Mt. Tallac - Hiking

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Summary

Mt. Tallac is one of the most popular and rewarding summits in the Tahoe region, and features breathtaking panoramic views.

Written by

Aaron Hussmann

Distance

9.0 miles

This is a 4.5-mile steep hike to the summit making it a challenging nine-mile round trip.

Destination Distance From Downtown

11.8 miles

Difficulty

3 of 5 diamonds

This is a strenuous 9 mile hike that gains 3,300 feet in elevation and is mostly sun exposed.

Time To Complete

5 hours

Seasonality

Fall

There is risk of snowfields and dangerous conditions in spring and early summer. With the hike being mostly sun exposed it can get hot in the summer, so be sure to bring plenty of water.

Dog Friendly

No

The sharp rocks along the trails are not good for your dog's paws. Leave the pup at home for this one.

Fees Permits

Yes

Day hikers are required to fill out a free day-use permit at the trailhead. There are strict regulations for camping in the area.

Review

Intro

Rising prominently and towering 3,500 feet over Lake Tahoe’s southwest shoreline, Mt. Tallac (tuh-lac, not tal-ick) is one of the most popular and rewarding summits in the Tahoe region. The hike features breathtaking panoramic views of the vast and sparkling indigo waters of Lake Tahoe, and the glacially sculpted 63,000-acre Desolation Wilderness, where the water from dozens of pristine alpine lakes gleam in the mid-day sunlight.

What Makes It Great

Summiting Mt. Tallac is a must-do for any Tahoe local and should be relatively high on any visiting hiker’s list. Not to be taken lightly, this nine-mile roundtrip hike steadily gains more than 3,300 feet of elevation through mostly sun-exposed terrain. The initial 2.1 miles follow along Fallen Leaf Lake’s shores through a shaded forest while passing Floating Island Lake, known for its drifting tufts of mini meadows, and Cathedral Lake, the last water source before the summit.

The real climb begins at Cathedral Lake as you work your way through the large granite Cathedral Bowl, gaining 2,000 vertical feet in just 2.4 miles. As previously mentioned, Cathedral Lake is the last opportunity for water before the summit, and it is highly recommended to either bring a water filter or carry enough for the entire hike. The trail switchbacks through loose shale until reaching the summit ridgeline. Use caution in early the summer months, as residual snowfields may exist and this section could be hazardous.

Once above Cathedral Bowl, the iconic trail continues on toward the summit through stunted whitebark pine with the feeling of true high-country ridgeline hiking. Just short of the top, the trail disappears into a crisscrossing network of footpaths etched into the summit boulder field. All routes lead to the summit with the occasional mild scrambling. Take some time to enjoy the spectacular 360-degree views from the top of this wonderfully rewarding and demanding peak.

Who is Going to Love It

Day hikers, backpackers, and ambitious trail runners will all love the challenge of summiting Mt. Tallac. Be prepared with proper shoes and plenty of water for this strenuous climb.

This trail is not recommended for dogs. The sharp talus and granite wreak havoc on paws, and dogs have been airlifted from the summit at the owner’s expense.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Overnight campers are subject to the overnight camping quota in Desolation Wilderness. For more information and to obtain a permit, visit the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. Day hikers are required to fill out a free day-use permit at the trailhead.

To reach the trailhead from South Lake Tahoe, drive north on Highway 89 for 4 miles from the junction of Highway 50/89. Follow signs for the Mt. Tallac trailhead across from the entrance to Baldwin Beach, turn left off Highway 89 and follow the signs for 1 mile to the trailhead. 

Location

Mt. Tallac

38.9275, -120.0641

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