If you find yourself on the north shore of Lake Tahoe and looking for a spectacular day hike, look no further than the trail to Mount Rose. With a summit elevation of 10,776 feet, Mount Rose is the third tallest peak in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Freel Peak (10,881’) and Jobs Sister (10,823’) are the first and second highest, respectively. Although the Mount Rose Trail is well-traveled and considered by some people to be the most popular hiking trail in all of Nevada, it’s well worth your time and effort to hike to the top. No matter how packed the parking lot appears when you arrive, over the course of the 5.5 miles (one-way) there’s plenty of space for everyone. This is especially evident on the second half of the trek uphill because the elevation gain increases quite a bit, causing everyone to settle into their own hiking rhythm. In the spring and summer you’ll witness amazing displays of wildflowers around the Galena Falls and Creek area. And, no matter the season, you’ll always be rewarded with incredible panoramic views extending south to Freel Peak (and Jobs Sister and Jobs Peak) and well beyond Reno to the north. On a crystal clear day, you may even catch a glimpse of Mount Shasta far to the northwest.
Trail Data (approximations):
- Location: North Tahoe – Mount Rose HWY/SR 431 – Mount Rose Summit Trailhead
- Category of Hike: Day Hike
- Total Mileage: 11 miles (out-and-back)
- Total Elevation Gain: 2,500 feet
- Highest Point: 10,776 feet (Mount Rose summit)
- Trail Condition: Hard-packed sand and rocky terrain (near summit)
- Click to download the GPX file for the Mount Rose Trail
- Arrive at the trailhead early enough in the day to secure a parking spot as the lot fills up quickly, particularly on weekends during the warmer months
- There have been more reports in previous years about thefts and break-ins at this particular trailhead due to its easy access via Mount Rose Highway, so don’t leave anything valuable or visible in your vehicle when parking
- The trail to Mount Rose is only moderately strenuous but because it’s so exposed during the last two miles, be prepared for relatively extreme weather changes (compared to the first few miles of the trail)
- 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
- Be prepared for inclement weather and carry plenty of food, water, and warm clothes
- Leave an itinerary of your plans with someone who’ll call emergency services if you don’t return by your prescribed time
- Dogs are allowed, but keep them on leash and pick up after them
Parking for the Mount Rose Trail is straightforward. Simply drive to the top of Mount Rose Highway (from either Incline Village or Reno depending on which direction you’re coming from) and pull into the huge (free) parking lot. There are toilets located at the parking lot.
Don’t let the size of this parking lot fool you, however. If you arrive in the middle of the day on a weekend, the parking lot might be full. Not only does it serve the hikers headed to Mount Rose, but also hikers heading to Tahoe Meadows or Relay Peak and/or entering and exiting the Tahoe Rim Trail. Also, the parking area is used by mountain bikers either riding the Tamarack Trail or the Flume Trail. If the parking lot is full and you need to park along the Mount Rose Highway, just be sure to adhere to all posted signs regarding parking.
A note of caution regarding parking at the Mount Rose Summit Trailhead … there have been reports of increased theft at this parking lot due to it being located directly off of Mount Rose Highway (i.e. easy access and getaway route). My suggestion is to leave your valuables at home or in your hotel room and make the interior of your vehicle look as empty as possible. Unfortunately, even a small handbag or duffel bag sitting on the back seat of your vehicle is tempting enough for a thief to commit larceny.
The trailhead to Mount Rose is at the lake side of the parking lot, near the toilets.
Here’s a map to help you find the Mount Rose Summit Tahoe Rim Trail Trailhead.
Begin at the trailhead located on the lake (Incline Village) side of the parking lot near the toilets.
Walk along the well-worn path for a short distance to the official trailhead, complete with information about the Tahoe Rim Trail and signage listing the distances to various trails and locations in the immediate area. Although there are a handful of trails and destinations that the Mount Rose Trail connects with and leads to, there aren’t so many choices that you’re going to get lost. Again, everything about the hike to Mount Rose is pretty straightforward. So, head up the granite steps and begin your journey in earnest to Mount Rose.
The first major junction is at about 2.5 miles where you’ll find Galena Falls. From here you could hike along the Tahoe Rim Trail in the direction of Relay Peak, but this is not the hike we’re doing today. Galena Falls, however, is a worthwhile place to stop and cool down before heading uphill for the rest of the hike to the top. Once refreshed, take the trail to the northeast. This trail will be obvious thanks to a sign and the fact that Mount Rose is clearly visible from this location.
Just past Galena Creek, you’ll find a small intersection with an off-shoot trail that leads to Relay Peak Road. You could technically make a loop out of your return trip by heading down to this road and then traveling along it all the way back to Mount Rose Highway (and then briefly walk along the highway en route to the parking lot). However, I don’t recommend this option. I’ve hiked around the Relay Peak area including some distance along the road, and it reminded me too much of an abandoned set used in an episode of the Twilight Zone. I’m a huge fan of the Twilight Zone, but this is not the “nature” experience I want when out on a hike. So, I recommend just traveling the out-and-back trail to Mount Rose.
Once you start heading uphill from Galena Falls you’ll be in and out of some sparse forests, but ultimately you’re going to be dealing with a lot of exposure. So, be prepared for intense sun and wind on this 2.5 mile stretch to the top. My most recent hike of Mount Rose was on November 11, 2018, and it was bitter cold for the last uphill mile due to the time of season and the 35+mph winds that were gusting. Needless to say, I didn’t stick around the top much longer than it took to snap some photographs and capture a short video.
Another note about the 2.5 mile uphill stretch is that there are a handful of sections adjacent to fairly steep drop-offs. I say this only because I’ve hiked with friends who are skittish about heights and having to travel so close to an edge. In a conversation with one of my hiking partners, we both agreed that we wouldn’t even bother humoring the idea of taking those acrophobic friends to Mount Rose. Although this hike is nothing compared to Mount Whitney or the south side of Forester Pass (in the Southern Sierra) I could imagine that, depending on a person’s severity of acrophobia, parts of this hike may trigger their fears.
At the summit of Mount Rose there’s is a small rock wall area to tuck into on windy days, but this is a finite space. So, on popular peaks such as Mount Rose or Mount Tallac (for example), enjoy the top while eating some snacks and taking some photos, but be respectful of others by not camping out for an excessive amount of time. There’s nothing more annoying than having to battle what looks to be an Occupy Wall Street movement just to take a picture on the summit.
The trail continues east a short distance along the ridge, but those are bonus miles. Although they might be worth hiking if you did want to hang out up top for a longer amount of time and the peak is crowded.