Snowshoeing in Carson Pass

This past weekend, I finally had the opportunity to try out my Christmas present: a set of snowshoes! I drove up Route 88 to Carson Pass (near Kirkwood, CA) with my folks for an afternoon of snowshoeing in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was my first time snowshoeing, and I loved it! Although I am a skier at heart, I found snowshoeing to be much more relaxing, peaceful, and social than skiing. Also, it’s a surprisingly intense workout.

On the way up, we stopped at Cook’s Station for a hearty breakfast of eggs and hash browns. Cook’s Station is a roadside stop that, since 1863, has at various points served as a Pony Express station, a toll house, and an inn/saloon/brothel due to its prime location along the Carson Immigrant Trail. Today, it’s a restaurant and bar that serves up plentiful portions of comfort food  with a friendly, rustic ambiance. (Apparently, Cook’s Station is also haunted by several ghosts from the 19th century, including a cowboy and a small girl. Unfortunately, I didn’t see them at breakfast.)

Cook's Station

After filling up with food and caffeine, we continued east on 88, past Kirkwood Mountain Resort, to the Carson Pass Sno-Park. A sno-park is an outdoor facility with parking, bathrooms, and easy acces to trailheads for winter recreational activities like cross-country skiing and shoeshoeing. Daily sno-park passes cost $5 (seasonal passes cost a cool $25), and can be purchased online at the California State Parks website. Once we parked and put on our gear, we headed off on our snowshoes, following the clearly-marked blue trail.

snowshoesAlthough it was a relatively overcast afternoon, we soon found ourselves stripping off layers due to the exertion involved in climbing steep hills and breaking through clearings of fresh powder. We were rewarded for our efforts with breathtaking views of the mountains, though.

Carson PassAfter about one and a half hours (and a steep ascent from 8,500 feet to 9,000 feet), we reached a lookout point with views across three or four different frozen lakes, including the impressive Winnemucca Lake. We stopped here for a homemade picnic and took in the landscapes around us.

Carson Pass

After we felt sufficiently rested (and warmed up, thanks to a thermos of tea), we followed our trail back to the Sno-Park. The return trip was mostly downhill, so we completed it in about one hour. In total, the trek was approximately 4 or 5 miles round trip. It was a great way to spend an afternoon, and I’ve since been trying to convince all of my friends to buy snowshoes!


Carson Pass Sno-Park

Located along Highway 88 at Carson Pass, about 60 miles east of Jackson (Alpine County)

Permits: $5/day or $25 for the season (purchase online here)

Activities: Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, dog sledding

Carson Pass Sno-Park Website

Tip: It’s best to head out between 11 am and 1pm. Any earlier and it will be too cold; any later, and you will find yourself trekking back as the sun begins to set. It starts to cool down noticeably around 4pm.

What are some of your favorite outdoor wintertime activities? Share your tips in the comments below. 


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