One of the most prolific wildflower shows in California blooms in early July at Carson Pass on Highway 88, about a half-hour south of Lake Tahoe. We’re talking head-high stands of violet lupin, bright red paintbrush and Queen Anne’s lace, flanked by blankets of purple penstemon, golden mule ears, orange columbine and mountain daisies. Go midweek and go early to snag a parking spot at the Carson Pass Information Station, gateway to this floral wonderland.
Even small children can hike the easy mile from the information station to scenic Frog Lake along the dog-friendly Pacific Crest Trail. A spur trail leads to Lake Winnemucca, a scenic lunch spot. Snow conditions permitting, you and your fur buddy can hike on to Little Round Top Lake, a pristine cirque of water at the base of a dramatic volcanic outcrop.
Be forewarned that you’re at high elevation here: the info station (where you can get maps, wildflower identification guides and lots of local intelligence) is at 8,650 feet, and Lake Winnemucca is about 300 feet higher. Bring plenty of water (and sunscreen) for yourself, along with something for your pup (who will have to be leashed) to sip between splash spots. Call before you go to find out if the path beyond Winnemucca is blocked by snow, which it often is until late summer.
Making a weekend of it? Many campgrounds are available along the Highway 88 corridor, while you’ll find dog-friendly vacation rentals at Kirkwood Mountain Resort and comfy cabins at Sorensen’s, a traditional High Sierra cabin resort with a focus on great food and outdoor activities.
Of the many other worthwhile hikes in the area, standouts include the section of the PCT on the south side of Highway 88, which passes through a gorgeous area known as Meiss Country; the Minkalo Trail near Silver Lake, which runs three miles from a trailhead near the Silver Lake spillway to Plasse’s Resort, a private campground with a public restaurant; and the Caples Lake to Emigrant Lake Trail (four miles each way, with 800 feet of elevation gain and great views).
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Photo Credit: Jonathan Fox (CC)