Floating Island Lake & Cathedral Lake
If you don’t have the time to summit Mt Tallac – or the physical means – you should at least start the trail and see if you can make it to these two scenic, small lakes on the way to the summit.
- Trailhead: Mt Tallac Rd, south of CA89 & Baldwin Beach.
Open in Google Maps.
- Length: 5.2 miles round trip; 2 hours.
- Difficulty: This is a fairly easy trail with little spurts of moderate climbs.
- Usage: Hikers, pets allowed. Free permit required at trailhead.
- Best Time for Photography: Mt Tallac gets some soft morning light on it but your views will mostly be of Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake, and afternoon light is best for that.
- Are Drones Allowed: Not within Desolation Wilderness. Entire trail lies within five miles of Lake Tahoe Airport.
- Trail Info Current: July 10, 2017
- Further Reading: Top Trails: Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone
- Go back to Lake Tahoe Hikes map
Floating Island Lake & Cathedral Lake Hike
The hike to Cathedral Lake shares the same trail as that to summit Mt. Tallac, and the trailhead is easy to find. Go north on CA89 out of South Lake Tahoe, towards Emerald Bay. You’ll see signs for the trail after Camp Richardson. Turn left at the trail marked Mt. Tallac and Camps Concord & Shelly, across from Baldwin Beach. Keep following the signs for the Mt. Tallac trail from there. Parking is available right at the trailhead but it can fill up quickly in the summer, especially on the weekends. Fill out a free permit at the trail kiosk.
The beginning of Mt. Tallac trail is wooded and winds its way up to the ridge overlooking Fallen Leaf Lake. Once on the ridge, you’ll get some awesome views of Fallen Leaf Lake and Lake Tahoe. The trees on the west side of the trail will block the afternoon sun and still give you unobstructed vistas east. The trail has an easy, gradual climb up the ridge but there’s plenty of ankle-rolling rocks here so be careful!
The trail leaves the ridge after about a mile and a half and climbs towards Desolation Wilderness and Floating Island Lake, your first destination. You’ll be in the shade for almost the entire remainder of the trail, and when the creek is flowing it’ll help you stay cool. You’ll get to Floating Island Lake shortly after entering Desolation Wilderness and climbing a few switchbacks. The far side of the lake is marshy and mostly inaccessible, and the near side of the lake doesn’t have a lot in the way of great places to stop for a break. Continue to Cathedral Lake for that. Floating Island Lake still is, however, very scenic.
You’ll cross Cathedral Creek a few times continuing past Floating Island Lake towards Cathedral Lake. You’ll occasionally get some great views straight up to Mt. Tallac, and if you look behind you, Lake Tahoe. Cathedral Lake is just about the same size as Floating Island Lake but is a much better place to stop for lunch.
From 7,600′ Cathedral Lake you can turn around or continue a couple more miles up to 9,735′ Mt. Tallac.
Tips for the Floating Island & Cathedral Lakes Hike
- Bring plenty of mosquito repellant, especially in wet seasons. You may not think you’ll need it in the beginning but you will once you leave the ridge.
- Mt. Tallac is a difficult scramble, is exposed to the sun, and can hold snow late into the season. Please don’t attempt it if you have doubts about summiting.