The trek up to the summit of Mt. Rose is one of the most popular hikes in the state of Nevada, and it’s conveniently located for locals and tourists alike on northeast side of Lake Tahoe. You can find the Mt. Rose trailhead at the summit of State Route 431/Mt. Rose Highway. (A 30 minute drive from downtown Reno or a 15 minute drive from Incline Village.) The hike is 10 miles out and back and the trail is very well-defined and easy to follow. In hiking books, I generally see this trail rated as moderate, or a 3 out of 5 for difficulty, mainly for the 1,800 ft. gain in elevation.
The large parking lot is an indication of how busy this trail can get starting in July or as soon as the snow melts, so it’s best to get an early morning start to beat the crowds. These pictures were taken in October 2012 and the weather was perfect. We also hiked it in October 2010, and at that time, there was already quite a bit of snow and ice on the trail. The summit was completely covered with a foot (or more) of snow and getting to the top was more difficult. I recommend going when the trail is dry, it’s much more enjoyable. (However, if you’re near Mt. Rose when there is snow on the ground, the same parking lot provides a great starting point for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding.)
People have asked me if I think they can handle the hike, and I tell them to just give it a try. The first half is relatively flat and you walk through a lush meadow before you begin the big ascent. If you can’t make it up to the top, you can turn around and it will be an easy trek back to the parking lot. The meadow turns pretty shades of yellow in the fall and has a nice display of wildflowers in the summer. There’s also a beautiful waterfall (located near the halfway point).
After the meadow, as you begin to hike up (1,650 feet in 2.5 miles) the canyon, the summit seems to be more attainable, it’s within reach and you can actually see people (the size of ants) moving around up there. After you pass the old Mt. Rose Junction (9,125 ft.) the trail gets pretty steep and there are several sets of switchbacks, but the views keep getting better too… And eventually you make it to the summit!
If this is a helpful gauge as to whether or not you want to attempt the trail, here is my fitness (or lack thereof) level: I walk 2-3 miles most days. That’s pretty much it. Throw in cross-country skiing in the winter (when we have enough snow), riding my bike weekly when it’s nice out, and a bit of hiking (mostly at higher elevations). This hike is popular, not only because the location is easily accessible, but because it’s doable for most people. If the elevation is bothersome, take it slow and don’t forget to bring lots of water – and a snack to enjoy at the summit, you’re going to want to stay up there a while.
Notice there are no pictures between the meadow and the summit? That’s because I was breathing hard. Here are some on the way back down: