Mount Tallac, perhaps Lake Tahoe’s greatest hike, offers stunning views |

Mount Tallac, perhaps Lake Tahoe’s greatest hike, offers stunning views

Up at the Mount Tallac summit, you can pretty much see all that Lake Tahoe has to offer.
Courtesy Tim Hauserman |

How to get there

To get to the Mount Tallac trailhead from Tahoe City, take Highway 89 south past Emerald Bay to the Camp Shelly/Tallac Trailhead, which is the first right-hand turn after Spring Creek Road.

This is about 3/4 mile north of the Lake Tahoe Visitor Center and the Fallen Leaf Lake turnoff. Follow the signs to the parking lot and trailhead. Obtain a Desolation Wilderness trail permit at the kiosk where the hike begins.

What to bring: Lots of water, food, layers, sunscreen, sturdy hiking shoes and a camera.

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — With its wide swath of snow near the top and snowy cross along its rocky face, Mount Tallac is the instantly recognizable highlight of the southwest side of Lake Tahoe.

At 9,735 feet, it is not the tallest peak in the Tahoe basin, but it stands alone close to the shore and high above Emerald Bay.

It’s always a joy to ponder Mount Tallac — but the best way to truly appreciate its beauty is to hike the trail to the top.

The hike to the summit of Mount Tallac is a busy, well-built, 9.6-mile trail that is suitable for anyone who can take on the hefty 3,300 feet of elevation gain.

From the trailhead, the route quickly climbs onto the lateral moraine forming the northern border of Fallen Leaf Lake. Enjoy great panoramas of Fallen Leaf Lake and Freel Peak to the east.

Look to the north for the intimidating visage of the mountain you are climbing. You have a long way to go. The trail climbs back into deep forest before reaching, Floating Island Lake, at 1.6 miles from the trailhead.

Grassy patches slough off the sides of the lake and float on the surface, giving it its name.

If swimming is on your mind, save it for the more enticing Cathedral Lake in another three-quarters of a mile. Or, better yet, jump in Cathedral on the way back down from the summit.

Cathedral Lake is nearly half the distance to the summit, but now is when the climbing really begins in earnest.

The next mile is especially steep, and much of it is through widely scattered or non-existent tree cover: Bring lots of water and layer on the sunscreen.

But it’s worth it, because the views of Tahoe and the peaks around are sublime. Eventually, you conquer a few steep switchbacks to gain the top of the broad ridge.

Now you get your first views of Desolation Wilderness, with the Crystal Range and Pyramid Peak prominent to the west, as you follow the moderately steep ridge to the north.

Hopefully you have timed it for wildflowers, as the paintbrush and lupine can be stunning along this open section through early July.

Just a quarter mile before the rocky pile that is the summit you reach a junction with the Gilmore Lake Trail. From the summit, directly below lie all of Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay, Cascade Lake and Fallen Leaf Lake.

Spreading to the east is Tahoe Keys, South Lake Tahoe and the Freel Peak-Jobs Peak-Jobs Sister triad of peaks above the south shore. These three peaks are the first, second and fourth highest in the Tahoe basin. To the south lie Carson Pass, Echo Summit and Ralston Peak.

Spin toward the west and gaze into the heart of Desolation Wilderness, including Gilmore Lake nearby, and Susie Lake, framed by the powerful Crystal Range.

To the north you can see all the way to Twin Peaks, Alpine Meadows and the high camp at Squaw Valley.

Congratulations — it was a climb, but the view is one of the most remarkable to be found anywhere around Lake Tahoe. Enjoy.

The summit is usually loaded with other visitors enjoying the view. Unfortunately, some of these visitors feed the army of squirrels and marmots that hang out in the hollows below the rocks

These pesky little guys are now so trained to steal your lunch, that I’ve found it easier to just hang out briefly at the summit, and save my lunch break for after beginning my descent. Please, do not feed the animals!

Tim Hauserman, a nearly lifelong resident of Tahoe City, is a freelance author and cross-country ski instructor. He may be reached at

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