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Winter in the Forest

Winter ActivitiesThe Eldorado National Forest, a playground for all seasons, offers plenty of varied terrain perfect for winter recreation.  With two major highways crossing the Forest, there is easy access for popular  winter activities – skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, snow camping ,dog sledding or just playing in the snow.  At the   lower elevations, trails may still be open for hiking, while snow dominates the peaks. 

For cross-country skiers and snowshoers, marked trails are found along Highway 50 at Echo Lakes BasinEcho Summit, Loon Lake, and Strawberry Canyon.  The Amador District on Highway 88 has both trails and back country options.  For more experienced skiers and snowshoers, the Echo to Kirkwood Cross-country trail offers more of a challenge.

Several commercial operators offer recreational opportunities and rentals.  Sierra at Tahoe, Adventure Mountain Lake Tahoe,  and Kirkwood Mountain Resort all provide a variety of services from down-hill skiing to sledding and tubing.

Be Prepared

Whatever you choose to do, even just planning a drive, be sure to prepare for winter conditions – check the weather forecast, road conditions, and let someone know where you will be traveling.


A TRAVEL CHECKLIST should be followed to guarantee a safe and well planned trip, and to reduce the possibility of needing to be rescued.
  • CLOTHES, sunglasses, sunscreen, food, water, first aid kit, map, compass, headlamp, fire starter material, matches, emergency survival equipment, tire chains, and an ice scrapershould be part of your standard equipment.
  • WATER can be difficult to find in the winter.  All that may be available is what you carry or melt from snow. Melt snow over a camp stove. Eating snow reduces your core temperature and can be dangerous .
  • CLOTHES should be chosen for warmth, weight and wind protection. Dress in layers that are warm and lightweight. Daytime and night time temperatures can vary as much as 80 degrees. You need to be prepared.
  • FOOD supplies should include items that are light weight but loaded with calories such as nuts, candy and dried fruit.
BEFORE LEAVING HOME: Notify a responsible person of your travel plans, including a map with your route clearly marked. Check back with this person when you return. If you are overdue, this person should notify the County Sheriff.
ROUTE FINDING: You should have experience in route-finding in all weather conditions. Some routes including those in Wilderness Areas, are not marked with blue diamonds. 
ORIENTEERING: You should be able to to read a topographical map and use a compass.  Be sure the maps are for the area you plan to use.
AVALANCHE HAZARD EVALUATION: Avalanche hazard does exist in this area. Visitors should possess avalanche hazard evaluation skills and carry appropriate rescue gear with them at all times. Always check with the Central Sierra Avalanche Bulletin before your trip for the weather forecast and avalanche warnings. 


The safest routes are on ridge tops and slightly on the windward side, away from cornices. If travel on the ridges is impossible, the next safest route is out in the valley, away from the bottom of slopes.

Carson Pass Winter Fun

Sno-Parks in the Carson Pass area are located at the Meiss Trailhead, the Carson Pass Information Station,  Iron Mountain and Hope Valley. They are open November 1-May 30.  A Sno-Park permit is required and can be

obtained on line at  www.sno-parkpermits  or – 
  • The Amador Ranger Station 26820 Silver Drive in Pioneer  (209) 295-4251
  • The Placerville Ranger Station 4260 Eight Mile Road in Camino. (530) 644-2324
  • The Forest Superintendent’s Office 100 Forni Road in Placerville.(530) 622-5061
  • Other locations such as REI and local retailers.

The cost is $25.00 per season or $5.00 a day

The Sno-Park hotline is (916) 324-1222
Located at the crest of Carson Pass on Highway 88 the Carson Pass Information Station is a great place to start your adventure.   The Station is closed in the winter, but several trails start from the Sno-Park lot next to the station where restrooms are also available.Follow the trail leaving the parking lot just to the side of the Information Station traversing through a beautiful primitive forest to Frog Lake at one mile.  Continuing on the trail will bring you to Winammuca Lake, Round Top Mountain, and Elephant’s Back. You will be in a wilderness area so there are no blue diamonds on the trees to mark the trail so you must be responsible for your navigation.
If you go west of the station a few hundred yards you will find tanother Sno-Park rea for the Meiss Meadow trailhead. You won’t be disappointed with the magnificent views of Meiss Meadow and Lake Tahoe.
in the Carson Pass area is available at Silver Lake, Caples Lake, Red Lake, and Woods Lake.  A variety of trout including Mackinaw, Brown, Brook, and Rainbow trout are available. Many of these hungary fish can weigh from five  pounds to an excess of twenty pounds for the Mackinaw. Ice conditions can change rapidly so caution is advised.
Kirkwood is recognized as one of the top ski resorts in the country, offering 15 lifts, 2 high speed quads, 65 runs and 2,000 skiable acres. This advanced mountain is known for its steep chutes and impressive cornice skiing. There are also groomed trails for the intermediate and beginning skier. Lessons, rentals, and lodging are available. Located just 33 miles southwest of Lake Tahoe, about 100 miles from Stockton, and 177 miles from the Bay area makes Kirkwood very accessible.
For weather, road conditions, rentals and lodging call (800) 967-7500 or visit www.kirkwood.com 
The cross country ski and snowshoe center is located on Hwy.88 one quarter mile east of the Kirkwood turnoff and next to the Kirkwood Inn. If you enjoy being surrounded by wilderness trails and you enjoy cross country skiing and snowshoeing then give the Cross Country Ski and Snowshoe Center a try. Located at 7,800 feet and soaring to over 9,000 feet. With 80 km of groomed skating and snowshoe trails with two trails that are dog friendly. The diverse terrain provides excellent skiing for all abilities. Traverse around lava cliffs and wilderness trails or meander down to Caples Creek and visit beaver dams and open meadows. Trail passes, rentals, lessons, tours and retail are available at the cross country center (209) 258-7248. Trail passes and rentals are also available at Red Cliffs lodge at Kirkwood. 
Snow Camping can be a challenging and very rewarding experience. If you are camping in the Carson Pass Management Area you must have a minimum of twelve inches of snow on the ground. Camping within the management area is only allowed at designated sites at Winammuca Lake, Frog Lake, Round Top and 4th of July lake. Open fires are not allowed above 8,000 feet so plan to use your camp stove. A wilderness permit and camp fire permit are required and can be obtained from the Amador Ranger Station on Silver Drive in Pioneer.
Dispersed camping is allowed on the North side of Highway 88 in the Meiss Meadows area.  This area is dog friendly and no wilderness permit is required.  A fire permit is required,however.
Snowmobiling is not allowed in the Carson Pass Management Area or Meiss Meadow area, but close by good areas for snowmobiling are Iron Mountain, at the junction of Mormon-Emigrant Trail Road and Highway 88, and Hope Valley just east of the pass. Each has a Sno-Park staging area, miles of groomed and ungroomed trails, and acres of open country. Silver Bear Snowmobiling Trails begin at the Iron Mountain Sno-Park about 25 miles east of Jackson. Hope Valley Snowmobiling Trails launch from the Hope Valley Sno-Park on the east side of the pass.