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Carson Pass country: low-key, pure Sierra.

Though high and wild, the mountains surrounding 8,573-foot Carson Pass are downright inviting with easy-to-reach, trout-stocked glacial lakes; uncrowded trails; and low-key resorts. The scenery is pure Sierra: sparkling water, slabs of sunwarmed granite, and fragrant forests of ponderosa pine and incense cedar. Early pioneers had a hard scramble over these lonely peaks in the 1850s. Today, you can just drive in on State Highway 88. Accommodations range from comfortable condominiums to rustic cabins to cam sites under the stars.

Getting into the country: the approach from west to east

Traveling east on State 88, you first see Silver Lake, about 35 miles past the small town of Pioneer. Reddish and craggy Thunder Mountain, a volcanic peak rising to 9,500 feet (and a grand sight at sunset), borders the lake's northeast side. About 3 miles past Silver Lake, look for a sign for Kirkwood Lake on your left; a bumpy 1/2-mile ride takes you down to a serene (no motorboats), oval-shape lake and a campground.

It's another mile on State 88 to the turnoff for Kirkwood Ski Resort, across from the Kirkwood Inn; the condominium complex is about I mile down the resort road. (For more on area lodging, see page 14.) Climbing higher on State 88 toward Carson Pass, you come to Caples Lake. This manmade reservoir is higher (7,953 feet), cooler, breezier, and starker than Silver Lake. Caples Lake Resort and a public campground border the north shore. The turnoff for Woods Lake is 3 miles ahead on State 88. Drive 2 miles down a graded dirt road to this pretty spot to camp, picnic, boat (no motors), or hike. The pass: history at nearly 9,000 feet A mile east of the Woods Lake turnoff is Carson Pass. Pull off here to see a monument commemorating Kit Carson, who first crossed this soot in 1844 on an expedition for Captain John C. Fremont; the marker is a replica of the inscription Carson originally left in a tree. Emigrants followed his path for- several years until easier routes were blazed.

Another Western hero, John "Snowshoe" Thompson, also has a monument here. Back in the 1850s, Thompson delivered mail to the gold mining camps in the dead of winter, gliding along on a pair of huge oaken skis.

Display boards give information on the area's geology and flora. From the end of June through Labor Day, a volunteerstaffed booth offers brochures, books, and general travel advice; hours are 8:45 to 3:45 daily.

Hiking around Carson: a choice of routes amid the mountain lakes

Trails lead into the back country from the lakes mentioned on page 12, winding through the Mokelumne Wilderness or El Dorado National Forest. Since elevations are all above 7,000 feet, be prepared for intense sun and wind, and carry water.

Stop by Caples Lake, Kay's, or Kit Carson resorts forUSGS maps (Silver and Carson Pass quads, about $3 each). For a required permit to backpack in the wilderness, write to the Amador ranger station, 26820 Silver Dr., Pioneer 95666, or call (209) 295-4251, Following are three short hikes that give you a good feel for the terrain.

Granite Lake. A 2-mile round-trip walk from Silver Lake gently ascends through granite boulders, crossing Squaw Creek on a small bridge. Bear left at the fork just ahead. You now have a short climb up to the lake small, clear, and graced with an island with one twisted pine.

To reach the trailhead, take the road to Kit Carson Lodge (directions given at right) about 2 miles to its end. The trail begins just below the parking area.

Shealor Lakes. This 3-mile round-trip walk takes you gradually up and over a barren, wind-blown ridge, then steeply down several hundred feet to two deep blue lakes. The trailhead is on your right, just west of Kay's Resort.

Caples Lake. From the spillway at the lake's southwest end, you can skirt the lake for 1 1/2 miles, then return the way you came. Or hike another 2 miles up to Emigrant Lake (8,600 feet), on the northern border of the Mokelumne Wilderness. The trailhead is just off State 88 at the spillway (paved parking lot, rest rooms).

Overnight: kick back at a resort or spread out under the stars

For best locations during summer months, especially on weekends, make reservations well in advance.

Caples Lake Resort, Box 88, Kirkwood 95646; 258-8888. Perched on the north shore, the resort has a restaurant (open daily; dinner reservations advised), a lodge, eight-person cabins, store, and boats. Rates start at $40 lodge, $75 cabins.

Kay's Silver Lake Resort, 48400 Kays Rd., Pioneer 95666; 258-8598. On State 88, this casual resort has cabins, a store, coffee shop, boats. Cabins range from studios with views ($40) to two-bedroom units ($70 and up).

Kirkwood Ski Resort, Box 1, Kirkwood. 95646; 258-7000. Nicely appointed condos (studios to three bedrooms) are $55 and up.

Kit Carson Lodge, Kit Carson 95644; 2588500. At the north end of Silver Lake, this well-maintained compound includes a lodge, cottages ($90 and up), motel units ($80), a good restaurant (open daily; dinner reservations advised), a store, and boats.

From State 88, turn right onto an unsigned road at the lake's north end; drive 1/2 mile. Summer weather in this area is ideal for camping, with temperatures ranging from the 50s at night to the upper 70s on warmest days. If you'd like to camp, here are your choices:

Plasses Resort, 30001 Plasses Rd., Silver Lake 95666; 258-8814. This private campground, at Silver Lake's south end, has spaces for tents and RVs (both $12.50 a night). It also has a store and a good restaurant (open daily). Look for signs as you approach the lake from the west.

Public campgrounds. There are two campgrounds at Silver Lake and one each at Kirkwood, Caples, and Woods lakes. All have rest rooms and running water. Sites fill on a first-come basis (fast, on weekends); fees run about $8. For details, write or call the Amador ranger station.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jul 1, 1989
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