Snowshoeing Carson Pass to Winnemucca Lake

As everyone knows, it’s been an amazing snow year in the Sierra. But to understand just how much snow we got, one really needs to make a trip to the high-mountain passes to see it for themselves. We got up to Carson Pass recently for some snowshoeing, and I was blown away by the snowpack. I had seen the photos, but it was another thing to see it in person!

Video of our snowshoe from Carson Pass to Winnemucca Lake:

On Friday before heading out, I purchased my California SNO-PARK Permit at the Forest Service Carson Ranger District Office on South Carson Street. I never got around to purchasing the season pass, so opted instead for the one-day pass for $5.00. The season passes are only good through the end of May, so it’ll be cheaper at this point to just buy day passes from here on out.

Snowshoeing to Winnemucca Lake
Snowpack at the trailhead

Most winters, we just hop up on the snowbank behind the vehicle to get started. Not a chance of doing that this time, with the snow piled high above the restrooms, and only the rooftop of the visitors center peeking out above the snow! People have dug a trench with steps to gain access to the top of the snow at one end of the parking lot.

Snowshoeing to Winnemucca Lake
Passing by the roof of the visitors center

As we made our way to Winnemucca Lake, many of the usual landmarks, like the Mokelumne Wilderness sign, were not visible. The blue trail markers mounted high on the trees were at ankle height. The usual bushes that we sometimes have to go around were not visible at all. It was an epic, high-mountain, winter experience! Plentiful sunshine and temps in the 50s added to the wonderful day.

Snowshoeing Carson Pass to Winnemucca Lake
A warm sunny day!

Snowshoeing Carson Pass to Winnemucca Lake
Looking down at Caples Lake

Snowshoeing Carson Pass to Winnemucca Lake
Headed towards Round Top and Winnemucca Lake

About 2 miles south of the trailhead is Winnemucca Lake at the base of Round Top Peak. The lake is still snow covered at this time, only visible as a flat spot in the basin. We picked out some big rocks above the lake as our lunch stop, a little dry island in so much snow. A little depression on the rock filled with melted snow served as a dog water bowl. It was the perfect spot.

Snowshoeing Carson Pass to Winnemucca Lake
Lunch above the frozen-over Winnemucca Lake

At only about 4 miles out and back, this snowshoe trip is the perfect outing for a casual pace, or for a day when you don’t have a lot of time. It’s about an hour drive to the trailhead from Carson City. With all the open terrain, it doesn’t feel crowded even when the parking lot is full. There aren’t too many places like this where you have such a high-mountain wilderness experience this close to the trailhead!

Snowshoeing Carson Pass to Winnemucca Lake
Headed back

If you go:

  • The Carson Pass trailhead is the high point on Highway 88, about an hour south of Carson City.
  • Make sure to get your SNO-PARK permit on the weekdays, as the Carson Ranger District Office is only open Monday-Friday. Permits can also be ordered online.
  • Morning departures are best to avoid afternoon winds.
  • At only a mile from the trailhead, Frog Lake is a good destination for those looking for less mileage.
  • The Meiss Meadows SNO-PARK is nearby, and makes a great starting point for adventures to the north.
  • The Hope Valley Cafe makes a great place to stop after your adventure.
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