When I’m itching for an amazing display of wildflowers, the trail between Carson Pass and Showers Lake on the Pacific Crest Trail/Tahoe Rim Trail comes to mind. In late summer in most years, you will find thick stands of waist-high flowers that will take your breath away.
There are several ways to get to Meiss Meadows and Showers Lake. My favorite trailhead is at the top of Carson Pass. The Tahoe Rim Trail Big Meadow Trailhead is about 15 miles closer to Tahoe, but that trailhead is more than 1,000 feet lower in elevation and the hike from there to Showers Lake is 2 miles farther than from the Carson Pass trailhead. So if the concept of less hiking distance and less climbing appeals to you, keep driving to Carson Pass. In addition, the route through Hope Valley and to the 8,500-foot trailhead just over the pass is one of the prettiest to be found in the area.
From the Carson Pass trailhead, the path gently traverses through an aspen-dotted, volcanic slope with magnificent views to the south of Elephant’s Back and Round Top. Because it’s at more than 10,000 feet, this peak will hold the snow well into the fall. After about 2 miles, a steady climb brings the trail to a saddle and a small pond. This little pond is the headwaters of what will become the Upper Truckee River, the largest stream entering Lake Tahoe.
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From the saddle, begin a descent past a patch of purple irises that make the perfect foreground for a Round Top photo. The descent is fairly steep, but short, passing by streams and fields of mule ears before reaching the beginning of Meiss Meadows. Now, the trail gently heads north on a several-mile trek, with high, mostly treeless ridges on three sides and a valley floor of scattered pines and tons of wildflowers in the meadows.
A mile-long bowl topped by high, craggy castle-like rock formations, dozens of streamlets and wildflowers so thick a machete would be a good tool to have at hand.
At about 3 miles from the trailhead, with several old cowboy cabins to the left, the trail reaches a junction with the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT). Here, at the southernmost point on the Tahoe Rim Trail, a right turn takes you on the TRT past Round Lake to the Big Meadow Trailhead in 5 miles. Straight ahead, the now joined TRT/PCT heads north through the lush valley toward Echo Lake.
If you haven’t been ecstatic about the flowers already, you most likely will be soon stomping past elephant’s heads, ground-hugging lupine and a host of other beautiful bits from every color on the rainbow. Eventually, the trail meets and then crosses the Upper Truckee River. Boulders make the crossing easier, but if the water is high, you might get wet.
After the crossing, the level walking shortly comes to an end and the trail takes a rather steep half-mile ascent to Showers Lake. You will want to stop to catch your breath and enjoy the lush stands of thigh-high lupine and Indian paintbrush. You are also treated to expansive views of Meiss Meadow and The Dardanelles, a unique volcanic rock formation above Round Lake.
Once the trail tops out on the ridge, a short gentle descent leads to the edge of Showers Lake. It is a popular camping destination and for good reason. The lake is lovely for swimming with plenty of warm granite to lie on afterwards. You can turn around here for a 10-mile roundtrip or venture on for another mile to one of my favorite stretches on the entire Tahoe Rim Trail: a mile-long bowl topped by high, craggy castle-like rock formations, dozens of streamlets and wildflowers so thick a machete would be a good tool to have at hand. The bowl ends at a gentle climb to a dry saddle. Turn around here, for a 12-mile day hike.
You can camp at Showers Lake. After setting up, explore Showers Bowl to the north or climb up on the ridge above the lake. A climb to this ridge top provides views of Lake Tahoe and Showers Lake to the north.
Directions | From South Lake Tahoe take State Route 89 south to Hope Valley where State Routes 88 and 89 meet. Turn right on State Route 88 and drive 8.5 miles to the top of Carson Pass. There’s a parking lot at the top of the pass on the left, but the trailhead is just a bit farther at the next parking lot on the right.