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South Lake Tahoe, California, United States

Mount Tallac, Lake Tahoe

Unparalleled vistas await the Tahoe hiker on a memorable journey to the lake’s tallest peak.

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 (60 votes, 9 reviews)
Difficulty: Difficult
Length: 9.5 miles / 15.3 km
Duration: Full day
Overview: The jewel in the crown of mountains which ring Lake Tahoe, Mt. Tallac promises unparalleled views from its summit 9,735ft above sea level.

We guide you to the top via the most direct summer route through lush forest, along scenic ridgelines, past small alpine lakes and across blazingly colorful wildflower strewn high-altitude meadows. Sure the 3,500ft elevation gain is greater than you might experience on most day hikes, but both the journey and the destination are worth every single thigh-burning step.

Elevation Gain:
• 3,500ft (from 6,400 - 9735ft)

Tips: • Remember to register for a free Desolation Wilderness permit at the trailhead.
• June to October is the best time to hike Tallac. Some snow may prevail at higher elevations until late July, but that is unlikely to cause problems for hikers.
• Summer thunderstorms are common from mid afternoon. We recommend an early start to avoid being exposed at high elevations at these times.
• Glen Alpine Trail is an alternative route to the summit of Tallac, popular with backbackers camping in the Desolation Wilderness. However, an 11 mile day trip via Gilmore Lake is feasible but not covered by this guide.
• Mount Tallac is one of the most popular backcountry skiing and snowboarding destinations in the US. Search the internet for information about the winter Spring Creek Trail ascent for more details.

Points of Interest


Mt. Tallac Trailhead

The classic 9½ mile out-and-back day hike to Mount Tallac begins at the trailhead on the southwestern side of Lake Tahoe, between Emerald Bay and Camp Richardson.

When driving to the trailhead, make a turn inland at Mt. Tallac Road and follow the well-signed route to the reasonably sized parking lot.

Be sure to register your day hike in the Desolation Wilderness area. Free permits are available at the trail sign, which must be filled out in full before proceeding on the trail.

The route begins through light forest before heading up to a ridgeline which follows alongside the shores of Fallen Leaf Lake and provides some great views.

Destination Wilderness Boundary

Permits are necessary within the boundary of the Desolation Wilderness, a federally protected wilderness area strewn with granite, peaks and lakes which is a great (and popular) destination for backpackers.

Day hikers need only register for a free permit at the trailhead, whereas campers must apply in advance and pay a fee.

Floating Island Lake

The first of today's two lakes is Floating Island Lake, and a great place to stretch the legs and cool off.

Stream Crossing

Simple stream crossing which usually runs low enough to make for an easy passage.

Fallen Leaf Lake Junction

Take a right turn here to continue towards Mt. Tallac. The other route heads to the South shores of Fallen Leaf Lake, 900ft beneath us.

Cathedral Lake

Cathedral Lake marks the edge of the forest canopy, and from now on we'll be increasingly exposed to the elements so be sure to top up that sunblock layer.

The next segment of the journey will also involve some of the steepest terrain. Try and keep up a steady pace up Cathedral Basin and soon you'll be a thousand feet higher and into the meadows, where less steep trails await along with dramatic views over the Desolation Wilderness and toward the peaks of the Crystal Mountains.

Glen Alpine Trail Junction

You're almost at the summit! Hang right and proceed up the trail to the slopes of talus which indicate that you're nearing your destination.

The other fork of the trail leads along the Glen Alpine Trail into Gilmore Lake and Desolation Wilderderness. Popular with backpackers on multi-day trips this alternate route can also be completed in a single day with a 11 mile hike from the Glen Alpine trailhead south of Fallen Leaf Lake.

Mount Tallac Summit (9,735ft)

Mount Tallac offers probably the best view you'll find around Lake Tahoe, where you can survey the entirety of the landscape in all directions around you.
Pictures in this guide taken by: Trailspotting

Trailspotting content © Stuart Green 2010 including text, images, videos and route detail.
The hike took us about six hours to complete. Really stunning viewpoints; the scenery was one of the most beautiful I have seen. I did experience some altitude sickness, my first time, so it was kind of odd for me. A lot of chipmunks on the summit, so be warned XD There is this really chubby chipmunk that my group called the king of the mountain, say hi for me if you see him.
Visited on Sep 07, 2015

by Gabrielmeh on Oct 20, 2015
Great hike.

The whole hike took about 7 hours, and it was great the whole way through!

