Woods Lake is just past Caples Lake on Highway 88 before you get to the top of Carson Pass. A short paved road leads you to the trailhead parking area. As has happened with most of the parking areas around Carson Pass, the US Forest Service has turned management over to a private company. No more free parking.
We paid our $8 parking fee, feeling lucky to get one of the few remaining parking spots and made our way to the trailhead.
There aren't many aspens on this stretch, and we were a bit past peak color, but it was a beautiful hike around massive granite boulders, spruce trees and small creeks. You gain 1200' in that 2.5 miles, so it is a bit of a workout. You'll pass an abandoned ancient car chassis and will wonder how it could ever have made it up there, and you'll pass an abandoned mine.
As the trees get shorter and fewer, you know you're getting close to the top. And suddenly, you're on a plateau with the spectacularly green Round Top Lake on the right. You can follow the trail to the right to Fourth of July Lake about a mile and a half away, or turn left to continue on the loop.
Instead, we decided to stop for lunch before heading down to Winnemucca Lake. While eating, we saw several pairs of hikers making their way up from Winnemucca Lake towards Round Top Lake. Surprisingly, we saw only one other pair on our own way up, suggesting that most people did the loop in the opposite direction, or, more likely didn't do the entire loop.
The rest of the hike is an easy descent - much less steep than our climb up. It follows a creek down a wide canyon with nice views until you reach the thicker forest near Woods lake. We didn't pass anyone on the way down.
Overall, this was a nice hike for a fall weekday. According to Karen's GPS watch, it was just over 5.5 miles. It took us almost exactly 3 hours including time for lunch and pictures. We'll likely do it again in the spring (July at this elevation) for what are touted to be magnificent wildflowers.