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Overview: Lake Tahoe to Highway 4 at Ebbetts Pass (Pacific Crest Trail) or to Lake Alpine (Tahoe-Yosemite Trail) | High Sierra Backpacker

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Overview: Lake Tahoe to Highway 4 at Ebbetts Pass (Pacific Crest Trail) or to Lake Alpine (Tahoe-Yosemite Trail)


Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 07 October 2009

SECTION OVERVIEW: Backpacking from Lake Tahoe to Highway 4

This section covers your backpacking route options on the High Sierra trails between Lake Tahoe and Highway 4. Though this guide is set up for long distance backpackers, these trails between Meeks Bay and Highway 4 are chock full of great options for intermediate to expert level backpackers who are looking for some great short to medium distance backpacking trips.

Independent of which Lake Tahoe trailhead you decide to begin your Southbound backpacking trip from, when you reach the Carson Gap above the Carson Pass you are faced with the decision of which route you want to take to get down to Highway 4.

The main options are the Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trails. The Tahoe to Yosemite route begins at Meeks Bay in the Northeastern corner of the Desolation Wilderness. The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail intersects with the Pacific Crest Trail 11.5 miles South of the Meeks Bay trailhead just a bit North of Middle Velma Lake in the Heart of the Desolation Wilderness.

The Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trail continue South together for the next 29.82 miles to the Carson Gap. At the Carson Gap the Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trail routes part company. This gives the Southbound backpacker two trail options to get from the Carson Gap to Highway 4.

Your first option is to follow the Pacific Crest Trail route to Ebbetts Pass on Highway 4. Your second option is the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail. The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail also crosses Highway 4, but at Lake Alpine. Lake Alpine sits about 25 miles to the West of Ebbetts Pass on Highway 4.

These routes differ in three respects. First, the PCT traces along the Eastern flank of the Sierras to Ebbetts Pass, while the TY Trail is situated on the Western flank of the Sierras. The second difference is in the degree of isolation each trail offers.

During mid-Summer's high backpacking season the Pacific Crest Trail is the Superhighway of trails. It is packed with backpackers. On the other hand, you will be lucky to see one backpacker on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail from Summit City Creek to Lake Alpine during mid-Summer .

Carson Gap to Ebbetts Pass: 28.49 miles

Carson Gap to Lake Alpine: 24.41 miles

From the Carson Gap you can break off of the Pacific Crest Trail to hike over the Southwestern flank of The Sisters to follow the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail to Lake Alpine, or you can continue South on the Pacific Crest Trail through Carson Pass to Ebbetts Pass.

The Lake Alpine Lodge: Rest and Resupply point for long-distance Southbound Backpackers

Independent of which route you take, at The Lake Alpine Lodge you should collect a FEE-FREE resupply bucket that you sent yourself , care of the Lake Alpine Lodge. If you are so inclined, you can have yourself a hot meal and a hot shower, and enjoy a beer with their super staff and the fishermen and car campers that hang out there during the Summer months. The Lodge will only accept resupply packages sent through UPS, as UPS will deliver your package directly to the Lodge for free.

 If you send your package by the US Postal Service, Kim, the manager of the Lake Alpine Lodge, has to go pick it up herself, and she will charge you for making her drive to pick up your resupply package.

As Kim says, "why should I charge you for a resupply bucket if USPS drops it at our front door?"

Let's get some more context on this trail section with these rough figures:

Trail heads

The Meeks Bay trailhead is 30.71 miles from Echo Summit, your second trail head option.

The Echo Summit trailhead is 10.61 miles from the Carson Gap, where you decide on routes.

The Round Lake trailhead, at the head of the year-round maintained part South Upper Truckee Road in Meyers, is 9 miles from the Carson Pass.

The Meeks Bay trailhead is 41.32 miles from  the Carson Gap.

The Pacific Crest Trail

The Carson Gap is 25.71 miles from Ebbetts Pass along the Pacific Crest Trail route.

The distance between Meeks Bay and Ebbetts Pass is roughly 69.81 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail route.

 The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail

The distance between the Carson Gap to Lake Alpine is 24.41 miles on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail.

The distance between Meeks Bay and Lake Alpine is roughly 65.73 miles on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail.

The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail varies from the Pacific Crest Trail by turning Southwest at the Carson Gap, about a mile North of Carson Pass, to pass around the Western flanks of  Round Top and The Sisters, in order to drop into the Summit City Creek drainage. The Summit City Creek is these Mountain's Southwestern drainage. 

From the Summit City Creek trail junction below Fourth of  July Lake the backpacker follows a non-maintained trail down stream to a point very near the Mokelumne River, where, after the second of two fords across Summit City Creek, trail conditions deteriorate radically (what trail bed?) as you try to find  your way to Camp Irene, which is nestled in a massive forest overhanging a fine set of rocks, pools, and a white sand beach along the North Fork of the Mokelumne River.

Once at the very serene Camp Irene you will be pleased that only the mass of Mount Reba, and about 11 miles of thin, but open trails, sit between you and your first resupply at the Lake Alpine Lodge.

 More Information

Reference to the Classic 1970 Trail Guide, "Tahoe-Yosemite Trail," by Thomas Winnett.

Lake Tahoe to Echo Summit Trail Guide

Lake Tahoe to Echo Summit Maps

Post your questions, comments, or experiences about your positive and negative impressions along this trail section through the comments link below.

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