Backpacking Round Top Lake

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 25 October 2010

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This is the Comments and Questions Page for the Tahoe to Whitney Round Top Lake Trail Guide Page. Post your  Comments and Questions here, or read on, and post through the Comments link at the bottom of the page.

Round Top Lake

Round Top Lake Sunset

Sunset from Round Top Lake

Round Top Lake is a local favorite four-season backpacking, hiking, skiing and camping spot. As a through hiker on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, you may consider naming Round Top Lake as one of your campsites on your permit.

At the very least you should plan on taking a break at Round Top Lake, having a snack, and enjoying it's Northern panoramic view, which spans the Northern horizon from West to East. 


Round Top is located in the Carson Pass Management Area, which insists that all hikers in this area have a special permit from the Carson Pass Cabin, and camp in designated sites. Yet all National Forests, Wilderness areas, and special zones must honor all permits issued outside of their jurisdiction. Through hiker permits must be honored.

So if you are through hiking, the Carson Pass Management Area must honor permits that name campsites on Round Top, Fourth of July Lake, and other features in the Carson Pass Management Area. And this is a beautiful place worthy of spending a night below Round Top, and next to Round Top Lake.


I think the best places to camp are on the Northern berm overlooking both Round Top Lake in its depression to your immediate South, and the Northern Horizon. There are also campsites within the depression Round Top Lake sits. These lakeside sites can be very still and quiet when the winds diminish, as the depression the Lake sits in is surrounded and protected to the Southwest by the flanks of The Sisters.

 A unique environment can form for those camping near Round Top Lake, though it is colder and shadier in the lake's depression. When the winds shift South and drop, stillness and quiet is induced within the bowl Round Top Lake resides, the Lake settles into reflective beauty, giving the  walls of the semi-circle of mountain crests surrounding us an extra dimension. 

Stop and Enjoy Round Top

Round Top offers a range of beautiful environments,  views, stunning sunsets, lots of wildlife, and will be full of locals on Summer Weekends...If you are through hiking Round Top during Summer and want seclusion, try to pass through during the week.

The allure of Round Top is that high altitude beauty is just a couple of miles from the Carson Pass and easy auto access. This means that you can easily get a ride from the Carson Pass to South Lake Tahoe if you need to bail.

Winter at Round Top

I got hit by a mid-Winter blizzard at Round Top that dropped three feet of powder snow, in 9 hours, a few years ago. The next day I did a 3 hour per mile pace to reach Highway 88  near Carson Pass, and bailed. I quickly got a ride to Lake Tahoe during a mid Winter storm!

I generally preserver through storms, but so much powder was deposited so quickly that travel became extremely difficult. 3 hours per mile was my max speed through 3 feet of fresh powder. Snowshoes were worthless, as they just sank through the fresh powder down to the compacted base, and were held there. Snowshoes were actually a liability: when drawing my back leg forward, my snowshoe would act as a parachute, being resisted and held back by the deep powder.

As it takes three days for powder to consolidate enough to again travel across the snow's surface, and the snow fall was still continuing, I recalculated my food, mileage, and conditions situation. I had hiked out of the Tahoe Basin, and planned on hiking back to the Basin. But I had used 3 of 5 days of the food I had brought, and travel conditions had just deteriorated significantly. Travel conditions would stay bad for 3 more days. The numbers did not add up in my favor, and I bailed!

 Short Trips

If you want to check out your gear at a place that has high altitude and moderate difficulty trails, but very few miles, Round Top Lake is for you. You can craft nice little hikes around the whole Round Top Massif. 

Start at Carson Pass, head to Round Top, then drop over to the South side of the Round Top massif through Fourth of July Lake to Summit City Creek. Turn Left, and head upstream on the Summit City Creek to the trail junction to Forestdale Divide. Follow the Forestdale Divide (map) North to Carson Pass along the Pacific Crest Trail. This map details most of this route, and you can find links to related maps and the mileage and elevations of this nifty short loop.


The bottom line is that the Round Top massif from Fourth of July Lake on its South side, to the series of fine lakes on its North side, is a splendid little piece of rock that can bring a delightful little break on your long  hike South on the Tahoe to Yosemite trail. For me Round Top has been a regular stop on my Tahoe to Yosemite hikes, and the half-way point of Snow Camping trips out and back into the Tahoe Basin for years.

 More Information

Round Top and Round Top Lake trail guide

Round Top backpacker map

Round Top miles and elevations


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