The Tippy Top of Lake Tahoe – Hiking Mt Rose

To skip to the nuts and bolts, click here.
The rock feels cold on my hands as I stare off into the distance. My mind is blank, empty, just enveloped in the moment. I’ve made it.The breeze brings a chill as the sweat evaporates off of my body. I breathe deeply. The sun’s strength is gaining, struggling against the increasing winds to wrap me in its warmth. I see the strip of trail across the valley, the lake off in the distance, and endless horizon of mountains and valleys below. Above me the sky stretches out with wispy clouds like fingers outstretched welcoming me into this beautiful day. In this moment I feel small. I am alive. It’s perfect.

If only the day had started out that way. It was just one of those mornings. The alarm goes off – 6am – late start for me and I just roll over and hide. “Buuuhhhhhh” I moan. “Can’t we just sleep in, we don’t have to go.”

“Ohhh come on, get up, we’re going.” Chirped Squirrel.
I looked out the window, the sun was rising over the vast beautiful blue gem that is Lake Tahoe. A chilly breeze lazily sauntered through the window. I pulled the covers up over my head for just a moment, took a few breaths, and reluctantly kicked it all away and hopped out of bed into the brisk morning air.
We pulled into the trail head around 7:20am and found the lot surprisingly full. I was worried that we showed up a bit too late. Once we got going I was pleasantly surprised to find the trail practically empty, passing only a small handful of people on the way up. The first several miles were gentle, relatively flat, and very beautiful.
Looking back at the start of the uphill after crossing the valley
I’m usually very excited to hike, but my head wasn’t in the game that morning. Hiking is more a mental game than it is a physical one. Sure, you need to be in relatively decent shape – ie be able to make forward progress, no matter your method. You’re capable of much more than you give yourself credit for. However, that day I made classic mental mistakes on the mountain.
The approach to this mountain is longer. Although the trail is easy and you can keep a good pace, it takes a minute to reach the base of this bad boy. I kept looking out into the distance thinking “Wow she’s so tall, and so far away.” which eventually leads to “Maybe not today.” or “I can’t do that.” Mentally the thoughts need to be in the moment, on the experience of where you are and your surroundings. Set small goals: I will make it to that rock, I will make it to that tree, I will make it to the next switchback. There have definitely been climbs where Squirrel and I have thrown our hands up and shouted in celebration at each switchback we’ve rounded. Enjoy where you are and what you are doing. Relish in each moment. Don’t get caught up in the destination. Hiking is about the path.

Trail Squad enjoying the journey

Trail Facts

Directions to trail head:

This trail head is pretty easy to spot and well marked. Right off of Mt Rose Highway (the 431). There are signs once you crest the ridge of the pass (coming from Reno it’s on your right). It’s paved and well marked with a huge trail head and toilets. The trail is just behind the building.
The start of the trail, right off Mt Rose Highway

Length/time of hike:

10 miles
It took us 5 hours round trip with about 1/2 hours worth of breaks. We are well seasoned high-altitude hikers and I was having an off day. Keep in mind the average pace is about 2 miles an hour. If you haven’t done much hiking at higher elevations build in more time for your hike.

Highest Elevation:

This is the tallest peak in the Nevada side of Tahoe at 10,778′

Elevation Gain:

1,867. Note that most of this gain is done in the last 2 to 2-1/2 miles.


The first 2.5 miles are very easy. Flat, smooth trail with gentle slopes until just past the waterfall. Then the difficulty ramps up quite a bit with a steady steep incline with no switchbacks for a few miles. Thankfully, the trail runs flat on a ridge for several hundred yards, then a grueling switchback grind above the trees to the summit. Overall I would rate this hike moderate to strenuous. I’ve had tougher days and hiked tougher trails, but the lack of switchbacks on the initial ascent is a lung buster and definitely the most challenging segment of this hike.

View factor:

Absolutely stunning. You get a great view of both Lake Tahoe, Truckee area, and Reno.
View looking towards Donner and Truckee

Dog Friendly:

ย Yes. There were lots of dogs on this hike, only saw ours on the summit trail although it is very doable for a dog. Not a lot of tough rock or scree until the very end. Click here to learn more about paw protection on the trail. More than half the people had their dogs off leash, although I believe the trailhead has signs that pets must be leashed. Also no mountain bikers is a plus.


This trail is pretty crowded if you don’t start early (see below). 3/4 of the people are only really headed to the waterfall or just past. We hardly saw a soul on the way up and encountered most of the traffic on the way down. It isn’t as crowded as a Colorado 14er (click here for 14er tips), but there was still a crowd.

Arrival Time:

My tip is to ALWAYS start early. Think of when the average person would want to start a 10 mile hike to a summit, then start 2 hours earlier than that. We hit the trail head by 7:20am and I would say that would be the absolute latest time to get going – 6:30 would have been perfect. We had a good 10 minutes on the summit by ourselves, stuck around for another 5 minutes or so then headed down. Low and behold, on the way down we easily passed 10 groups within a quarter mile of the summit. I just have an inkling for when to start and I frequently end up just missing or completely beating the crowd. Getting up early to hike always pays off.
Also, be weather aware! Do not attempt this hike if there is bad weather and watch your surroundings. Storms can roll in quickly and given this is the highest point for miles I would not recommend exposing yourself to bad weather above tree line.
Mother Nature is stunning
Thanks for stopping by and don’t forget to subscribe!
Happy Adventuring!

3 thoughts on “The Tippy Top of Lake Tahoe – Hiking Mt Rose

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s