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General Information: The towering dark mass of Mount Tallac dominates the view west from many places in South Lake Tahoe. Its steep eastern face with its couloirs and gullies filled with snow call to the mountaineer to climb. Fortunately, you need not be a highly skilled climber to reach the summit of this stunning peak. All you need is reasonably good condition, intermediate backcountry skills, and perseverance. Tallac makes both a fine summer hike and a challenging winter ski, snowshoe, or snowboard peak. The information provided here is only a guide and cannot take the place of experience and sound backcountry practices. Only you can judge your readiness to tackle this peak. Visit our Backcountry Tips Page to get more information about backcountry travel.

Of the many ways to approach Tallac, three are most commonly used in the summer, and just one receives most of the traffic in winter. Below, we will describe each of these trails in detail.

Click here to view a trail map and route profiles.

Where To Start:

Winter: Spring Creek Tract: About 5 miles north of the South Lake Tahoe "Y" along Highway 89, a sign reads, "Spring Creek Road". Turn left onto this road and follow it to its end. Park off the road near two old summer homes. NOTE: This road may now be gated. If so, you'll need to ski in from the gate.

Summer: Tallac Trail: From the "Y" in South Lake Tahoe, drive about 4.5 miles north on highway 89 towards Emerald Bay. After passing the Visitor Center on the right, look for a sign for Tallac Trail, Camp Shelley, and Camp Concord off to the left. Follow the signs on this road back to the Tallac Trailhead.

Summer: Glen Alpine: Fallen Leaf Lake Road is located off highway 89 about 3 miles north of the "Y" in South Lake Tahoe. Driving north on 89 watch for a brown sign after Camp Richardson that says, "Fallen Leaf Lake" . Turn left onto Fallen Leaf Lake Rd. and follow it for 5 miles all the way past the marina. Turn left onto an even narrower road at the new Fallen Leaf Lake Fire Station. Follow this single lane road past the falls and finally to the Glen Alpine parking lot.

Trail Description: Summer: In the summer, there are three common ways of attempting the summit of Mt. Tallac: The Tallac Trail, The Glen Alpine Trail, and The Middle Tallac Trail.

Tallac Trail: The Tallac Trail is probably the most commonly attempted route up Mt. Tallac. We say "attempted" because even though the path presents no technical difficulties, many of those who start out with high hopes, find themselves turning back before the summit. The main reason for this is underestimating the time required to make the climb. On this route, a party in good condition should plan no less than 6 hours for the round trip, while those in only moderate condition should leave themselves 8 or more hours. On the other hand, we know a group of kindergartners that summited...very slowly!

The trail starts at the Tallac Trailhead and for the first two miles is mostly a wide path which winds steadily up through pine and fir forest. The hiking is not flat, gaining over 700' to Floating Island Lake, but taken slowly is well within the ability of most moderately fit people. Filtered views of Mt. Tallac to the west and, as you climb onto the ridge overlooking Fallen Leaf Lake, beautiful Lake Tahoe views to the east and north reward the hiker. The trail runs along the ridge for awhile then turns west and descends a small gully, only to climb again. Shortly after climbing out of the ravine, you'll begin to hear the splashing of the creek that flows from Floating Island Lake. The trail switch-backs a couple of times close to the stream then tops out on a small rise as the lake comes into view. The view of the lake with Mt. Tallac in the background is certainly worth a few moments before continuing up the trail. After a rest and perhaps a snack, you continue south along the trail as it winds its way up to Cathedral Lake. During the summer, Indian Painbrush, Shooting Stars, and many other wildflowers adorn the trail. After less than a mile and 500' of vertical, Cathedral Lake will open before you. After leaving Cathedral Lake, the trail climbs up through a series of rock ledges. Don't forget to look behind you to take in the stellar views of Lake Tahoe! From here, the trail begins a steady climb across sparse forest and open rock areas until you reach the dreaded "headwall." The trail switch-backs steeply up this section until you are standing on the saddle between Mt. Tallac and Cathedral Peak. You have now come 1 mile and 1000' vertical feet from Cathedral Lake, although it will seem much farther. From the saddle, the trail turns north/northwest climbing up the backside of the ridge, along the edge of the treeline forest where haggard, beaten trees with branches stripped from their windward side, stand guard against the wind and weather. After 1.5 miles, a trail junction sign points the way down to Gilmore Lake and up to the summit. After the junction, the trail quickly leaves the trees behind replacing them with piles of dark, metamorphic rock thrown into a jumble of large, loose, angle-twisting stones. Caution is needed here to avoid what could be a dangerous injury. The path is hard to pick out here, but just keep climbing up and you can't miss the summit!

Mount Tallac! At 9,735 feet above sea level and 3,175 feet above where you started, Mt. Tallac provides perhaps the best view in the Tahoe Basin. To the east is, of course, Lake Tahoe, but also Fallen Leaf Lake, Cascade Lake, Mt. Rose, and the Carson Range. To the west is Desolation Wilderness, Gilmore Lake, The Velmas, Lake Aloha, Pyramid Peak, and the rest of the Crystal Range. Except for the blight called the Tahoe Keys, the casinos, and the Heavenly Valley ski runs, from the top of Tallac, one can almost imagine what Tahoe was like one hundred years ago before the white people...then again, you might be sharing the summit with 20 other palefaces. Either way, the effort to climb Tallac is well rewarded!

