Living in or near the Sierra’s, we are fortunate to have many incredible areas to explore during the cold, winter months. Although downhill skiing takes up a good portion of my winter recreation, I always try to get out on my snowshoes and explore on foot as often as I can. Winnemucca Lake and Round Top Lake have both quickly become two of my favorite areas to enjoy, located in the expansive Mokelumne Wilderness.

The area is quite popular in the summer and spring months, lush with wildflowers and sprawling trails, but winter can be just as rewarding for those willing to trudge through the snow for some exhilarating winter recreation. 

Craig give a thumbs up near Winnemucca Lake

The trail is 7 miles round trip to completion, with an overall elevation gain of approximately 1,140 feet. The trailhead begins above 8,000 feet elevation, ensuring typically good snow coverage during the winter months, even on less-than-average snowpack seasons for the Sierra. The area is an ideal location for not only snowshoeing but for cross-country skiing as well.

The trailhead is accessible from Carson Pass, located directly off of Highway 88. From November-May, Sno-Park permits are required for both parking lots near the summit. These can be purchased ahead of time here:  I recommend purchasing these permits in advance, as permits are not available on site.

Tracks up to Round Top Lake from Winnemucca Lake

The trek up to Winnemucca Lake is approximately a 2 mile trip, and maintains a fairly gentle and enjoyable climb along the way. The trail begins through dazzling pine forests before eventually reaching expansive views of some of the Sierra’s most alluring peaks and mountain ranges. Elephant’s Back is visible, which is a popular mountain for backcountry downhill skiers. Round Top peak is also prominent, towering at 10,381 feet of elevation.

A lot of snowshoers and cross-country skiers will complete their hikes at Winnemucca Lake but if you have the time and stamina, I highly recommend continuing on to Round Top Lake. This portion of the trail I find most difficult, as you gain approximately 350 feet of elevation in a mile before reaching Round Top Lake. Deep in the winter months, the lake can be frozen, creating an incredibly charming winter landscape at the base of one of the most unique peaks in the Sierra. During my most recent trip to Round Top Lake, I was fortunate enough to be able to witness a small herd of deer playing in the snow, from a safe distance of course. You never know what you’re going to run into in the Sierra!

To get back to the trailhead, I typically just retrace my steps. I make sure that I take the time to truly enjoy the views even more along the much easier and much more leisure trek downhill back to the parking lot.

With such a great start to the 2022-2023 winter season, I am enthusiastic and eager to get out there and explore this magical place we call home. Hope to see you out there! 

All images provided by Craig Cooper

Craig Cooper

Craig Cooper

A native Texan, I spent a large majority of my childhood in the outdoors and my admiration for nature and landscapes developed at an early age. I quickly found myself forming a profound connection to our planet and nature. As I entered my teenage years I developed a love for photography, photographing local events for my school yearbook and newspaper publications, and that passion has only grown stronger since. Now based in the Lake Tahoe area in Northern California, I continue to strive to provide high quality imagery and artwork to my customers, highlighting the natural beauty and diversity that our planet has to offer. I am grateful to have the opportunity to share my adventures with my loyal readers, bringing you along my journey to explore the world.

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