The hike to Cathedral Lake is a good option when time or motivation isn’t there for a full climb to Mount Tallac’s summit. Just shy of the half-way point along the Mount Tallac Summer Trail, the trail up to Cathedral Lake offers intermittent views of south Lake Tahoe, Fallen Leaf Lake, and the Carson Range as it proceeds through the forested slopes of Tallac’s lower half. Add a couple of picturesque trailside lakes to the mix, and you’ve got a nice little hike or trail run.
From the trailhead, climb through sagebrush and a fir and pine forest as you gain the ridge between Fallen Leaf Lake and Mount Tallac’s northeast aspect. Continue along the ridge to gain elevation to Floating Island Lake, 1.6 miles from the trailhead. Named for a grass island that floats freely around the lake, Floating Island Lake provides a nice shaded snack or break spot. It also marks the point of departure for cross-country routes that climb to Tallac’s summit.
Beyond Floating Island Lake, continue past the junction with a trail branching off to Fallen Leaf Lake. Shortly thereafter, at 2.3 miles from the trailhead, you’ll come upon Cathedral Lake nestled into a little bowl. This is your turn-around spot, as beyond here the trail up Mount Tallac steepens significantly. You only have to climb a few hundred feet, however, to gain fantastic views over Cathedral Lake and the Tahoe Basin. Or, if you decide you’re feeling up for it and have plenty of water, continue on up the bowl toward Tallac’s summit (note that Cathedral Lake is the last water source).
Hikers heading to Cathedral Lake or up Mount Tallac will need to fill out a wilderness permit at the trailhead, even for day hiking on Mount Tallac’s lower slopes.