Lost Lakes via Carson Pass (PCT)

Location: Carson Pass Management Area; Kirkwood, CA

Distance: 16 miles

Type: Overnight; Out-and-Back.

Rating: Difficult.

Dog Friendly?: Yes, on a leash.

Permits & Fees: Parking is $5 per vehicle, per day. Click HERE for information on Carson Pass Area/Mokelumne Wilderness overnight camping permits. The Carson Pass Information Station is open from 8a-5p during the summer (these hours are subject to change).

NOTE: Lost Lakes is NOT in the Carson Pass Management Area/Mokelumne Wilderness. An overnight permit is NOT required, but if you plan on camping within the Carson Pass Management Area/Mokelumne Wilderness, an overnight camping permit is required.

Driving Directions to Trailhead: Click HERE. Parking is located off of Carson Pass Highway (Highway 88) at the Carson Pass Information Station. Parking is extremely limited, so arrive early.

Preparation: Check out the Backpacking Checklist for details on what to bring for an overnight trip. Bring plenty of water (at least 1-2 gallons) and sunscreen!

In addition, we rented sleeping pads and a bear canister from REI. Click HERE for more information on renting gear from REI.

The Hike:

AllTrails Map – CLICK HERE

After parking at the Carson Pass Information Station parking lot, we located the fee station to pay the $10 parking fee ($5 per day). We also checked out the Carson Pass Information Station to make sure we had the correct permit and were cleared to camp at Lost Lakes. It turned out that although we were parking and hiking through Carson Pass Management Area/Mokelumne Wilderness, we did not need a camping permit since Lost Lakes is outside of the Carson Pass Management Area/Mokelumne Wilderness.

NOTE: Lost Lakes is an off-roading destination. We didn’t see a single person hiking after leaving the Carson Pass Management Area, but there are several people who camp at Lost Lakes. If you’re looking for a place to camp with other people around, or aren’t totally comfortable with the idea of camping in a desolate area, this is the perfect backpacking trip!

Day 1

The hike starts directly behind the Carson Pass Information Station and parking lot (we started at approximately 8:30AM):

About 1.5 miles into the hike, we saw the following sign (I recommend taking a quick detour to Frog Lake, pictured below, if you have time). We continued straight towards Winnemucca Lake:

The next sign to look out for it the “PCT” sign to the left of the trail. This is where the PCT portion of the hike begins and will lead you out of the Carson Pass Management Area (you’ll know that you’ve left the Area after passing the sign, pictured below):

The next portion of the hike is called Elephants Back. The trail turns into a rocky path and is primarily downhill:

After Elephant’s back, the trail turns flat for about a half mile and another downhill portion of the trail begins (keep these downhills in mind- this is what makes the hike very difficult when returning on Day 2). This was my favorite part of the hike. Several small lakes can be seen from this portion of the trail:

After hiking along the PCT for about 6.5 miles, we reached the road for “off-roading” vehicles. You’ll be able to hear this road a few miles away before actually reaching it. From here, you have two options:

  1. Cross the road to continue on the trail (it’s marked by a wooden sign, pictured below).
  2. Hike along the “off-roading” road for about 1.5 miles until Lost Lakes is reached. (I wouldn’t recommend this option; you’ll have to be cautious for any vehicles that may pass. We took this road because we missed the trail sign on the way there- oops).

We hiked along the off-roading road for about 1.5 miles (if hiking along the off-roading road, a sign will be located on the left side of the trail directing you towards Lost Lakes). We hiked an extra half quarter mile to the second Lost Lake to find a camping spot and arrived at approximately 12PM).

There are several places to camp, and you will notice a lot of vehicles in camping spots. We ended up finding a spot behind a fallen tree not too far from the road. Although there isn’t a ton of privacy at Lost Lakes, but there is plenty of space:

After setting up camp, we hung out, spent some time in the lake and eventually went to sleep. Again, there are a lot of campers around and you’ll be able to hear people. I found that super comforting, but others may not like that; it’s something to definitely be aware of.

Day 2

After waking up, packing up our tent/belongings and enjoying the views of the lake one last time, we began the 8-mile trek back toward the Carson Pass Management Area. We left around 7AM. It was nice that the hike was primarily downhill the first day, but this proved to be extremely challenging on the way back.

We took the same trail as the previous day towards Elephants Back. Elephants Back is the last challenging portion of the hike. Once the top of Elephants Back was reached, the Carson Pass Management Area sign came into view again. We took the PCT back to the fork that leads to either Winnemucca Lake or Frog Lake (hike towards Frog Lake).

From this sign, it was about 2 miles back to the trailhead:

We hiked the final 2 miles as fast as we could (we were exhausted at this point) back to the parking lot. We reached the Carson Pass parking lot at approximately 10AM. After unloading our gear out of our packs, we drove directly to REI to return the equipment we rented and returned home.

This was an amazing backpacking trip that I would definitely do again! If you’re new to backpacking, want to test out new gear, or are conditioning for a longer backpacking trip, I highly recommend this trip.