Page Type Page Type: Area/Range
Location Lat/Lon: 38.69487°N / 119.98922°W
Activities Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Mixed, Scrambling, Skiing
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Additional Information Elevation: 8574 ft / 2613 m
Sign the Climber's Log


Approaching storm from Round Top Approaching storm from Round Top

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.

There are several trailheads in the area, including Carson Pass itself and Woods Lake about 1.7 miles to the west being the main trailheads at Carson Pass.

Appreciation is owed to Windsor Riley (aka Noondueler) who created this page, and who passed away in 2016.

Getting There

Pacific Crest Trail, Carson Pass West from PCT near Carson Pass
Sunrise from Hope Valley 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.

Red Tape

Hawkins Peak from the west... Hawkins Peak
Markleeville Peak from Red Lake Peak south ridge 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.
For the greater Eldorado National Forest click on Recreation Passes and Permits.
For Toiyabe National Forest passes and permits click here.
For Carson Pass parking fee details in winter sno-park and summer parking as well as  fees and reservations for Woods Lake campground click here.
Carson Pass is open all year round due to the ski area.


Northeast from Thimble Peak Northeast from Thimble Peak
For a list of campgrounds around Carson Pass click here
For Campgrounds in the Toiyabe National Forest click here
For campgrounds in the Mokelumne Wilderness click on the Mokelumne Wilderness page and scroll down to camping.

Carson Pass Area Trails

Red Lake Peak and Elephants Back Trail to Lake Winnemucca
For a comprehensive list of trails in the Carson Pass Area see this list on All Trails.

Carson Pass Area Peaks and their initial approach routes

 Johnny ascending the west ridge Ascending Round Top
Southwest from Round Top Southwest from Round Top
North of Carson Pass and west of Hwy. 88:
Little Round Top 9,590': Approach this peak from across from the east side of Caples Lake off of Highway 88 
Red Lake Peak 10,063': Approach via the Pacific Crest Tail north of Carson Pass or from Crater Lake to the east via it's trail.
Stevens Peak 10,059': Approach via the Pacific Crest Trail north of Carson Pass or from the Alpine Mine via it's trail up to the east.
Waterhouse Peak 9,497' Via Luther Pass.
Northeast of Carson Pass across Hope Valley and east of Hwy. 88:
Pickett Peak 9,118': Approach from Hwy. 88/89 via Burnside Lake Road.
Hawkins Peak 10,024 : Same as Pickett Peak, with another option a few miles further south on the Burnside Lake Road.
Southeast of Carson Pass:
Markleeville Peak 9,415': Approach via the Blue Lakes Road out of Hope Valley off of Hwy. 88.
Jeff Davis Peak 9,065': Also the Blue Lakes Road out of Hope Valley a mile or 2 south of Markleeville Peak.
Lost Lakes Peak 9,374Via Blue Lakes Road 2 miles west of Jeff Davis Peak.
The Nipple 9,342': Via Blue Lakes Road 2 miles west of Jeff Davis Peak.
Lost Lakes Peak 9,374' from the PCT
Lost Lakes Peak 9,374' from the PCT

South of Carson Pass:
Elephants Back 9,585': Approach from Carson Pass trailhead south or from the Woods Lake trailhead via the Woods Lake Road south side of Hwy 88 2 miles west of Carson Pass.
Round Top 10,381': Same approach trailheads as Elephants Back.
The Sisters 10,153': The same trailheads as Round Top and Elephants Back.
Fourth of July Peak 9,537': Also via the Carson Pass trail head or the Woods Lake Trailhead.
Melissa Coray Peak and Peak 9,795: Carson Pass or Woods Lakes trailheads or from Kirkwood Ski Resort or the Caples Lake Trailhead.
Black Butte 9,013': Woods Lake trailhead
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, Toiyabe Nat. Forest Winnemucca Lake and Elephants Back
Elephants Back, Round Top and The Sisters from Caples Lake Elephants Back, Round Top and The Sisters from Caples Lake
Click here for the current weather and forecast for Carson Pass.


Red Lake Peak and Stevens Peak from Pickett Peak Red Lake and Stevens Peaks from Pickett Peak
Hikers descending to Carson Pass from Red Lake 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 Skiing Red Lake Peak
Rob is advancing towards the... Ascending Elephants Back in winter
Click on this page for a brief history of the first crossing of Carson Pass.

Additions and CorrectionsPost an Addition or Correction

Viewing: 1-1 of 1

Alpinist - May 25, 2021 11:14 am - Hasn't voted

Fossil Find

A park ranger stumbled across a major fossil find in an undisclosed location somewhere in the Mokelumne River Watershed in the Sierra foothills, including what looks to be a petrified forest and a 400lb salmon. "In the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, paleontologists have uncovered a collection of fossils, including an eight-million-year-old mastodon skull with both tusks intact, a rhino skeleton, a giant tortoise, 600 petrified trees, and many more specimens. Dating back to the Miocene epoch, the site is considered one of the most significant fossil discoveries in California history, reports Andrew Chamings for SFGate." More...

Viewing: 1-1 of 1



Children refers to the set of objects that logically fall under a given object. For example, the Aconcagua mountain page is a child of the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits.' The Aconcagua mountain itself has many routes, photos, and trip reports as children.



Parents refers to a larger category under which an object falls. For example, theAconcagua mountain page has the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits' asparents and is a parent itself to many routes, photos, and Trip Reports.

Sierra NevadaAreas & Ranges