4 - 5
FATMAP difficulty grade
Mount Tallac (9,738 ft) is the prominent, craggy mountain above Lake Tahoe’s southeast shore.
The Mount Tallac Trail is the typical route to the summit.
Any distance along this trail is rewarding, even if you don’t tackle the final steep miles to the top of the mountain.
Within the first two and a half miles are beautiful views over Fallen Leaf Lake and a few smaller lakes perched at the base of the mountain.
The journey to the summit is most popular in summer and fall.
Early season warrants snow traction at the higher elevations, and winter ascents are a snowshoeing or skiing mission. At the Mount Tallac Trailhead you must fill out a free permit to enter the Desolation Wilderness.
Begin on an obvious path through open conifer forest and sagebrush meadows up a moderate incline.
It climbs onto a broad bench in between Tallac and Fallen Leaf Lake.
Views are of rocky slopes above, blue water below, and a horizon full of distant peaks. At mile 1.6 is Floating Island Lake, a quiet pond at the foot of Tallac.
Look for the small floating grass island that gives the lake its name.
Just past here comes the first really great perspective of Mount Tallac.
The trail crosses rocky meadows at the base of sweeping talus slopes.
The toothy ridge overhead is what you must gain to reach the top. At mile 2.3 you'll pass Cathedral Lake, a smaller but even prettier pond in a bowl placed improbably between the walls of Tallac above and the 1,000-foot hillslope to Fallen Leaf Lake below.
This is a nice place to take a dip on a hot day, and to refill bottles if you have water treatment.
The rest of the hike up the mountain is dry and exposed to the sun.
The trail heads steeply upward from Cathedral, earning evermore impressive views over the lakes below. Switchbacks top out on the mountain’s south shoulder, where fields of wildflowers allow broad vantage to the west over the peaks of the Crystal Range and the interior of the Desolation Wilderness.
The hulk of Pyramid Peak dominates the skyline, and the circular form of Gilmore Lake rests below.
The steepest section of the hike is behind, but more work lies ahead, so catch your breath and take in the view before continuing up, among wind-warped pines and more flower-filled meadows.
One more rocky climb guards the summit, but it is short, and before you know it you’ll be atop the proudest peak on Lake Tahoe’s shore.