To the top of Tallac |

To the top of Tallac

Kyler Klix
The view on top of Mount Tallac looking north toward Lake Tahoe. Emerald Bay and Fallen Leaf Lake are directly in the foreground.


Plan at least six hours for the trip with a steady pace and rest stops as needed. Many people can do it much quicker and others much longer. Prepare for the sun with plenty of water (at least 3 liters) and some sunscreen. There is a permit to sign at the trailhead kiosk for entering the Desolation Wilderness.

Tallac is a popular trail. The parking area will fill up and there will be spots along the road farther down, adding some distance to the hike.

Also beware of leaving any items in your vehicle bears might be interested in. There have been reports lately of some break-ins at trailheads in the area. Dispose of trash before arriving, or take everything with you on the trip. Coming back from a lengthy hike to mess is not a pleasant way to end the day.

The best views of Lake Tahoe come with hard work. Hiking Mount Tallac offers stunning views. This 9,738-foot mountain peak attracts locals and visitors from over as one of the most rewarding hikes in the region.

Getting to the top of Tallac is no easy task. It takes about 6 miles to get to the top, making it 12 miles round trip. The elevation gain from the trailhead is about 3,255 feet, but most of that comes halfway up. The surface is challenging as well as you’re walking along rocks instead of dirt almost the entire way.

After setting a goal to complete it earlier this year, Tallac can be marked off the checklist. The strenuous hike had my legs sore for days, but the thrill of feeling on top of the world was like none other.

It was a brisk beginning. Going the first couple of miles is nice and pleasant, with a gradual elevation gain and plenty of soft ground for your feet. The first views come on a ridge that is parallel to Fallen Leaf Lake. With the lake to your left and a valley to the right, it’s a nice path.

The Desolation Wilderness boundary is located about 1.7 miles along the trail. Just beyond this is Floating Island Lake. This lake is a calm, quiet spot to take a short rest.

Between the two lakes in June, wildflowers littered the landscape with pink, orange, yellow and purple. By September, the plants were prepping for winter. Aspen leaves turned yellow as other bushes turned to rust and lost their vibrant green color.

The next mile to Cathedral Lake isn’t too difficult. Many people will be relaxing around the lake — it’s the perfect place to cool off on the way back. People will also take the trail to come here and then turn around.

From here, things go up. Just beyond it is the halfway point in terms of distance, but there’s about two-thirds of the elevation left to climb. And it’s rocky. Get ready to high-step it to the top.

This part is rough. The biggest challenge is the mental part of it. You have to keep pushing yourself. Drive and determination will get you to get to the top. Take it easy, drink plenty of water and control your breath. You can really tell how thin the air is up there. Taking a deep breath almost feels like breathing through a straw.

The trail seems like it goes on forever, but don’t be discouraged because it’s all worth it. There’s a lovely meadow near the top. Then comes the final accent.

At the end of the trail, an American flag marks the top. It brings a feeling of triumph. All that hard work paid off and the incredible views are your reward. From here, there is a 360-degree view. Lake Tahoe is seen in its entirety — from the big casino buildings in Stateline to Incline Village. Emerald Bay is close by with Fallen Leaf Lake right next to it. It looks much smaller from up here.

The views to the other side also show so much of the Desolation Wildnerness. There are numerous alpine lakes to be seen. There’s a perfect view of Gilmore Lake. You can see the ripples from the wind in the dark blue water.

Going will take your breath away and work your muscles, but going down almost seemed just as hard, except breathing was easier.

On a mid-September day the weather was perfect. It wasn’t too hot and it never got too cold. The conditions will be good for a few weeks, but it will snow soon and it will put the hiking season to end for a bit.

Starting the hike late meant getting back to the trailhead close to dusk. There’s more of a chance to see wildlife, and remember to always respect the wildlife. Besides the common squirrels and chipmunks, there was a sooty grouse along the trail on the way down. Although no bears were seen en route back to the car, there were a couple of coyotes near the parking area. It must have been their time to eat. Someone had a crying baby on the trail coming down, and perhaps one coyote was interested in what was making that noise.

This is one destination to set as a goal. It’s a tremendous accomplishment and you’ll have stories in common to share with people all over the world. The incredible views on top of Tallac are like none other, that is, unless you’re flying.