Carson Pass is the fourth highest automobile pass in the Sierra Nevada. It is located in the Northern Sierra between Ebbetts Pass to the south and Luther Pass south of Lake Tahoe to the north. Highway 88 crosses the pass. Carson Pass is a very accessible and popular area for hiking, peakbagging and skiing. It is located mostly within the boundaries of Eldorado National Forest.
The eastern portion of the extended area of this page is in the Toiyabe National Forest and the area south of the pass is in the Mokelumne Wilderness. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) crosses the pass and there is a good system of trails in the area. The terrain is relatively gentle by Sierra standards with some beautiful lake destinations and virtually all of the peaks can be done in a day or less. The profusion of spring flowers just south of the pass are some of the best to be found in the range. Kirkwood Ski Resort about five miles west of the pass is one of the most popular ski areas in the Northern Sierra. Kirkwood also offers tremendous summer hiking options.
The highest peak in the vicinity of Carson Pass is Round Top at 10,381', which despite not being very high, is quite spectacular and maintains features more characteristic of a much higher peak.
For this page we've loosely expanded the boundaries with Silver Lake to the west; Hope Valley to the north; Highway 89 going north from Markleeville to the east; and Blue Lakes to the south.
Appreciation is owed to Windsor Riley (aka Noondueler) who created this page, and who passed away in 2016.
West from PCT near Carson Pass
Sunrise from Hope Valley
Carson Pass is reached via Highway 88.
For current road conditions click on this Caltrans link.
From Hwy. 88 out of Stockton: Go northeast up through the west side of the range approximately 100 miles to the pass.
From Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe: From the junction of Hwy. 50 and Hwy. 89 go south on 89 11.5 miles over Luther Pass to the junction with Hwy. 88 in Hope Valley. Go right on 88 (south then west) 8 miles to the pass.
From Hwy. 395: From the junction with Hwy. 89 and 395 (less than 3 miles north of Topaz) go west over Monitor Pass 8 miles to the junction with Hwy 4 coming up from the south. Go right on 89 for 12 miles to the junction with Hwy. 88. Go right 14.5 miles through Hope Valley and up to the pass.
Markleeville Peak from Red Lake Peak south slope
For red tape info for the Mokelumne Wilderness go to red tape on the Mokelumne Wilderness page and scroll down to the Red Tape section.
Deadwood Peak 9,846': Approach via Blue Lakes Road. The peak is 2 miles west of Upper Blue Lake.West of Carson Pass and south of Hwy. 88:
Thunder Mountain 9,410': From the Thunder Mountain trailhead 1.7 miles west of Kirkwood Meadows on the south side of Hwy. 88.
Thimble Peak 9,805': From the Thunder Mountain trailhead to the north or the Horse Canyon trailhead .5 mile north of the Silver Lake campground north of Silver Lake on the east side of Hwy, 88.
Covered Wagon Peak 9,565': Easiest approach via the pack trail off the southwest shore of Caples Lake. In just over 3 miles the trail passes right below the northeast side of the peak before it crosses a pass. You can also easily access from the Kirkwood Ski Area
Black Butte 9,031': The easiest approach is directly off trail west southwest about .75 mile from the Woods Lake Campground at the end of the Woods Lake Road south of Hwy. 88.
Current weather and forecast
Winnemucca Lake and Elephants Back
Elephants Back, Round Top and The Sisters from Caples Lake
Click here for the current weather and forecast for Carson Pass.
Red Lake and Stevens Peaks from Pickett Peak
Hikers decending to Carson Pass from Red Lake Peak
Christopher (Kit) Carson (1809-1868), a mountain man, scout, soldier and Indian agent. He was with John C Freemont on Freemont's second exploring expedition; the party crossed the Sierra at Carson Pass in February 1844. Freemont named the river for Carson; the other "Carson" names derive from that. "Carson River" appears for the first time on the Pruess map of 1848. "Carson Pass" and "Carson Canyon" are on the Britton and Rey's map of California by George H. Goddard, 1857. In the 19th century the Carson Pass route was known as the "Amador and Carson Valley Road." The Carson Range was at one time called "The Rose Valley Range;" it was changed to it's present name by a BGN decision in 1939. -Place Names of the Sierra Nevada- Peter Browning
Freemont and the first crossing of Carson Pass.
Skiing Red Lake Peak
Ascending Elephants Back in winter
Click on this page for a brief history of the first crossing of Carson Pass.
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