I love to hike, but I don’t get into nature as often as I would like. Work, family, and other commitments seem to find a way to take up more of my time than I planned on. But when I am able to head up into the mountains around beautiful Lake Tahoe for a challenging hike, heading to the summit of Mt. Rose is a challenge that I truly enjoy.
The Mt. Rose Summit Trail is a five-mile hike (ten miles round-trip) that will challenge you with just under 1,900 feet of elevation gain as you ascend to 10,776 feet and reach the summit. I think of the trail leading to the summit as two very unique and distinct trails rather than one continuous trail. After the initial ascent from the parking lot, the first half of the trail meanders through a beautiful pine forest as the moderately trafficked trail gradually ascends.
This is a popular area year-round. The parking lot was about half-full when I took the of the parking lot with Mt. Rose in the background in late October 2018. Several trails intersect the summit trail, and include the Tahoe Rim Trail, Tamarack Lake Trial, and offers additional peaks and summits to explore.
The hikes half-way point is marked by a peaceful meadow, lined by pine trees, and filled with fragrant manzanita. Off to the left as you face the summit of Mt. Rose sits a quaint waterfall that flows year-round. This is a great destination and turn around point if you have children with you, or if you just don’t feel like powering through and smoking your quads on your way to the summit.
Exploring the waterfall itself is a ton of fun! On either flank of the waterfall, you can climb the rocks to the top of the falls and cross the small creek that feeds it. The view of the meadow from the top of the falls is impressive and also provides a glimpse of what is ahead should you choose to continue to Mt Rose’s summit. Several other trails intersect in the area around the falls and offers other areas to explore.
If you choose to continue towards the summit, you might be fooled by the next quarter of a mile or so as you slowly climb out of the meadow along the mountainside. That gradual incline quickly steepens as the serious assent begins and you say goodbye to anything resembling “downhill” until you reach the summit.
As your ascent continues along the trail, you will notice that traffic along the path reduces dramatically and proper trail etiquette becomes more common as people heading down from the summit yield to those who are ascending up the trail. As you continue up the mountain and pass through the tree line, you will quickly notice that any protection from the wind that was provided by the pine trees below you are absent.
The final half-mile or so is a challenge because of the steepness of the trail, and the exposure to the elements on windy days or in the case of inclement weather. As you wind through a series of switchbacks, the dirt trail is replaced by loose rocks as you begin the final push along the north side of the mountain. With your legs burning form the final stretch to the summit of Mt. Rose, you will be rewarded by the most fantastic view of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding area that I have yet seen.
The summit is a great place to have a snack, re-hydrate, and enjoy the views of the area, and enjoy what you just accomplished! As you begin your descent, you will likely notice the false summit that you missed on your way up the mountain. At least, I missed it as I summited Mt. Rose for the first time. This is a great spot to take a picture that will provide perspective as to just how steep the final assent REALLY is!
After every time that I summit Mt. Rose, when I get back to my car, I look back up at that impressive mountain with a combination of excitement about what I just accomplished and reverence for the mountain itself. I have read reviews of the Mt. Rose Summit Trail that have described the hike as “easy.” Maybe those people are ultra-marathon runners or super advanced hikers, but I have always considered the second half of the hike, and that final ascent quite a challenge, but one that I enjoy.
One last note about Mt. Rose is about the weather on its summit. It is often very windy on top of Mt. Rose in addition to the temperature drop that occurs because of the increase in altitude. If you plan to summit Mt. Rose, check the weather forecast, and plan accordingly. Even if the weather forecast is for warm weather and little, to no, wind, I will still pack a thin pair of pants (or wear pants with zip-off legs) and a light sweatshirt that will block the wind. Mountains are known for creating their own weather, and Mt. Rose is no exception.
If you are in the Reno/Tahoe area and love hiking, then the Mt. Rose Summit Trail should be added to your bucket list. The views from the summit are beyond compare, and they make the hike more than worth the sore legs that you’ll likely feel the next day!