We had been to Showers Lake before, but it wasn’t under the best conditions. We were on our way from Big Meadow to Echo Summit, and Showers Lake marked the beginning of our 6 mile snow march to complete the hike. We didn’t stop long to enjoy the lake or even notice it that much. And at 5.1 miles from Carson Pass (even further from Echo Summit), Showers Lake has never really been on my list for quick day hikes. It wasn’t until I was browsing Ted’s Outdoor World looking for hike ideas that I found a much easier way to get to the lake at just under 4 miles for a round trip! This sounded like the perfect August afternoon outing, so we gave it a try.
One of the reasons this trailhead is less known and used is that it’s not visible from the highway, and the drive to get there is pretty bumpy. You don’t need a 4×4, but low clearance vehicles may have issues along the rocky road. To get to the trailhead off SR 88, watch for the Caples Lake Maintenance Station sign on the northeast side of Caples Lake. Drive past the Maintenance Station and the road becomes Forest Road 10N13. The trailhead is about 2 miles up the road and hard to miss. There’s an old cabin in a meadow visible off to the left as you reach the parking area. The trail beings near the kiosk opposite the parking.
The elevation profile for this hike is pretty simple. The trailhead is at 8,360 feet elevation, the trail climbs to 9,235 feet, then descends to Showers Lake at 8,647. The trail begins in the shade of the pine trees, but soon enters a big open bowl and makes its way to the ridge above. It was dry when we did our hike in August, but the presence of corn lilies along the drainages indicate this trail might be pretty wet in spots during the early spring. The trail takes a mostly direct route toward the mountain, only switchbacking near the end when it gets too steep.
The trail comes to an intersection when it arrives on top of the ridge. A trail leads up the ridgeline to the south. Another nearby trail heads east steeply down to Meiss Meadow. The trail to Showers Lake crosses the ridge and heads north, but now at an easier grade. Showers Lake is a nice destination, but hiking this ridgeline is my favorite part of this hike. Now only a mile from the trailhead, one has great views in all directions. It really gives you a lay of the land, a view you won’t see from the PCT below.
Now heading north, the trail gently gains its final elevation for some pleasant hiking and first views of Showers Lake. Soon, though, the trail heads steeply down to the lake. There are a few loose sections where you need to watch your footing, but nothing too difficult.
Showers lake is located in a high basin up above the other area lakes. The outlet on the boulder covered north side flows steeply down the mountain and joins the Upper Truckee River which eventually flows into Lake Tahoe. Arriving at Showers Lake, we followed the trail to the east side for a picnic with an amazing view.
It didn’t take long to realize that we weren’t alone at the lake. Voices came from all directions, and a scan of the lake shore revealed many tents. After our break, we hiked over to the outlet stream and passed more tents in the woods with dozens of people everywhere. Screaming kids played nearby while I got a bottle of water from the creek. After some consideration, I decided I would just save the creek water for the dogs. With all the human activity around, the desire for extra drinking water diminished. I had originally thought about making Showers Lake an easy backpacking destination, but was now glad I hadn’t!
Before leaving Showers Lake, we walked over to an overlook and caught a glimpse of Dardanelles Lake, a place we backpacked just about a year ago. From there, we started retracing our steps back to the trailhead. It’s a little steep at first, but since there is less elevation to gain in this direction, it’s an easier hike out.
I think this hike makes a great day trip, and especially a good one when you’re short on time. While Showers Lake was very crowded and I probably wouldn’t camp there, the rest of the trail was quite peaceful. Although this particular hike was short, the map shows an option for a bigger loop. One could continue north on the PCT to another trail that gives you access to the ridge above. From here, it’s possible to hike back along the ridgeline and climb Little Round Top or just follow this side trail all the way back down to near the trailhead. The second option is a little over 6 miles. I’ll definitely be back to explore these other options.