There are 6 trans-Sierra highways of which only three are all season roads and Round Top Peak is located along one of those, California State Route 88. Round Top is a prominent peak in the Tahoe region, one of three mountains (the other two are Freel Peak and Mount Rose) above 10,000 feet that are visible from Lake Tahoe. Its distinctive rounded summit of dark volcanic basalt towers above a beautiful alpine country that is rare in this part of Sierra Nevada. It is located near Carson Pass on California State Route 88, one of the trans-Sierra routes that is open during the winter. It is located south of Carson Pass in the Mokelumne Wilderness and the Carson Pass Management Area and is a nice side trip for those traveling the Pacific Crest Trail. Round Top offers views south towards Ebbets and Sonora Pass, east toward Hope Valley and the Carson River, west overlooking Caples Lake and the Kirkwood Ski area and northward one can see Lake Tahoe. If the air is very clear, Mount Diablo in the East San Francisco Bay area can be seen. Because of its close proximity to the South Shore of Lake Tahoe and Kirkwood ski resort, it is also a popular destination for ski touring and mountaineering, but is busy year round, with many people headed for the summit. On holiday weekends it can be tough finding a parking space and the trail seems like a crowded highway. Its easiest route is class 2, although the summit block (the eastern crag) is rated class 3. On its north and east sides there are some challenging volcanic cliffs. The mountain is close enough to the road to do it on a moderate day hike
There are two trailheads:
To get to one trailhead from the Tahoe Area Travel south on CA State Route 89 (starting at its junction with U.S Highway 50) for approximately 11.5 to its junction with CA State Route 88 in Hope Valley. Turn right (west) onto S.R. 88 and drive for approximately 9 miles to the summit of Carson Pass. The parking area will be on the south side of the road with a small information building at the east end. The information hut is only manned during the summer months.
From the west the trail head / parking area is approximaetly 70 miles east of Jackson, CA on State Route 88.
The closer but lower one is at Woods Lake, elevation 8200 ft. Take highway 88 a few miles west of Carson Pass, then take the Woods Lake turn off on the south side. Proceed 2 miles to trailhead. From Jackson it is a couple of miles before you reach the summit.
There is now a Carson Pass Management Area for the area immediately around and including Round Top Peak and some new regulations. During the summer a $5.00 day use fee is charged at the Carson Pass, Carson Pass Overflow, Woods Lake, and Meiss trailheads. Your National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass is good here. A season permit can be purchased for $15.00. If visiting the area in winter, a Snow Park Pass is required. The daily fee is $5 and a season pass can be purchased for $30. These can be purchased at any Forest Service office and at many retail stores. Many AAA offices also sell Snow Park Permits. The closest place to obtain a Snow Park permit is the gas station next to the Kirkwood Nordic center 6 miles west on S.R. 88.
If one is camping, in any part of the wilderness other than the Carson Pass management Area, a Wilderness Permit is needed and can be ordered from any El Dorado National Forest Ranger office, from the Carson Pass Information Station at the trail head in summer or the Amador Ranger Station which is located at 26820 Silver Drive Pioneer, CA (click on the address for a Yahoo map)just off of Highway 88, about 3 miles east of Pioneer and is open Monday through Friday. The phone number is (209)295-4251. More permit information. Only one permit is needed for continuous trips passing through more than one wilderness area. Maximum group size for a day hike is 12 people. Only 8 people for an overnight stay. If you plan on using a stove, even if on a day hike, a fire permit is required and can be picked up at any U.S. Forest Service office.The fire permit is good for the entire state of California. There are no wood fires allowed above 8000 ft.
When To Climb
The peak can be climbed year round with some good winter ski runs. For those desiring to not climb in the snow, generally late June through September is the best time.
Camping is allowed in the Mokelumne Wilderness with the proper permit. the restrictions for the Carson Pass Management Area are more restrictive than the rest of the wilderness area. There is no summer camping at Frog Lake. There are three sites at Winnemuca Lake, six sites at both Round Top Lake and Fourth of July Lake. Winter camping is allowed once the snow pack is 12 inches deep. From the Friday before Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend, an overnight stay limit will be in effect of 2 nights for Round Top and Winnemucca Lakes and 3 nights for the Fourth of July Lakes. Permits can only be obtained at the Carson Pass Information Staion in the summer and the Amador Ranger Station at all other times of the year. Down from the pass in both directions are regular Forest Service fee campgrouds. The closest being Woods Lake and Caples Lake to the west for summer camping only. There are also a couple of stores and restaurants fairly close to the west at Caples Lake and Kirkwood. Use a bear canister to store food in order to deter marauding bears.
State Route 88 road conditions can be found online or by phoning the California Department of Transportation road condition line at 1-800-427-7623. Like most mountainous areas the slopes of Round Top are prone to avalanches. Avalanche Warnings can be found online through the National Forest Service.
"For the field season of 1877, Lt. M. M. Macomb wrote that 'we made a triangulation station on what is locally known as Siver Era Peak, but which is called by the United States Coast Survey, "Round Top."' (Wheeler Survey, Report, 1878, 141.) the lake was first named on the 15-minute quad, 1965."
- Peter Browning, Place Names of the Sierra Nevada