The trails around Carson Pass offer some of the best variety for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing around. The backcountry terrain varies from relatively flat rambles around meadows and creeks, moderate climbs through forests and around lakes, and large bowls that make for epic downhill skiing and boarding. Because the high-elevation terrain near Carson Summit keeps snow coverage far later in the season than other areas, you'll likely encounter some crowds near the trailhead. The crowds tend to disperse in the backcountry, however, and you'll find more solitude the further you travel.
The trails here can vary by ability level. The 2.4-mile route out to Winnemucca Lake is fine for intermediate skiers and snowshoers, while those wishing to proceed the additional mile to Round Top Lake will have to do some more climbing. Those attempting to reach the summit of Round Top at 3.7 miles should be familiar with trekking on mountain slopes and prepared for some very technical scrambling up steep rocky slopes to reach the peak.
The route from the trailhead to Frog Lake follows the Pacific Crest Trail. During the winter the trail is often buried in snow, so some navigational aid may be extremely helpful. After a short climb over about a mile you'll encounter Frog Lake, a relatively small lake that remains frozen through the cold season. From here the trail crosses a relatively bare slope that opens to wide views of the nearby peaks such as Red Lake Peak to the north, Elephants Back to the west, and the steep slopes of Round Top that dominate the horizon as you get closer and closer to it.
Winnemucca Lake, a large, often frozen lake, lies at the base of Round Top. From here it is possible to veer from the Round Top Trail and turn the route into a lollipop loop around Woods Lake or loop back to the trailhead via the Carson Pass to Woods Lake Trail.
Above the far bank of Winnemucca Lake is the large bowl where a steady stream of people may be skiing down or making the slow climb back up. The trail to Round Top Lake veers from the steep slopes here and continues for a mile to the lake that lies at the base of the The Sisters, two summits towering nearly 800 feet above the lake.
Those attempting to reach the summit of Round Top will head up the chute across Round Top Lake and climb up the mountain's northwestern slope, tracing a ridge between Round Top's large bowl area and that which is formed by The Sisters. Loose, bare stone awaits for the final stretch to the top. This portion does require some very technical climbing and scrambling, and it should only be attempted in good conditions.
The summit of Round Top (the easternmost of three clustered peaks) sits at 10,381 feet and provides a panoramic vista stretching from the north side of Tahoe and the Kirkwood area to a sea of snow-capped peaks cascading off to the south. Take in the 360-degree views, and then carefully begin your descent back to the trailhead.
A sno-park permit is required to park at the Carson Pass parking area from November 1 to May 1. You can find more information about sno-park permits at 916.324.1222.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.