This map depicts the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail and Pacific Crest Trail options through the Carson Pass Management Area.
Main Features: The Carson Gap is where Southbound backpackers on the Pacific Crest Trail exit the Lake Tahoe Basin and continue South to and through the Carson Pass on their way down the PCT towards Ebbetts Pass on Highway 4.
Southbound Tahoe to Yosemite Trail hikers break Southwest from the Pacific Crest Trail just a few feet South of the Carson Gap. You are departing the Pacific Crest Trail to head down to and cross Highway 88 West of the Carson Pass to ascend and pass around the Western side of Round Top and The Sisters near Woods Lake.
Careful crossing Highway 88. As the bend to the West is blind make sure you listen carefully for Eastbound cars, of which there will be many during Summer and ski season. Don't end your trip as road kill. That'd be ironic.
The TYT hiker will cross over Round Top and the Sisters to descend their Southwestern flank into the Summit City Creek drainage. We will be following a compass point bending Southwest within the magnificant canyon Summit City Creek down 13 miles from the top of Round Top to the North Fork of the Mokelumne River. The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail backpacker crosses the North Mokelumne River and climbs over Mount Reba to reach Lake Alpine.
The Pacific Crest Trail hiker passes through Carson Pass to bend Southeast of Round Top and The Sisters hiking along the Eastern flank of the Sierras to Ebbetts Pass. The PCT crosses Highway 4 at Ebbetts Pass about 14 miles Eest of Lake Alpine.
Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
From the Carson Gap to the Round Top Lake trail junction
After descending from the Carson Gap and crossing Highway 88 we will make our way towards Woods Lake, where we have two possible routes that can take us up to Round Top.
A dirt road on the South side of Highway 88 meets us when we reach Highway 88. You can see that this dirt road parallels Highway 88 coming West down from Carson Pass, which sits to the left, to our East. Follow this road to right, and down about a half-mile to where it connects with the paved road to Woods Lake. Woods Lake is a fine place to have lunch or a snack with the retired folks and the family campers who inhabit this area during the Summer months. About a half-mile past Highway 88 we will turn left towards Woods Lake where the dirt road we are following joins the paved road.
A couple of hundred yards down this paved road we will see a parking lot on our right where there's a National Forest toilet facility. If you miss having a real toilet seat, you are in luck. A couple of hundred yards past this parking lot, but before we reach Woods Lake, we see a footbridge on our left. This footbridge is one of our trail choices leading up to Round Top Lake. The trail over this foot bridge takes us up to Round Top Lake via Winnamucca Lake.
In any case, from the foodbridge we must decide between the two potential routes up to Round Top and the Sisters. We can either follow the trail across the footbridge up to Round Top via Winamucca Lake, or take the shortcut, the Lost Cabin Mine Trail, which sits a short distance further down the paved road towards Woods Lake.
Continue past the footbridge if you are seeking the Lost Cabin Mine Trail up to Round Top. Shortly past the footbridge we will encounter the Woods Lake campground on our right. Enter the camp through the main entrance, and at the top of the campground loop road we find a trail cutting up between the top two campsites to the old jeep road leading left to the Lost Cabin Mine. The trail past this still active mine the trail is the quickest, but steepest, route up to Round Top Lake. If you are not sure about what the hell I'm talking about, and the map above makes no sense to you, shoot me an email. The Woods Lake campground has a host, so you can ask the host for directions if you feel lost. But that's not a good sign for your navigation when the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail dissappears between Summit City Creek to Camp Irene.
If we really want to take the longest way to get from the Carson Gap up to Round Top Lake on the Tahoe to Yosemite route, we continue South from the Carson Gap along the Pacific Crest Trail through the Carson Pass to the Winamucca Lake trail junction. From the Winamucca trail junction we approach Round Top from the East. The foot bridge route shortens this Eastern approach by over a mile, and getting up to Round Top Lake through the Lost Cabin Mine Trail reduces this distance by another mile. But as I mentioned earlier, there is a tradeoff involved. The shorter the route is, the steeper it is.
After arriving at the Round Top Lake trail junction where the trail up from Winnemucca Lake intersects with the Lost Cabin Trail, backpackers following the Lost Cabin Mine trail will take a right turn to continue South on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail. Hikers coming up via Winamucca Lake will continue straight through this junction.
Me, I'll take off my pack and have a nice break next to Round Top Lake, sitting under the shadow of Round Top and The Sisters.
Past this junction the trail bends South and West as it rounds the Western flank of the Round Top-Sisters Massif. As the Southern Vista opens up and we begin to descend down to the Summit City Creek, the emerald blue waters of Fourth of July Lake appear wedged in a small fold between the Southern Flanks of the Kirkwood and Round Top mountains about halfway down to Summit City Creek. Fourth of July Lake is situated in a nice place to take a break from the impact of backpacking down the steep backside of Round Top.
Below Fourth of July Lake Summit City Creek flows through a massive glacial-cut granite valley twisting out a grand Southwestern arc down towards its eventual meeting with the North Fork of the Mokelumne River. We will turn right when we encounter the Summit City Creek trail junction at the base of this valley, bounded on the North by Round Top's Southwestern flank, which we just descended. A right turn will take us downstream along the Summit City Creek on the Tahoe to Yosemite Route, while a left turn will bring us through Devils Corral to Upper Blue Lake unless we turn North for the hike up to Forestdale Divide.
If we decided to take a left and trace the trail up Summit City Creek east, or upstream, (instead of following the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail downstream) we can see that it heads up towards a trail junction where we can either climb up to the Pacific Crest Trail at Forestdale Divide, or continue up Summit City Creek to to Blue Lakes.
As you can see by the map above, there are fine spiderwebs of trails connecting all of the main routes along the Sierra Crest in this region with unique side trails around Round Top and the Sisters. Many fine short backpacking loop trips can be crafted along these trails. The route up Summit City Creek towards Blue Lakes leads you past the Devils Corral, an amazing box canyon surrounded by majestic sheer rock.
The Pacific Crest Trail passes to the East of Round Top to pass over the Forestdale Divide, as pictured on the map above, while the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail passes to the West of Round Top.
And it is this difference in routes, with the Pacific Crest Trail tracking along the Eastern Flank of the Sierra Crest while the Tahoe to Yosemite route crosses the Western Sierra Flank which now begins to give each route its particular character. This East-West division between the Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trail routes will continue until they again merge below Dorthy Pass Lake at the base of Bond Pass at the head of Jack Main Canyon just within the Northern boundary of Yosemite National Park.
top of page