Summary: This is a scenic hike starting from the Carson Pass West PCT Trailhead, passing through Meiss Meadow, and ending at a small alpine lake. The scenery along the way bests that at the destination by leaps and bounds, but the lake provides a nice place to rest and cool off your feet or your entire body. However, the mosquitoes can be bad at the lake so bring plenty of bug spray. Also, if you have the energy, check out the view down the canyon to the north of the lake as well as a small waterfall. The best views, in our opinion, are had within the first 1.5 miles from Carson Pass.
Distance: 9.8 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,440' total
Season: June through October
Fees & Permits: $5 per vehicle parking fee at the trailhead (as of 2012)
Finding the Trailhead: 38.6967 N, 119.9918 W (Carson Pass West PCT Trailhead). From the CA-88/89 intersection south of Lake Tahoe, follow CA-88 southwest for ~9.0 miles to Carson Pass and turn right into the trailhead parking lot (equipped with a couple of pit toilets). The trail begins off of the western end of the parking lot.
The Hike: The trail begins by climbing slightly through a few trees and boulders and is somewhat sandy as it makes its way west. As it climbs a little higher, a few views of Caples Lake appear. The trail then descends slightly before turning to the northwest to climb again. The trail passes through a small stand of trees before crossing a couple of springs and starting the first set of switchbacks (~0.95 miles). Wildflowers (mostly Mule's Ear & Arrowleaf Balsamroot) abound on this exposed slope. At one point it looks like the entire hillside is made of Mule's Ear and Arrowleaft Balsamroot. The views from this section are also pretty nice. Elephant's Back, Round Top, The Sisters, Black Butte, and Thimble Peak are prominent to the southeast, south, and southwest. Just before reaching the saddle near a pond (~1.25 miles) be sure to turn around and enjoy the view after the ~200' climb from the beginning of the switchbacks.
From the pond, the trail begins to descend to the north-northwest along the western base of Red Lake Peak. Try to not trip while staring behind you at the fantastic views. At ~1.8 miles from the trailhead, after crossing over a couple of springs, a side-trail heads off to the right to a viewpoint of Meiss Falls near a couple of trees. After this, the trail continues to descend to the north towards Meiss Meadow and crosses the creek well below Meiss Falls. It passes by a few sparse trees before crossing Upper Truckee River for the first time (~2.1 miles). The trail then heads to the northwest and west while traveling through more sparse tree territory before turning to the north and crossing the river for the second time (~2.5 miles). Shortly after this it turns to the northwest again and passes a side-trail to a couple of old cabin buildings (trail is blocked by some branches).
At ~2.75 miles the trail reaches the signed intersection with the Tahoe Rim Trail coming from Round Lake. Staying left here, the PCT continues to the northwest along the eastern edge of the meadow. The PCT crosses Upper Truckee River a third time at ~3.3 miles before climbing up and over a treed small ridge. Once the trail passes by a small pond it begins its final (and toughest) climb up toward Showers Lake. You gain over 400' in this final climb as the trail heads west-northwest (county line is crosssed at ~4.0 miles). At ~4.65 miles the trail turns sharply to the right to descend towards the lake (there is a trail that heads uphill to the south and originates from near the Schneider Camp). Although the USGS topo maps and Google Maps indicate that the PCT continues to south of the lake, the "Sierra North" backpacking book (by Morey & White, 2009) says that the "re-aligned" PCT now follows the lake trail around the northern shore before continuing to the west. I'm inclined to believe this because when I look at the aerials I don't see any indication of a trail south of the lake. Anyways, at ~4.9 miles the trail crosses the outlet just below the lake. We stopped just a little ways after this in a nice little bay where we could cool our feet, throw a stick for the dog, and watch the little fish swim around while trying to kill as many mosquitoes as possible.