Hiking Cathedral Meadow (via SR 89 near Fallen Leaf Lake in South Tahoe)

Cathedral Meadow and Aspen trees

Cathedral Meadow is accessible year-round. Hike there during the warmer months, and then snowshoe and cross-country ski in the snowy ones. The area is often wet early in the summer since Cathedral Meadow is located near Taylor Creek and Fallen Leaf Lake. This is particularly evident after a big winter at Lake Tahoe. But because the meadow can hold moisture, it’s home to many varieties of wildflowers throughout the spring and summer.

In the fall, the Aspen grove adjacent to Cathedral Road illuminates the area with its lemon yellow leaves. And the spawning Kokanee Salmon set Taylor Creek ablaze with their bold red scales.

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From the Aspen grove in Cathedral Meadow area, you can see inspiring views of Mount Tallac. You can catch more great views of Mount Tallac from the other side of the bridge crossing the Fallen Leaf Lake outflow.

Since the Cathedral Meadow area is essentially flat, this is a great location to take the young and old. The hike might be short, but it’s definitely fun!

Bear claw stratch on an Aspen Tree at Cathedral Meadow
If you look closely in the Aspen grove at Cathedral Meadow, you’re sure to find numerous trees that show the markings of a bear. I photographed this bear scratch on October 12, 2014, and you can still find it today, perhaps just a little higher on the tree! © Jared Manninen

Please note that there’s increased bear activity in the Cathedral Meadow area in the Fall. This higher activity usually coincides with the Kokanee Salmon Spawning season. So if you happen to actually spot a bear in the area, keep your distance. And, don’t try to take a selfie with the bear!

Bear warning aside, one of the most unique aspects about hiking Cathedral Meadow is the abundance of bear claw scratches on the Aspens. For this reason alone, I highly recommend taking a walk through the meadow in order to spot as many scratch marks as possible. I imagine kids would love doing this because, well, I do!

Scroll down for a gallery of bear claw scratches I found on August 28, 2019.

It’s cool that bears and other wildlife mar up trees because this is their habitat. And the markings provide insight into their behavior.

However, it’s not cool for humans to carve up live trees.

So unless you’re a Basque shepherd living in the area during the mid-1800s and you’re trying to communicate with fellow shepherds, don’t carve into the trees!

Cathedral Meadow Trail Data (approximations):

  • Location: South Tahoe – Fallen Leaf Lake
  • Category of Hike: Short Hike
  • Category of XC Ski/Snowshoe Route: Beginner
  • Total Mileage: 2.5 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain: 100 feet
  • Highest Point: 6,375 feet
  • Trail Conditions: Hard-packed soil and rocks, meadow (portions submerged in wet months)

For other shorter hiking options, visit Short and Easy Hikes in South Lake Tahoe.

Considerations for Hiking Cathedral Meadow:

  • Sno-Park permits are required between November 1st and May 30th
  • The portion of trail leading through the Aspens can be submerged in water during wet months
  • Dogs are allowed, but keep them on leash and pick up after them
  • Adhere to all Leave No Trace principles
  • There are few trail signs and markers on public lands in the Tahoe region, so unless there are tracks to follow, the correct route may be difficult to identify — when in doubt, turn back
  • Prepare for inclement weather by carrying warm clothes, food, and water
  • Leave an itinerary of your plans with someone who’ll call emergency services if you don’t return by your prescribed time
Click on the above map to enlarge it for printing and better viewing. This map is only for reference and shows the general route along Taylor Creek to Cathedral Meadow. Always carry a traditional topographic map and compass when traveling in the backcountry.

Parking Directions for the Cathedral Meadow Hiking Trail:

Park at the Taylor Creek Sno-Park located a half mile north of the Taylor Creek Bridge on SR 89. As you enter the Sno-Park, choose the lot on the left and park near its southern side.

To park in this lot between November 1 – May 30, you must display a Sno-Park permit in your vehicle. So, purchase your day pass or season pass in town prior to arriving because you can’t buy a Sno-Park permit at the actual Sno-Park.

Be cautious about parking along SR 89 during the winter months if you don’t have a Sno-Park permit. On-street parking in Tahoe is prohibited when snow removal operations are running.

You’ll find the trailhead on the south side of the left parking lot in the Sno-Park. There aren’t any signs indicating a trailhead. However, there’s a well-traveled path leading up the hill and out of the parking lot.

An alternate parking area is located further up from the Sno-Park along Cathedral Road. Parking along the wooden fence near the Aspen grove at Cathedral Meadow will decrease your hiking distance by about half.

Here’s a map to assist you in finding the parking area for accessing Cathedral Meadow.

Travel along the Cathedral Meadow Hiking Trail:

Immediately following the short hump out of the parking lot, follow the trail to the right. And you’ll be on your way.

The hiking trail is sandwiched between Cathedral Road and Taylor Creek. It travels about 1.25 miles to the bridge that crosses the Fallen Leaf Lake outflow.

There are forks in the trail, but they link together to combine for approximately 2.5 miles of trails.

It’s well worth your time to hike to the outflow of Fallen Leaf Lake and cross the small bridge. You’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of Mount Tallac while looking west toward Desolation Wilderness.

Again, keep in mind that the area through the Aspen grove can be wet in the spring and early summer. This all depends, of course, on the previous winter’s snowpack. But, essentially, the trail through the Aspens can literally be submerged in water. And this can last well into June. So, avoid hiking through the Aspens when this is the case.

Even in wet conditions, however, the main trail that runs parallel to Taylor Creek is typically dry enough to hike.

Copyright © 2016 Jared Manninen
Mount Tallac spied through spring Aspen trees at Cathedral Meadow on May 16, 2016. © Jared Manninen

Without question, Cathedral Meadow is a stellar location to find wildflowers in the spring. But it’s also a beautiful location in which to see the changing colors of Aspen leaves during the fall.

For other shorter hiking options, visit Short and Easy Hikes in South Lake Tahoe.

Mount Tallac with golden-colored Aspen trees in the foreground
View of Mount Tallac From the outlet of Fallen Leaf Lake on October 12, 2014. © Jared Manninen

During those bigger snow years, Cathedral Meadow is an easily accessible location in which to cross-country ski and snowshoe. But because it’s located lower in elevation, it takes time for snow to accumulate enough to necessitate skis or snowshoes.

For that reason, though, Cathedral Meadow is a good place to hike during low-snow winters!

Bear claw scratches on an Aspen tree
A hasty stich job of three photos of the same tree. But, I felt it fun enough to include here because it illustrates multiple bear claw scratches that extend over 20 feet up on an Aspen tree at Cathedral Meadow. They could be there from a bear climbing the tree. © Jared Manninen

Do you have other insight, feedback, or trail updates about hiking Cathedral Meadow?

If so, please post it in the comment section below for the benefit of everybody 🙂