Only the fiercest blizzards close Carson Pass, which crosses the Sierra Nevada crest about 30 miles southwest of South Lake Tahoe. The... more » trailhead is next to a parking lot on California Highway 88, which means you can drive up, park and start hiking, snow-shoeing or cross-country skiing within minutes.
Lake Winnmucca offers a beautiful introduction to high-country hiking: it's a little over 2 miles south of the Carson Pass trailhead with about 600 feet of elevation gain. Count on about five miles of hiking, and give yourself extra time if you're coming up from sea level: Starting out at 8,500 feet will be a shock to your system; don't expect to maintain your lowland pace. Veteran hikers and skiers often move on to Round Top, a jagged peak rising behind the lake, but rookies should stick to this easier alternative.
Weekdays with clear weather forecasts are the best time to go; it can get crowded on the weekends and parking can be scarce, even in the depths of winter. In early July you're apt to meet Pacific Crest Trail through-hikers on their way from Mexico to Canada. less «