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Overview.  Incredible views persist along the entire route to the summit of this peak, which dominates the SW shore of Lake Tahoe.  The summit affords without question the best panorama in the Tahoe Sierra.

On the minus side, this trail can be crowded and dusty in mid-summer, and can get very hot above timberline.

Hike Stats:


1.6 miles to Floating Island Lake

2.3 miles to Cathedral Lake

4.8 miles to Mt. Tallac summit



Trailhead:  6,480'

Summit:  9,735'


Hiking time:  about six hours round trip to summit


Map:  USGS Emerald Bay 7.5 minute


Click here for an online trailmap

Trailhead/Wilderness Permits:

Take Highway 89 to the Camp Shelly/Tallac City Camps turn-off.  If you are coming from the north, this is first right turn after Spring Creek Road (just after the "25 MPH" right hand curve).  If you are coming from the south, it is a left turn about 3/4 mile past the Lake Tahoe Visitor Center.  Once you are heading east on this paved road, follow the signs to "Tallac Trailhead". 


At the trailhead, you can self-issue a required wilderness permit for day hikes (overnight permits are subject to quota and must be issued at the Visitor Center or at Forest Service Ranger Stations).


Bring a lot of water on this trail.  The climb to the summit can get very hot in summer, and much of the trail (including the steepest part) lies above timberline, where you are exposed to the relentless sun.  Dehydration is a real risk here, and water sources past Cathedral Lake are seasonal and cannot really be relied on. 

Mt. Tallac Trail to Floating Island Lake:

This trail receives high use and is thus well marked.   From the parking lot, the trail climbs gradually up a forested slope and soon gains the ridge above and to the SW of beautiful Fallen Leaf Lake.   The trail hugs the spine of this ridge for about 3/4 mile, affording incredible views over Fallen Leaf Lake towards the Carson Range south of the Heavenly Ski Area.

From the ridge, the trail eventually drops down the west side of the ridge to a small saddle, then ascends a few switchbacks to the boundary of the Desolation Wilderness, where you will find this sign.  Permits are required after this point for all visitors.  Just beyond the wilderness limit, you reach Floating Island Lake.  


Above Floating Island lake, you get views of the SE spur ridge of Mt. Tallac, and the actual summit poking its head up above it.  The steep SE face of this ridge provides an alternative route to the summit for adventurous hikers who want to avoid the populated main trail (photo:  Floating Island Lake and SE chutes).

From Floating Island Lake, the trail climbs briefly out of the trees towards Cathedral Lake.  About 0.2 miles before Cathedral Lake, the trail emerges from the forest and unobstructed views to the NW show the SE chutes.  At this point, you can either continue on the main trail, or, to avoid crowds, take an off-piste and solitary route to the summit via the SE chutes (see below).  

Main Trail to Summit via Cathedral Lake:

Most people will stick to the main trail.  Follow it back into the trees to a trail junction coming up from Fallen Leaf Lake.  Bear right at this trail junction towards scenic Cathedral Lake (photo), tucked below a moraine at the foot of Cathedral Peak.  From the lake, the trail climbs rather steeply through several switchbacks and eventually tops out back above timberline.  Once out of the trees again, you can see the trail ahead of you heading into the large cirque situated between Mt. Tallac and Cathedral Peak.  This is the dusty and hot part of the trail, so an early start to this hike is recommended so you are not here during the hottest hours of the day.  The trail eventually heads to the right, and then makes one long switchback to the left.  The views along the switchback down towards Lake Tahoe, Fallen Leaf Lake and the Carson Range are spectacular (photo:  view down to trail and Fallen Leaf Lake from top of switchback).

The trail eventually gains the ridge above the cirque and the views open up to the West.  Directly in front of you lie the normally snowcapped peaks of the Crystal Range (photo), including distinctive Pyramid Peak at the south end of the range.  From here, the trail ducks behind the ridge as it climbs NW through a high alpine environment of heavy brush and wildflowers, dotted with the occasional wind-blasted tree.  Eventually, you will reach a junction with a trail heading down towards Gilmore Lake.  This trail junction is marked by a huge rock cairn standing about six feet high.  Another 0.2 miles of steep climbing over sharp metamorphic rocks gets you to the summit (see below).  

Off-Trail Climb to Summit via SE Chutes:

If you are fit, adventurous, good on your feet and want to avoid the often crowded trail to the summit, you can peel off the main trail in the clearing about 0.2 miles before Cathedral Lake.  From this point, an easy 100 yard bushwack to the NW heads towards a seasonal creek leading up to a steep slope of fairly large talus.   Climb the steep talus slope, which leads higher up onto the hillside below the SE Chutes, which are clearly visible above you (note:  even though it looks way up there, the top of the chutes is not the summit, so don't get summit fever too soon).

From the top of the steep talus slope and looking up, you will have a full view of the SE slopes.  Above to your left is a nasty looking cirque that is filled with scree -- not advisable.  However, above to your right is a steep slope comprised partly of larger talus and brush, leading up to some chutes at the top.  To ascend these chutes, contour up and to the right (north) to a large rock.  From this rock, pick out a route that clings to the rocks, thus avoiding the relentless and prickly willow and alder brambles (see photo).  Climb steeply up mostly class 2 (with some class 3) talus until you top out on the ridge.  Use caution in the last 100 or so vertical feet below the ridge, as the chute steepens considerably, and the larger talus turns to more unstable scree.

At the top of the chutes, you gain a ridge which presents an impressive view of the summit towering above you (photo).  Unfortunately, a huge chasm separates you from the sheer SE face of the mountain, so unless you have a death wish, you follow the ridge to your left which makes a long "C" around and up to the summit.  Eventually, you rejoin the main trail (about 200 yards below the summit) and climb up to the top.  From the top of the chutes, you can also look to the south and get a panoramic view across the top of the two large cirques between Mt. Tallac and Cathedral Peak, including Fallen Leaf Lake and tiny Cathedral Lake (see photo).  The furthest south of these two cirques (below the horizontal ridge with the trees in the photo) is the one ascended by the main Mt. Tallac Trail

The Summit:

The summit of Mt. Tallac has jaw-dropping views in every direction.  To the east, Fallen Leaf Lake and Freel  Peak atop the Carson Range fill the vista.  Moving right, you look out over the peaks above Carson Pass, then Echo Summit (Highway 50 can be seen snaking its way up the pass) and Ralston Peak (above which the ski runs at Sierra-at-Tahoe can be seen).  Looking to the west, the summits of Pyramid Peak and Mts. Agassiz and Price in Crystal Range poke up above the well named Desolation Valley, with Gilmore and Susie Lakes below (see photo).  To the NW are Dicks and Jacks Peaks, and to the north you can pick out Twin Peaks near Alpine Meadows, high camp at Squaw Valley, Granite Chief, and way in the distance, the turreted summit of Castle Peak.  Looking NE, the view is saturated with the blue waters of Lake Tahoe, above whose NE shore stands Mt. Rose (10,776').  (See Summit Panorama Photo)

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