Silver Lake, Carson Pass, California

Up and Over Carson Pass

Mileages From Stockton

  • Indian Grinding Rock SP - 54 miles
  • Silver Lake - 94 miles
  • Caples Lake - 101 miles
  • Carson Pass - 105 miles
  • Hope Valley - 111 miles
  • Blue Lakes - 124 miles

High Sierra Trails

A Backpacker's Guide to the
Most Spectacular Trails
in the Sierra Nevada

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Cook on the Best

Relax by the Fire

Carson Pass

Amador and Alpine Counties, California

Highway 88 winds its way from Jackson in the heart of the Mother Lode up through wooded foothills and into the Sierra Nevada. After passing several beautiful mountain lakes, the highway crosses 8,574-foot Carson Pass and then begins its descent to scenic Hope Valley. Farther east, Highway 88 connects with Highway 395 in Nevada, south of Carson City.

Along the Highway 88 corridor visitors find a myriad of attractions and activities. Lakes and streams attract anglers and picnickers, mountain trails draw hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. Campgrounds offer wonderful retreats for relaxing and enjoying the forests and mountains. In winter Kirkwood Mountain Resort fills with skiers and snow boarders. Nearby cross-country trails lead through snowy wonderlands.

Carson Pass Camping

Caples Lake Campground, Carson Pass, California

Campgrounds are spread all along the pass from Indian Grinding Rock State Park near Pine Grove all the way up the pass and across into Hope Valley and down the West Carson River. Many campgrounds are first-come, first-served, although there are a fair number with reservations available. A few private campgrounds are also found along the pass.


Many areas of the El Dorado National Forest and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest are open to Dispersed Camping. There is no charge for dispersed camping. You simply select a spot in the forest, away from developed camping areas like Silver Lake and park your RV or set up your tent. Likely you'll need to bring your own water. Fire permits are required for campfires.

Dispersed Camping

Carson Pass Recreation

Skiing, Snowboarding, and Playing in the Snow

Kirkwood Mountain Resort, Carson Pass, California

Kirkwood Mountain Ski Area is one of the great ski and boarding mountains in the Sierra. The resort has established a separate beginning hill for novices, while advanced skiers and boarders will be challenged by a variety of terrain from the famous Wall to Sentinel Bowl.

Kirkwood Mountain Resort

Kirkwood's Cross Country Center offers 80 km of groomed trails for cross-country skiing. They have both skating a snowshoeing lanes on three interconnected trails systems, along with two trailhead facilities. They are located on Highway 88, one quarter mile east of the entrance to Kirkwood.

Cross Country Skiing

Carson Pass Boating

For water-skiers, Lower Bear River Reservoir is the best choice, although some hardy water-skiers like the brisk waters of Silver Lake. All of the other lakes are limited to slow speeds or non-motorized boats. Kayakers enjoy exploring Caples Lake and some kayakers even lug their boats up to the upper Bear River Reservoir. Other smaller lakes scattered around the pass are also great for kayaks and canoes. Blue Lakes are a favorite destination for anglers.


Carson Pass Fishing

Fishing on Carson Pass is filled with variety. From boats, most anglers like Lower Bear River Reservoir, Silver Lake, and Caples Lake. All three locations offer boat rentals and have launch ramps. Shoreline fishing on even the largest lakes is productive. Fly fishermen tend to favor the east side, working the meandering West Carson River in Hope Valley or seeking out the secluded Blue Lakes.


Backpacking, Day Hikes, Bicycling, and Mountain Biking

Carson Pass is filled with adventures. Backpackers set off into the Mokelumne Wilderness to favorite destinations like Fourth of July Lake, while day hikers find adventurous trails from easy nature walks in Indian Grinding Rock State Park to ridgeline treks from the summit of Carson Pass. Carson Pass has miles of great cycling roads, especially along the east side of the Sierra. Mountain Bikers find plenty of logging roads and single tracks. On summer weekends Kirkwood Ski Resort opens miles of alpine trails, along with chairlifts 1 and 2, to mountain bikers.

Backpacking   Day Hikes   Cycling   Mountain Biking

Horseback Riding and Everything Else

Horseback riders find miles of trails to explore along Carson Pass. Bird watchers have sited hundreds of species of birds along the trails all up and down the pass. Cavers can venture into Black Chasm Cavern near Volcano. Wylder Hope Valley hosts a variety of activities, from yoga to history talks.

Other Sierra Passes - Other Adventures

Ebbetts Pass

Only a few miles to the south, Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway (Highway 4) offers mountain lakes, winter skiing, wonderful camping, and a multitude of other outdoor recreation opportunities. You may want to consider looking through our sister website Ebbetts Pass Adventures.

Echo Summit

A short distance to the north, Echo Summit (Highway 50), is another area you will want to explore. The Crystal Basin is scattered with lakes and campgrounds. Echo Summit is the gateway to the Desolation Wilderness. Find all the information on Discover Echo Summit.

Sonora Pass

A little farther to the south is beautiful Sonora Pass (Highway 108) with Dodge Ridge Ski Resort, Pinecrest Lake, Kennedy Meadows, and dozens of other great destinations and recreation opportunities. Take a look at another of our sister websites, Sonora Pass Vacations.