulations and quotas.  But there are also a number of hikes you can take that will see less traffic.  As always, aim for the middle of the week, or the off season, if you want to see fewer people.
 
We love this area for how quickly we can get there, and how beautiful the trails are, right from the start!  And over the years, this has become a great fall weekend destination for us.  

 
 
 
Showers Lake/Dardanelles Lake, and Round Lake
 
The premier backpacking destination here is probably Showers Lake, on the Pacific Crest Trail, but we actually preferred lesser known Dandanelles Lake.  These are all in the Tahoe National Forest, and are part of a possible new Wilderness Area:  Meiss Meadows.  We've heard that Round Lake has some nice cutthroat trout, but we didn't see any.  And the only fish we saw in Showers Lake were quite small. Still, this is a beautiful area that is also a great destination later in the year, when some of the high country is getting too darn cold.  Meiss Lake, in a swampy meadow, is also worth a visit if you don't mind getting your boots wet.  Really wet.  This photo on the left is Dardanelles Lake. 12 miles in a partial loop.
 
 
Lake Winnemucca and Round Top LakeAnother great destination along the Pacific Crest Trail, but these are only a couple of miles in, so they get a TON of traffic.  The trailhead at Woods Lake is quite lovely in and of itself, and then you get to climb up the slopes of Round Top Peak to these delightful lakes.  Camping is only allowed by reservation, and there are numbered campsites here, just like in a state park.  Not our idea of the perfect backpacking destination, but a great place for a quick getaway, particularly if you can do it in the middle of the week or on the shoulder seasons. This is Round Top Lake in mid-October, after the first snowfall of the season.  Only a couple of miles to either of these lakes. 
 
You can also extend this trip to include a visit to Fourth of July Lake, further south, 14 miles rt. 
 
 
Granite Lake and Grouse Lake, out of the Blue Lakes trailhead east of Carson Pass:
 
A wonderful hike takes you past Granite Lake (Photo at left) out on top of a wild ridge, then across that ridge until you overlook Grouse Lake, about 1000 feet below.  Then you go down.  The total round trip is ten miles, and the scenery in the middle will simply take your breath away. (The photo at the top of the page is taken from this ridge.)   And this is a perfect hike for those days when the other trails are going to be packed with people.  There are not many fish in Grouse Lake, but Summit City Creek below the lake is supposed to have fish, and the canyon down there looks truly inaccessible and wild.  We went back a few years later to check it out.  See below!


Summit City Canyon:  This is another trail out of Upper Blue Lake (Evergreen Trailhead) that climbs for less than a mile and then descends
Summit City Canyon as we noted above.  The trail crosses Summit City Creek and then starts to follow the old Pioneer mining road down into Summit City, often straight down the canyon.  Past the junction to Fourth of July Lake, the trail gets very little traffic at all, and it is a lovely hike, following the creek, sometimes near, sometimes farther away, always within earshot.  And it goes for miles, all the way down to the Mokelumne River, and then beyond.  We haven't taken it that far, and it may deteriorate into invisibility, but the section we hiked had been maintained in the last few years and was in good condition.  Expect to follow cairns and pay attention--this is definitely NOT the JMT freeway. And despite the isolation, the fishing is not great.  Small, skinny fish for the most part.  Here's a link to our trip blog from 2017: https://sites.google.com/site/backpackthesierra/home/our-blog/beatingtheheatbeatingthecrowds
 
 
Lake Margaret: 
This is an easy 2.5 mile hike down from the pass into the Tahoe National Forest.  The lake will get a lot of dayhikers, but it's quiet in the morning and evening, and there are supposed to be some fish in the lake.  The creek on the way is so beautiful that many dayhikers get distracted and never make it to the lake!  It's also a good one for early or later in the year, as the elevation is a good 1000 feet lower than any of the others on this page. 

Shealor Lakes: Want another quick hike into a lovely Sierra Lake?  This trailhead leaves Highway 88 directly North of Silver Lake, just after the turnoff to Plasse's Resort.  It's a quick climb up over a granite ridge, with views away to the North to the Crystal Range, and then plunges down into a granite bowl holding Shealor Lakes.  A lovely day hike, this one is short enough that people bring their kids, their swim toys, and even the odd folding chair.  But the lake is lovely, and like all of these trails that stay out of the wilderness, you don't need a permit to overnight camp here.  Just use an existing site, and Leave No Trace. 

Castle Point Trail: This trail has the quickest payoff of any trail we've hiked: within about 300 yards
you get a stunning view of the whole Caples Creek Valley, often including the Crystal Range west of Tahoe in the background.  And from there, you wander along the crest of the ridge, looking down over precipitous cliffs, passing by an amazing collection of ancient junipers, and finding terrific views of Thunder Mountain on the other side.  That's great value in the first mile.  You can also continue this trail down to the Martin Meadow camping area on Highway 88. The trailhead is just across the highway from the Thunder Mountain Trailhead west of Kirkwood.

Thornburg Canyon: This obscure trail starts off the top of the ridge on the road to Blue Lakes, and takes you up over a ridge to the East.  In early summer this is a cornucopia of flowers for the first half mile, then great views from the top of the ridge. And once you get over the ridge, you may well be alone.  This area gets very little traffic, and leads to a lovely quiet valley.  Continue on over the next ridge, and you can eventually connect to a trail from Grover's Hot Springs...the perfect after hike treatment!  But that requires a car shuttle, or a hike back.

Minkalo Trail: From the trailhead behind Kit Carson Lodge, you can hike to Granite Lake along the Minkalo Trail. It includes a lovely 40-foot waterfall, two delicious creeks, a few isolated glacial tarns, and Granite Lake itself.  All this in a mile and a half from the trailhead.  In fact, the most complicated part of this hike is finding the trailhead, which is unsigned for much of the route on the narrow roads behind the Kit Carson Lodge. 



Allen Camp Trails Loop : And from the West end of Silver Lake, there is a set of trails that offer all sorts of adventures.  From the parking lot to the West of Plasse's Resort at Silver Lake you can take a simple loop that takes you up the Allen Camp Trail, turn left to Hidden Lake, continue North to Granite Lakes (no, these are a different set of Granite Lakes from the ones above), and return along the South shore of Silver Lake to the trailhead.  That's about an 8 mile loop, and offers camping at both Hidden and Granite Lakes.  From Granite Lakes you can also continue North along Horse Canyon Trail, which will take you back out to Highway 88 East of Silver Lake.  That's Granite Lake in the two photos above.


If you're after a real adventure, the Allen Camp Trail heads up over the ridge and down into the Bear River drainage.  Keep heading South, past Munson Meadow, and you can get all the way to the Mokelumne River and its related wilderness area.  You can even connect into the Summit City Trail somewhere down there along the River near Camp Irene.  That bowl of granite chaos at right is the Mokelumne Wilderness. 
 
Comments