Caples Lake


Difficulty 1 Beginner
Length 4.4 miles round trip to south end of lake and 4.0 miles one-way to alternate end point on Highway 88
7800 feet
Navigation Easy to follow directions
Time Several hours to half day
Season Late November through April
Snowmobiles Not permitted [Please report illegal use of snowmobiles in this area.]
USGS Topo 7.5' series, Caples Lake
Start Dam at west end of Caples Lake on Highway 88. The parking here is minimal at best. As an alternative you can begin this tour at Kirkwood Cross Country and Snowshoe Center at Kirkwood Meadows. Ask at the Center if there is a fee for parking.
End Either the starting point or the turnout on the south side of Highway 88 0.2 miles east of the entrance to the highway maintenance station adjacent to Caples Lake. It is not legal to park on the roadway side of the fog line.


The tour along the edge of Caples Lake is the closest tour to Kirkwood Meadows for beginners to get the feel of the backcountry. This is an opportunity to experience the rewards of off-track skiing if you have mastered the diagonal stride.

The ridge to the south of Caples Lake ensures that your tour along the south side of Caples Lake will be in the shade. This means that fresh snow will remain soft for quite a while, but it also means once melted and frozen the snow will often not thaw by mid-day if at all. Pick this tour when the conditions will be good.

This tour has no set destination; ski as far as you desire and then retrace your tracks. It is 2.2 miles to the southern tip of Caples Lake and it is 4.0 miles to the alternate ending point near the maintenance station.

Be aware that it is never safe to ski on Caples Lake.

Intermediate skiers visiting Caples Lake can choose to extend the tour to Emigrant Lake or by skiing the one-way Caples Lake to Kirkwood tour.

The starting point for this tour is the western-most dam that forms Caples Lake. You will need to ski to here if you begin at Kirkwood Cross Country and Snowshoe Center. There are two ways to do this.

North side of Highway 88
From the Center ski 0.4 mile east along the north side of the highway, gaining 100 feet, until you are opposite the dam and then cross the highway to the dam. Be very careful when crossing the highway. It is not safe to walk this 0.4-mile section of road because the narrow road is often icy and vehicles can lose control as they make the turn at the dam. This alternative is of beginner-intermediate difficulty.

South side of Highway 88
This is the safest route by which to ski from the Center to the dam because it crosses the highway in a straight, level section. However, this route is of intermediate technical difficulty. This route begins by crossing the highway at the Center, climbing and then descending (approximately +200, -100 feet) in 0.4 mile as you ski east to the dam.

Mileage Log
Numbers in parentheses
correspond to mileage points on map

Miles: 0.0 - 2.2
Elevation change: Nil

From the dam (1) ski southeast along the shore of Caples Lake for 2.2 miles until you reach the southern tip of the lake (2).

Miles: 2.2 - 4.4
Elevation change: Nil

Retrace the route for 2.2 miles back to the dam (1) or follow the alternative route described below.

Route to alternate
ending point on Highway 88
near maintenance station

Miles: 2.2 - 4.0
Elevation change: Nil

Ski north along the east shore of the lake for 1.8 miles until you reach Highway 88 (3).

Link to elevation profile
Link to waypoint data
Link to full page map
Link to see and submit reviews and corrections about tour