Glen Alpine Trail: The Glen Alpine trail is the least steep, but, at 12 miles round trip, the longest standard route up Mt. Tallac. After filling out a wilderness permit, start hiking up a dirt and gravel road past old summer homes. After about a mile, the road turns into a single-track trail that winds its way, sometimes steeply, up the rocky landscape. Along the way, you have open views of pristine wilderness where rock, wind, water, and glaciers have conspired to form some magnificent scenery. Cracked Crag juts its dark, crumbling bulk of stone and rock high above the surrounding wilderness with bits and pieces of trees trying to maintain their tenuous foothold in this harsh environment. The trees thin out the higher you go and after another 2 miles of steady climbing up the watershed, the trail splits. To the right are Gilmore and Half Moon Lake as well as Mt. Tallac, while the left trail leads to Susie, Heather, and Aloha Lakes. Taking the right fork, the trail will flatten a bit for the next 0.3 miles. At a four-way trail junction, take the right trail to Gilmore Lake and Mt. Tallac. Here is where the fun starts! Over the next 1.1 miles, you will gain over 400 feet in elevation on your way to Gilmore Lake. Gilmore is one of our favorite Desolation lakes. A deep, round, glacial lake, surrounded by forest, Gilmore is set in a depression on the back side of Mt. Tallac and offers wonderful fishing, serene forest, and flat, comfortable camping. After a rest, continue on the trail past the lake and on to the northeast towards Tallac. This last section is the steepest part of this route, gaining 1415' over about a mile! The trail intersects the Tallac Trail then continues up to the summit across loose, broken boulders that require care not to twist an ankle.

Middle Tallac Trail: The Middle Tallac trail is the most direct way up to the summit of Mt. Tallac. Of course, this means it is also the steepest. At only 3 miles, it climbs steadily and steeply for nearly the entire ascent. Finding the trail is a bit challenging the first time. After parking in the Glen Alpine parking area, follow the fire road that heads east (opposite the Glen Alpine Trail). The road will dip (often having standing water in the dip) after about 75 yards. Just before the dip, a faint trail heads left off the road. Follow this trail up the hill as best you can, looking for a more obvious trail that heads west. Once on the trail, you still have to pay attention for the first 1/4 mile until it begins winding up the talus slope on the north side of Glen Alpine Canyon. After zigzagging up the talus for a while, the trail cuts directly across the talus slope at a steep climb, heading for a deep gully or "V" notch where a stream tumbles steeply in the Glen Alpine Canyon. In the spring, you will cross many small streams careening down through the talus. Once you reach the "V" notch the trail heads northwest to Gilmore Lake. This is a fine trail with virtually no traffic even in high summer. From Gilmore, you head northeast along the trail to the summit of Tallac. Alternatively, you can head directly north cross-country from the "V" notch cutting off perhaps a mile or so from the hike. Doing this, you will eventually intersect the Tallac Trail near where it tops out on the headwall overlooking Cathedral Lake. Turn onto this trail and follow it to the summit.

Spring Creek Rd. Trail: The Spring Creek Trail is the main route up Tallac in the winter. It is a direct route that minimizes travel in avalanche zones. Follow the tracks that will almost certainly already be there by the time you arrive at the end of Spring Creek Rd. The trail heads back through fir forest for the first 1/2 mile. It then opens up in front of a wide slope with a gully on the left (south) side. The trail usually heads directly up the left side of this slope. From the top of this slope the trail moves north to the prominent ridge that drops off the north shoulder of Tallac. Follow this ridge until it intersects the shoulder ridge. Turning south onto this ridge, you will come to North Bowl, the large, north-facing bowl that drops off the summit of Tallac. The trail cuts across North Bowl to a saddle then swings behind the bowl and on to the summit.

The Descent: There are several ways to descend from the summit.

Corkscrew: The easiest and most common descent is to ski down North Bowl then into the trees at the top of the broad valley just to the south of the ridge you ascended. This dumps you out at the top of the wide slope where you first began climbing. There are several variations to this route. In general, the farther to the south you stay, the more difficult the descent.

The Cross: The Cross is Tallac's test-piece for skiers and boarders. It is located just south of the summit. We've looked down the chute, but never felt crazy enough to jump...and we do mean jump. The first 30-40 feet is free-fall through a chute 15 feet wide. This "widens" into a 50 degree slope that is maybe 30 feet wide for the next 100 feet. The descent finally becomes reasonable as it widens to a sixty feet or so and the slope slackens to "just" 40 degrees. If you started at Spring Creek, it is important to remember to head left (north) and across the ridge into the Spring Creek Drainage before it is too late and you end up having to hump through the woods for way too long.

South Bowl: In the spring, the South Bowl is a favorite descent. Its southern exposure allows it to corn-up sooner than the other routes. To reach the bowl, head south along the summit ridge, past the cross. There are actually a series of three bowls that can be descended, but we favor the first and largest of these. It is steep getting into the bowl and beware of cornices, but once in, the slope is a perfect 35 degrees for 2000'. Again, if you started at Spring Creek, you'll need to head north contouring across the slope into the Spring Creek Drainage well before you enter the trees.

Any way you hike it or ski it, Tallac is worth the effort.

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