Tahoe hiking: Mount Tallac summit offers breathtaking panoramic views
Getting to the trail
From South Lake Tahoe: Take Highway 50 west toward the “Y” before turning onto northbound Highway 89 (Emerald Bay Road). Travel approximately 4 miles, turn left onto Mt. Tallac Road, then left on Mt. Tallac Road A. Parking available in lot near trailhead or on side of road leading up to it.
From the North Shore: From Incline Village, take Highway 28 east and turn right at the U.S. Highway 50 junction at Spooner. Travel down through South Lake Tahoe toward the “Y.” From Tahoe City, head south at the “Wye” on Highway 89 before eventually taking a right onto Mt. Tallac Road.
The summit of Mount Tallac sits high above Lake Tahoe at an elevation of 9,735 feet, and offers stunning views of the lake beneath a seemingly endless horizon.
If there is a quintessential hike in Tahoe, this is it — a great, unique challenge with an absolutely breathtaking reward.
The 12-mile round-trip hike from Mount Tallac Trailhead near Camp Richardson on Tahoe’s South Shore is an all-day affair that highlights the beauty of the region. Incredible sights await while hiking through Desolation Wilderness, but the ultimate prize is at the top — the pinnacle atop Tallac.
Obtain a free day-hike permit at the kiosk near the trailhead, and put it on display before hitting the trail. The first half-mile features a dirt trail with rocks and gains elevation until reaching a ridge that runs high above along the west shore of Fallen Leaf Lake.
RISE ABOVE FALLEN LEAF
Enjoy views of Fallen Leaf Lake and Lake Tahoe while hiking along the relatively flat stretch of trail that spans three-quarters of a mile. Don’t fret too much about soaking in the scenery — it will only get better the rest of the way.
FLOATING ISLAND LAKE
The trail turns away from the ridge, and winds through the woods before arriving at Floating Island Lake two miles in, not far past the Desolation Wilderness sign. This serene locale offers a chance to take a quick break one-third of the way to Tallac’s summit.
BREAK AT CATHEDRAL LAKE
A mile later, the hike comes up on a second body of water — Cathedral Lake. Follow markers and head uphill before dropping down on the lake that sits in a bowl surrounded by granite peaks. Take a break on the nearby shoreline, as the most challenging stretch of the hike still lies ahead.
ONWARD AND UPWARD
The second half of the hike to Mount Tallac’s summit begins with a steep climb away from Cathedral Lake, setting the tone for a challenging path. The trail continues through rock beds on a rock-lined path, offering panoramic views of Lake Tahoe before reaching the basin beneath Cathedral Peak.
BACK AND FORTH ACROSS THE FACE
During a mile-long stretch that zigzags across the rock face that rises from Cathedral basin, the toughest stretch of the hike begins. A rock-lined pathway eventually cuts up the face north of Cathedral Peak, the first of two summits to conquer on the back half of the hike.
KEEP MOVING FORWARD
If feelings of “Are we there yet?” haven’t crept in before reaching the top of the Cathedral basin, they likely will during the last mile-and-a-half-stretch to the summit. The hike heads up through a meadow, with wildflowers of all colors surrounding the dirt trail and the vastness of Desolation Wilderness on display in the distance to the left.
With the summit clearly visible, a sign for Mount Tallac appears where the trail joins with the Glen Alpine Trail. From that point, it’s less than a half-mile to the top — where the reward awaits.
ENJOY THE HIGHS
The first steps upon arrival to Mount Tallac come on its south end — head north on the worn rock path to reach the summit. Once at the top, soak in the breathtaking 360-degree views from high, high above Tahoe, with the alpine lake on one side and Desolation Wilderness on the other.
Take pictures, take a seat and take it all in while atop Tallac. Refuel with a hearty snack for the trip back while looking out over Tahoe, and keep an eye on the famous — and numerous — chipmunks that won’t shy away from pursuing a snack of their own.
Mount Tallac Trail features long stretches of rock paths and exposed areas, making hiking boots and reapplying sunscreen highly recommended.
Above hike was 12 miles round-trip and completed in eight hours, not recommended for beginners. Tallac’s summit is also reachable through Desolation Wilderness via the Glen Alpine Trail.
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