We had a timeshare week that was expiring and had little time to travel so we decided to make a less than optimal timeshare choice (Kirkwood CA) and found ourselves spending a late spring (beginning of June) week atop Carson Pass, in the high Sierras in California. The Pass is primarily a ski resort. To the extent anything happens in late spring when we were there, most of the activity is centered on fishing in the area’s many lakes. Luckily, however, since we don’t fish, there are also a number of nice hiking trails that provide access to the rugged mountain scenery. Although we spent most of our days in trips to Lake Tahoe and the Amador and El Dorado County wine regions (each of which is about an hour drive), we had only two days (and multiple evenings) at the pass and split our time between two primary activities: hiking and eating.
Carson Pass Area Hikes
Although the area offers many hiking options, we spent our limited time on three relatively short trails.
Sorenson’s Cliffs, a roughly 1.5 mile round trip, 1,000 foot elevation gain trail that winds through a pine and aspen forest, with scattered granite boulders and outcroppings near the top. From the large outcropping atop the property, the trail connected to a much longer Park Service trail that climbed to the top of a much taller, much prettier granite cliff. In total, we hiked a total of about 4 miles, with perhaps 1,700 elevation gain.we reached the base, although not the top of the large outcropping.
Carson Pass is named after Kit Carson who guided, hunted and trapped in the area and carved his name in a tree that stood at what is now the trailhead of pretty 2.5 mile (each way) hike to Frog and Winnemucca Lakes. The trail, framed by snow-capped mountains, is pretty, especially at the second lake. Although the trail does continue after fording a wide stream and climbing a snow-covered slope, we decided to skip this part. We did, however, enjoy the trail which we hiked with a couple we met at the trailhead.
Shealor Lake. The 1.5 mile (one way)trail starts just above Silver Lake and climbs several hundred feet in elevation to the top of a bald granite hill, then down a steep cliff face to the pretty lake. Although the trail can be difficult to follow, it has some nice payoffs, especially sitting at the edge of the isolated, bowl-shaped lake surrounded by bare granite cliffs.
Although not part of the formal trail, one can also add an additional treat. After climbing back to the top of the mountain, we took a relatively easy, unmarked climb to the top of a knob that is off to the north side. This provided a great 360-degree view including both Silver and Shealor Lakes, in opposite directions. Another payoff: a small patch of wildflowers, some of the few that we saw on the trip.
Carson Pass Restaurants
Given Carson Pass’ remoteness—we had a choice of a grand total of two restaurants—one about three miles from our timeshare; one about 20. That was it unless we wanted to drive 45 minutes to South Lake Tahoe. True, this does understate the area’s restaurant availability by 50%, since the Kit Carson Inn, the third of the area’s restaurants, had not yet opened for the season. Given this, combined with our strong preference for eating locally rather than driving long distances on dark twisting mountain roads (especially after sharing a bottle of wine), we had the opportunity to try both restaurants twice—once for dinner, and again for lunch. Although not exactly culinary beacons, both restaurants (even with their meat-centric menus), were better than we had expected.
- Kirkwood Inn. A very, very old (dating from 1864) rustic ranch-style bar and restaurant with a meat-centric menu. While Joyce had a blue cheese burger (good), I enjoyed a New York strip steak with a huge stuffed potato. Luckily, the beer list was somewhat more interesting than the wine list, offering a few local IPAs and ambers from which I struggled to choose.
- Sorenson’s. I had a large, 14-oz Hat Creek Grown grass-fed ribeye steak with herbs de Provence and a rather disappointing Cabernet glacé. Joyce a large, nicely grilled grilled sea bass with lemon and capers. Both dishes came with a large roasted potato and a nice selection of perfectly cooked (i.e., not overcooked) selection of zucchini, yellow squash and green beans). Wine, after a day of wine tasting, consisted of a couple rather pedestrian glasses (Meritage and Pinot Gris). Both the rustic atmosphere and prompt, friendly service were comfortable and welcoming.
- Kirkwood Inn. Lunch consisted of a cup of chili (thin sauce but filled with meat and tomatoes), a Cobb salad and chicken salad sandwich on naan bread. Didn’t expect or get anything especially innovative or complex, but the dishes and the service were all fine.
- Sorenson’s. A very quaint, rustic facility with nicely appointed cabins and restaurant. We both had delicious cheeseburgers with applewood bacon (all from local farms), accompanied by an interesting dill potato salad.
We have to admit that we were dreading this timeshare (The Mountain Club of Kirkwood) as the reviews on the place were not that great. The reviewers were all spot on. The renovated rooms (which we got) had better mattresses than the older rooms. The dishwasher actually washed dishes (some of the more tired timeshares that we’ve stayed in have dishwashers that are so old that they don’t really clean dishes very well). The units are very small, with no closets or drawers for clothing. And the bed is a pull-down murphy bed. It actually wasn’t that bad of a room to stay. But the really bad part was due to the architect…..for some reason, the unit only had 2 small windows that were positioned in such a way that the unit had little air movement. When we got there, our room was at 82. Even with fans, we couldn’t get the inside temperature below 78 at night (when the outside temperature was 40). After complaining, we were given a swamp cooler which then helped us get the temperature down to a more comfortable sleeping temperature. I guess we were lucky as we were told that we were on the cooler side of the building……….We will not be returning.