Walkabout California

Hiking Inn to Inn

Hiking Carson Pass to Winnemucca and Round Top Lakes

Driving across the Sierra Nevada Mountains and need to stretch your legs?  Take this short and beautiful High Sierra hike to two pretty alpine lakes.

We hiked this trail in late July.  It was still spring time in the high country.  The wildflowers were spectacular, and they should continue into late August. 

Start at Carson Pass (8,574’) from the parking area at the crest of Highway 88, and head south on the Pacific Crest Trail, gradually ascending through a forest of western white pines.  The hike to Winnemucca Lake (8,980’) is 2.4 miles, and Round Top Lake (9,364’) is another mile.

The forest thins as you hike, and the terrain turns to grassy mountain sides.  Round Top Mountain comes into view, raw granite graced with snowfields.  After a mile, you pass by Frog Lake, a short detour from the trail.  The PCT veers to the west, but we follow the signs to Winnemucca Lake.

Snowmelt moistens the soil, and we hiked through vast wildflower gardens – deep blue lupine, yellow mules ear, white cow parsnips, wild iris, red paint brush.  We spotted blue elephant heads along a stream with clusters of flowers shaped like its name.

Winnemucca Lake sits at the base of Round Top Mountain.  Streams of melted snow feed it.  The very brave can take a refreshing swim.

Most hikers turn back here.  A few continue on to Round Top Lake.  It is worth the effort.  Even if you don’t go on, walk to Winnemucca’s south west corner where a stream flows out of the lake and water pours down the mountainside from snowfields.  Here the wildflowers are in their full glory. 

The trail climbs more steeply to Round Top Lake.  Whitebark pines, some of the highest elevation pines in the Sierra, bend and bow to the east, weathered by gales that howl through this pass.

Hike over the crest, and the view of Round Top Lake will take your breath away.  A crystalline lake surrounded by green fields and pines, it is nestled at the base of The Sisters, rugged granite peaks with deep snowfields that should last until they are replenished by next winter’s storms.  We walked along the shoreline and stopped for a picnic, just enjoying the beautiful scene.

The hike back is downhill and should take 1 – 1.5 hours.  What a wonderful way to break up your drive across the Sierra Nevada Mountains.


Walkabout California – connecting with the natural world through travel, outdoor adventure, and hiking inn-to-inn.  Savor the journey and the destination. Click here for California inn-to-inn hiking guides.

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