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Backpacking Carson Pass hiking the Pacific Crest Trail | High Sierra Backpacker

Backpacking Carson Pass hiking the Pacific Crest Trail


Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 24 September 2010

The Carson Pass sits on Highway 88 just South of the Lake Tahoe Basin.

See the Carson Pass trail guide page for more information about Carson Pass for long distance High Sierra Backpackers.

A google road map of Carson Pass is at the bottom of this page. I also have a page up about free car camping near Carson Pass.

Backpacking, HIking Topo Map: Carson Pass Region

 

Post up your suggestions about backpacking trips out of Carson Pass, your tips and experiences to make it easier for the rest of us! What do you think? Use the comments link at the bottom of this page.

 

Administration

The Carson Pass defines the Boundary between the El Dorado National Forest on the West flank of the Sierra, and the Toiyabe National Forest on the Sierra's Eastern flank. Carson Pass is a short distance Southeast of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit  boundary acrpss the Carson Gap.

The Carson Pass Cabin administers the Carson Pass Management Area. The CPMA was established over this very small but popular hiking area. The CPMA is administered by the El Dorado National Forest.
 

The Carson Pass Management Area

The CPMA issues permits for local backpacking into the CPMA area bounding Round Top and the Sisters, as well as for longer distance trips North and South out of Carson Pass on the Pacific Crest or Tahoe to Yosemite Trails.  

Because of the heavy use of the Carson Pass Area by backpackers and hikers, specifically  Round Top and Round Top Lake, the Carson Pass Management Area was established to control and limit usage at this popular location. The CPMA is administered by the El Dorado NF. There is no contact information for the CPMA. You can contact the Amador Ranger District of the El Dorado National Forest for more information about what's up at the Carson Pass.

If the Carson Pass Cabin is closed, and it is a seasonal office, you will have to obtain information and permits for trips beginning at Carson Pass from the Amador Ranger District of the El Dorado National Forest.
    Short backpacking trips North into the Meiss Country Roadless Area from Carson Pass don't require permits. The LTBMU does not require permits for backpacking within the Meiss Country Roadless Area. But the LTBMU does require a fire permit for all fires in Meiss Country, even for a camp stove. So much for a "no permits" policy!

The deal is that all backpacking into the CPMA must have a permit issued by the CPMA. So if you are starting your trip South to Lake Alpine or Ebbetts Pass from the Carson Pass you must obtain your permit for this trip from the CPMA or the Amador Ranger District.
  As the Carson Pass Cabin is only open seasonally, contact the Amador Ranger District for more specific information.

As it is "first-come, first-serve" for permits issued at the CPMA for travel in the CPMA, you are going to want to try to get your permits for longer trips out of the CPMA down to Highway 4 (on either the PCT or TYT) from the Amador Ranger Station well before your planned departure date. Or you may get hung up at the CPMA for want of a permit, especially of you are beginning your trip on during a Summer weekend, when the CPMA is busy.

I think the CPMA was a good idea, though its permit policies do not intergrate well with long-distance backpackers who want to spend a night within its boundaries. I discuss this throughly on the Carson Pass trail guide page, and below.

Also see the page concerning the  El Dorado National Forest for long distance backpackers.


   CPMA Permit Policies

The CPMA permitting policies, requiring a permit issued by the CPMA to camp in the CPMA, have never affected my camping at Round Top Lake or Fourth of July Lake on through hiking trips South from Lake Tahoe on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail.

The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail cuts right through the heart of the CPMA. The Pacific Crest Trail just grazes the Eastern edge of the CPMA.

The reason I am not bothered by the CPMA permitting policy is because when I order my Tahoe to Yosemite Trail backpacking permit from the LTBMU I always specify a night camping at Round Top Lake or Fourth of July Lake, depending on which location fits my plans.

I prefer Round Top Lake because of the views and sunsets. If you want a more sheltered location, Fourth of July Lake's position nestled in a mountain-side cleft provides that.

Through hikers planning on camping in this area must name their campsite location in the CPMA on their through permit to spend a night in the CPMA.

This is because it is a firm rule of the National Forests that they must honor the permits of through hikers issued by other National Forests. If you don't name a campsite in the CPMA on your through hiker permit you will have to obtain a permit from the Carson Pass Cabin if you want to spend a night there.

Backpacking, HIking Topo Map: Carson Pass Region

 

The Toiyabe National Forest

The Toiyabe National Forest administers the Eastern Sierra Nevada South from the Eastern flank of the Carson Range North of Lake Tahoe all the way down to, and wrapping around the Eastern limit of the Yosemite National Park almost down to Highway 120.

The Toiyabe National Forest is Huge!

Hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail between Carson Pass to Sonora Pass are going to be hiking most of their miles across the Toiyabe NF.  We will remain in the Toiyabe National Forest down to about 8 miles South of Sonora Pass.

Hikers on the Tahoe to Yosemite route will be hiking through the El Dorado National Forest on the Western flank of the Sierra. The El Dorado extends from the Southern boundary of the Lake Tahoe Management Unit South along the Western Rim of the Lake Tahoe Basin South down the Western flank of the Sierras to just North of Highway 4, where the Stanislaus National Forest begins.

