The hike to the summit of Mount Tallac provides stunning views of alpine lakes, the Sierras, the Desolation Wilderness, and Lake Tahoe.
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Length: 10.1 Miles Roundtrip
Trailhead(s): Mount Tallac Trailhead
Elevation Gain: 3,327’
Trail Type: Out & Back
Permit Required? Yes – Free – Self-Issue at Trailhead
Considerations: Trail is Very Rocky – If you bring your dog, consider booties if his/her paws are not conditioned. The upper part of the hike is completely exposed, so make sure to bring a hat and sunscreen.
Season: Late Spring to Fall
The hike to the 9,738′ summit of Mount Tallac provides stunning views of alpine lakes, the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the Desolation Wilderness, and, of course, Lake Tahoe. You will earn your views on this 10 mile hike, particularly in the last couple of miles, but the rewards will greatly exceed your investment.
Why is the Mount Tallac Summit Hike so Amazing?
Almost right from the outset of your hike you will be treated with gorgeous views. Along the hike, you will see Fallen Leaf Lake, Floating Island Lake, Cathedral Lake, and Lake Tahoe. If that isn’t enough, from the top of Mount Tallac, you have amaxing views of the Desolation Wilderness, including Suzy, Heather, and Aloha lakes, as well as a sea of mountains in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. This is all while hiking from beautiful forest to the rugged, rocky terrain that dominates the upper reaches of Mount Tallac.
Sound good? Then read on . . .
Hiking to the Summit of Mount Tallac
The hike to the summit of Mount Tallac is relatively mellow to start. When you eventually leave the forest, the trail becomes very rocky and exposed, with a short reprieve on a plateau before the final push to the summit. The hike is not an easy one, but it is completely worth the effort to see the amazing beauty it affords the committed.
Starting at the Mount Tallac Trailhead, you head out on the Mount Tallac Trail. Note that this trail is technically called the Floating Island/Mount Tallac Trail (17E33). You begin in tree cover, but soon will gain some great views.
The Mount Tallac Trail will start to climb out of the trees with an incredible view of Fallen Leaf Lake to your left and Lake Tahoe in the background. As the trail continues to parallel Fallen Leaf Lake, an excellent view of Mount Tallac’s summit opens to the right.
As you move further down the Mount Tallac Trail, the trail becomes thick with Manzanita bushes and beautiful lodgepole pines. Through the pines to the left, excellent views of distant mountains complete the scene.
Soon, you enter the Desolation Wilderness and, almost immediately afterwards, you reach Floating Island Lake at 1.6 miles from the trailhead. The lake gets its name because it has, well, a floating island. Unfortunately, the vantage point offered by the trail obscures the floating island, making it a little confusing. If you really want to see the island, go around the lake to the left and it will come into view. Even if you don’t, this pretty lake does not disappoint.
After leaving Floating Island Lake, continue on the Mount Tallac Trail for about another mile to the beautiful Cathedral Lake. Partially ringed by rugged rocks with Mount Tallac’s peak in the background and trees reflecting in the crystal clear water, the scene is gorgeous. This lake makes a perfect resting, snacking, and/or swimming spot before making the push to Mount Tallac’s summit. Enjoy it, as the trail gets steeper, much rockier, and very exposed from here.
Leaving Cathedral Lake, you very quickly leave tree cover. The Mount Tallac Trail becomes very rocky and much steeper. After climbing for a period, you will enter a huge breakdown field. The trail is visible, but you will be hiking on breakdown and scree for a good distance. Just muscle your way through this section and have faith that your efforts will be grandly rewarded by the views afforded at the summit of Mount Tallac.
Following the breakdown, you will enter a plateau like area that is very open with wind swept trees. On your right, you can see the summit of Mount Tallac. You’re definitely not there yet, but you are getting close.
At about 4.8 miles from the trailhead, you will reach a .2 mile spur trail to the left that breaks off from the Floating Island/Mount Tallac Trail. This is the path that will take you to the summit of Mount Tallac. Just follow the spur and you will be there in no time.
Before you reach the summit you will get to a landing and rock outcropping that has amazing views of Lake Tahoe, the Sierra Nevadas, and the Desolation Wilderness. As beautiful as the view is of Lake Tahoe, my favorite is the view behind you of Suzy, Heather, and Aloha lakes. It is nothing short of incredible, so soak it in. This spot is a great one to have lunch or a snack, but there is still the summit to reach.
Immediately above you is the rocky summit of Mount Tallac. The short climb up the rocks is on a path, but it can be a little intimidating if you are afraid of heights. In reality, the views will not be greatly different on the summit, but you came all this way so don’t miss the chance to summit the mountain. [Why? Because it’s there! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)] There will likely be quite a few people up on the summit (this is a very popular hike), but there should be plenty of room for everyone.
After soaking in the views, refueling, taking many pictures, and resting, it’s time to head back to your car. The hike on the Mount Tallac Trail back to the trailhead is much faster than your ascent. Because you are heading downhill, the 5 miles back will pass quickly. Make sure to keep aware of the views, though, because often you can see things on the return that were not obvious on the way up to the summit.
Final Thoughts about Hiking to the Summit of Mount Tallac
I think most people will really enjoy hiking to the summit of Mount Tallac. The hike definitely becomes rigorous towards the top of the mountain, but you can always plan to make the ascent slowly. The rewards on this hike greatly compensate for the effort you will put in. It is not often one can see four beautiful lakes, hundreds of peaks in a mountain range, and have a sweeping view of a wilderness area all in a 10 mile out & back. To me, that makes it a huge winner. I think it will for you too.
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Mount Tallac Summit Hike Slideshow
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Gear We Use for Day Hiking
To see descriptions of the gear Chris & Mac use for day hiking, as well as links to manufacturers and retailers offering the gear for sale, please CLICK HERE.
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