While it is not a very strenuous hike, it's definitely not for everyone. There are a lot of flat sections, but also some very steep ones that will get your heart rape up. I would say that going to the top was a challenge, but doing it twice in a day is also very feasible. The hardest part was probably coming back down, where you have to navigate a steep decent along a rocky area that really took a toll on my knees.

There is a good mix of different types of terrains. Some parts are on soft ground in the shaded woods, some are in the exposed sun, some are on soft ground, while others are quite rocky. For a relatively short (distance wise) hike, there is a very good mix of terrains and views. You see several calm lakes along the wake, views of distant mountains, and just a lot of different parts of nature.

There are some good views along the way, but it all pales in comparison to the payoff when you make it to the very very top. The view is breathtaking, and unlike anything I've ever seen. I won't try to describe it, but will say that you just have to see it for yourself! Since the peak of the mountain is relatively high up, in an exposed area, the winds do get a little chilly, so I would recommend planning out your trip in such a way that you make it to the top when its hottest in the day; account for a 4 hour trip up the mountain.

Overall, this is a must do lake tahoe hike. I promise that it won't dissapoint!

Visited on Sep 05, 2015

by olshansky.daniel on Sep 12, 2015
Especially I love this place. :D :D :D

by Praska on Sep 11, 2015
This trail was BEAUTIFUL! Strenuous at times, and definitely tiresome for a beginner, but more than worth it once you reach the top. When you arrive, look up to the right and find the highest tip of that large mountain (Mt Tallac). That's where you're going! Once we hit the ridge with the snow we thought we had made it, but nope... you have to keep hiking up the back side of the mountain towards the tip which is roughly another 45 minutes to an hour depending on your speed. At the very top I was in pure awe of the view. The photos I took just don't do it any justice. You have to be there to feel and experience it. On a side note, on the way back there is a guidepost that shows something like straight for floating isle... I don't recall the exact name, but we thought no, we just want to get back so we went right towards fallen leaf lake. This was a mistake and took us way off track towards the south end of fallen leaf lake (see guide #5 going up... we messed it up coming back). Instead of hiking back on the trail we used our gps to cut back across through the woods as a shortcut towards the car. Long story short, it worked and we made it to the trail safely... however, I would not recommend anyone else do that. Stick to the marked trails and you will have a great time.
Visited on Jun 24, 2014

by MikeX3 on Jun 27, 2014
The snow covered a majority of the trail so we decided to climb up the rocks to the right of where the supposed trail was. It made for an even better and super memorable experience. The views from the top are unreal, I highly recommend if you're in South Lake Tahoe. It can be done in around 5 hours.
Visited on May 10, 2014

by tmacasek on May 19, 2014
This place really is amazing, definitely on my top 10 list of awesome places in the U.S.
Visited on May 02, 2008

by tinamaurice on Nov 08, 2013
I was there. Amazing views.
Visited on Jul 04, 2012

by sosnarobert on Oct 07, 2013
My kids (ages 19 and 22) were looking for a good hike in the South Lake Tahoe area. Usually we head to Yosemite however with the fires around Yosemite this year we decided to look in South Lake Tahoe. We read the reviews, downloaded the app along with the trail map. We started out from the Trailhead at 6:30 am. The first half of the trail is through the woods. The trail climbs from the trailhead to a ridge that parallels Fallen Leaf Lake. The view of the sunrise above Fallen Leaf Lake is spectacular. The trail winds down to Floating Island Lake then up to Cathedral Lake. By the time that you hit Cathedral Lake, the terrain changes from forest floor to scree. Shortly after climbing above Cathedral Lake you exit the tree line and begin climbing up to the top of the east ridge. The wind was gusty at Cathedral Lake and up to the top of the ridge. Upon cresting the ridge the wind is steady and strong. Highly recommend wind breaker and if climbing early morning bring gloves and a hat. The climb to the top from the ridge to the summit is steady but not overly difficult. We reached the summit at 9:30 am traveling at a moderate but not overly aggressive pace. We headed down, stopped and had a bite to eat at Cathedral Lake and were standing back at the trailhead at 12:30pm. It was a good hike, I only wish that it was a little longer.
Visited on Aug 25, 2013

by dkievet on Aug 27, 2013
This was a great day hike even in the heat of summer. More than half the trail is heavily shaded and by the time the trees are gone the wind is strong enough to need a windbreaker. The view form the top is amazing. You may also fined the true kings of the mount (Chipmunks) to be so friendly that if you sit still for long enough the will jump on top of you.
Visited on May 31, 2013

by Gar1138 on Jun 30, 2013

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