The Sierra crest-line is the boundary-line running North-South between National Forest and National Park administrative units on the Eastern and Western flanks. The Toiyabe National Forest administers most of the Easten Flank from Tahoe to Yosemite, excepting small bits noted above.
The administration of the Western Flank of the Sierra Nevada between Tahoe and Yosemite is divided between the El Dorado and Stanislaus National Forests.

Pacific Crest Trail Hikers

The Pacific Crest Trail just grazes the Eastern edge of the CPMA. Most hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail are not interested in hiking the extra 4.28 miles (round trip) from the Winnemucca Lake trail junction to Round Top Lake and back to spend a night up there. But, as I have said before, Round Top Lake is one of the finest places to camp on the Pacific Crest and Tahoe to Yosemite Trails between Highway 4 and Showers Lake.

I think it's worth the extra time and effort. Camping at Round Top Lake would also mark your last night above 9000 feet in the Sierra.

South of Carson Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail you will be primarily in the Toiyabe National Forest as you hike through bits of the Mokelumne Wilderness to Ebbetts Pass. I say "bits" because the boundary of the Mokelumne Wilderness is very convoluted between Carson Pass and Ebbetts Pass.
 

Tahoe to Yosemite Trail Hikers

If you are heading South from Carson Pass on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, your hike crosses right through the heart of the CPMA.

If you are hiking the TYT I suggest you consider spending a night at Round Top Lake or Fourth of July Lake.

Round Top Lake is set into a depression below the Northern side of The Sisters, surrounded by nifty stands of Whitebark Pines. Lots of life up there in Springtime. Birds, squirrels, "mountain dogs," and coyotes everywhere.

The peak of Round Top is immediately to the East of Round Top Lake. The view of the Northern Horizon from the shoulder above Round Top Lake spans the whole horizon from West to East, with Lake Tahoe set into its basin composing the centerpiece of this amazing scene.

The sunsets at Round Top Lake can be amazing, especially in Winter and Spring.

The beauty and accessibility of Round Top and The Sisters draws the local and regional short-distance backpacker traffic that made the restrictions of the Carson Pass Management Area necessary.

Round Top Lake

I consider Round Top Lake one of the finest places to spend a night between Highway 50 at Echo Summit all the way down to Ebbetts Pass and Lake Alpine on Highway 4. And so does every local backpacker from Reno through Lake Tahoe and all the way around to Gardnerville. I think they all show up at the CPMA every Summer weekend.

The beauty and popularity of Round Top and the CPMA has made it a pretty busy place during Summer weekends. This means that the day of the week you pass through the CPMA will determine what kind of traffic you will experience there. A Summer weekend will be crowded, while weekdays will be much quieter. Plan ahead for the best experience that suits your personality. Hikers coming North out of the desolation of Summit City Creek may find the "Backpacker Disneyland" at Round Top Lake amusing or depressing, depending on your particular character.

South of the CPMA your Tahoe to Yosemite route will be taking you through the El Dorado National Forest administered Western flank of the Mokelumne Wilderness. Once you get South of the CPMA on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail you will be passing from a very busy backpacking location to a very secluded place with very few backpackers, just by heading a few steps South on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail from Fourth of July Lake. A few steps bring you into a completely different environment.

Kit Carson monument at Carson Pass

Kit Carson monument at Carson Pass

 For more information on the Carson Pass Area and its adjacent trails, see the Carson Pass trail guide page and click "North" or "South" to head up or down the trail. The Carson Pass Region topo map should be very helpful.

You can click the colored dots along the marked trail routes on the maps, which links you to the trail guide page for that particular location. Each location on the Miles and Elevations pages are also linked to the trail guide page for that location.

There is excellent free National Forest car camping nearby. See the Carson Gap to Woods Lake and the Car Camping near Carson Pass pages for more information.

 

Trail Guide Page
Carson Pass

Map
Carson Pass Region

 

South
on the Pacific Crest Trail

Map South
Carson Pass to Ebbetts Pass

Map Index
Carson Pass to Ebbetts Pass

Miles and Elevations
Carson Pass to Ebbetts Pass

 

Carson Pass Weather

 

North
Pacific Crest and Tahoe to Yosemite Trails

Map North
Carson Pass to Echo Summit/Meiss Country Roadless Area

Miles North
Echo Summit to Carson Pass

 

History
The History of the Toiyabe National Forest contains an extended account of Kit Carson and Fremont's wanderings about the Carson Pass region with a discussion of the meaning and locations of their journal entries.

Short History of Early California

High Sierra History Forum

 

POST YOUR EXPERIENCES, QUESTIONS, OR COMMENTS THROUGH THE LINK BELOW.

Anyone can leave comments and questions on these Forum pages. But if your experiences backpacking around the CPMA exceed the scope of comments, and if you would like to post some pictures and videos to better contribute your significant experiences to this trail guide's Forums, I invite you to register. Registering will give you the power to post your own stand-alone Forum Topic Pages or Trip Notes Pages in this, the Carson to Ebbetts Pass Forum, and the other Trails Forums.

 

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