Most who have visited Lake Tahoe have heard of Mount Tallac, or at the very least, have laid their eyes on it. Rising above the southwest shore of the lake, Mount Tallac is part of Desolation Wilderness and the tallest mountain on the lake's immediate shoreline. At 9,738 feet, the mountain stands as a commanding landmark, and it is a continual draw for hikers in the summer and backcountry skiers in the winter.
During the summer and shoulder season months, the Mount Tallac Summer Trail offers a reasonably direct and quick trail route up the mountain. Just shy of 5 miles, the trail meanders past lakes and through forests, climbing bowls and ridges to gain the summit nearly 3,300 feet above the trailhead. The 10-mile round trip takes most hikers around six hours, including time to soak in the panorama on the summit
At the trailhead parking lot, hikers will need to complete a wilderness permit, even if just for day-hiking (Desolation Wilderness requires both overnight and day use permits). Follow the trail through sagebrush and fir and pine forest as you climb moderately toward a ridge between Fallen Leaf Lake and Tallac’s northeast aspect. The trail follows this ridge, affording sweeping sweeping views of Fallen Leaf Lake and Tahoe’s south shore. Shortly after the 1.5-mile mark you’ll reach peaceful Floating Island Lake, named for a grass island that floats freely around the lake.
Continuing beyond Floating Island Lake, pass a junction with a side trail that branches off to Fallen Leaf Lake. Shortly thereafter you'll reach Cathedral Lake, the last water source along the trail and a nice spot for a dip on hot day (hikers should carry at least 64 ounces of water for the full hike). Above Cathedral Lake the trail steepens, switchbacking up a to a small shelf and up a broad bowl to gain the south shoulder. Views of Lake Tahoe just keep getting better and better the higher you climb.
The trail then wraps around Mount Tallac’s broad south shoulder, opening to brilliant views of the Desolation Wilderness with the Crystal Range and Pyramid Peak dominating the skyline. This is a great area to slow down and take in the abundant wildflowers. Eventually the trail veers back easterly as it nears the summit ridge and then climbs up rocky talus to the summit.
From Tallac’s summit there is no better view of Lake Tahoe’s soothing blue waters and the surrounding Sierra mountain landscape. Assuming you’ve chosen a fair weather day, you’ll have hit the jackpot of Tahoe scenery, with all of Desolation Wilderness, alpine lakes, and the nooks and crannies of Lake Tahoe’s shoreline in view. When you’ve finished soaking up the mind blowing view, retrace your steps and follow the trail back to the trailhead.
Make sure to bring plenty of water, as this is more or less a full day excursion with lots of elevation gain. Dogs are allowed on the Mount Tallac Trail.