Dardanelles Lake from Big Meadow Trailhead
Hiking to Dardanelles Lake from Big Meadow is a popular option for those who can’t wander too far from South Lake Tahoe, want to camp out for the night, and be back home in time for breakfast all while enjoying the unique beauty of the lake. As such, it can be quite crowded in the height of summer.
- Trailhead: Big Meadow Trailhead, 6 miles south of Meyers on CA89 – Open in Google Maps.
- Length: 7.8 miles round trip; 3-4 hours.
- Difficulty: Moderate; total elevation gain is roughly 1,000′ in the four miles to Dardanelles Lake.
- Usage: Hikers, horses, dogs, mountain bikes. No permits/fees required for Dardanelles Lake.
- Best Time for Photography: This hike is wonderful both during the early summer bloom and fall color changes.
- Are Drones Allowed: Yes.
- Trail Info Current: Aug 30, 2016
- Further Reading: Top Trails: Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Hikes For Everyone
- Go back to Lake Tahoe Hikes map
Dardanelles Lake from Big Meadow Trailhead
Allow me to step up on my soapbox first: this was another one of those trips where I ended up noticing and picking up garbage far more than I should. Soup cans, pieces of plastic, and toilet paper. Oh my God the toilet paper! If you don’t pack it out (bring a plastic grocery or ziplock bag for used TP) it needs to be buried at a minimum depth of 6″…and bury it under your poop. Bring something like the GSI Cathole Trowel for the hole; this trowel has instructions on digging a hole imprinted on it. And please, don’t do this right next to the water! Do your business at least 200 feet away from shore.
Imagine sitting in your living room and some stranger’s used TP blows through right in front of you, then your dog grabs it and starts eating it…
Back to the trail! You probably guessed that hiking to Dardanelles Lake is fairly popular due to its beauty and proximity to South Lake Tahoe. Big Meadow Trailhead fills up fast during the summer – get there early or park in one of the spots on the shoulder of the highway. The trail sees heavy use and follows the Tahoe Rim Trail for most of the way.
The trail to Dardanelles Lake from Big Meadow starts with a series of switchbacks after crossing the highway from the parking lot. It’s a 300-foot climb in roughly a half mile, and then you’ll get to a signpost indicating a left turn for Scotts Lake. Stay right towards Meiss Meadow. You’ll quickly cross a bridge over Big Meadow Creek, a tributary of the Upper Truckee River, and enter Big Meadow.
Big Meadow is a beautiful meadow in spring and early summer. Wildflowers are everywhere, and the meadow is surrounded by beautiful pines under distant mountaintops. The trek through the meadow is a short half mile before reentering the pines and starting a steady, slow climb gaining 600 feet in one mile. This next mile is covered in pines and occasional stands of aspens. The trail will level off in a saddle and then abruptly turn right down the back side of the ridge.
You’ll start back down 300 feet while continuing south. You’ll get to a trail junction at the bottom of the descent with a creek and stands of aspens on the west side. Make a sharp right here, following the sign to Lake Valley. Going straight will take you further on the Tahoe Rim Trail towards Round Lake and Meiss Meadow. The trail junction to Dardanelles Lake will present itself two minutes after making the turn towards Lake Valley.
Take a left at the signpost for Dardanelles Lake, cross a creek, and make a climb towards Dardanelles Lake. I found this section of the hike to be particularly scenic. You’ll cross forks of the Upper Truckee multiple times. Stepping stones make it easy in low water but I imagine the crossings would be tougher in the spring and heavy snow years. Aspens begin to outnumber the pines, and you’ll pass another meadow with tall grass and huge lily pads.
The granite characteristics of Dardanelles Lake starts to show a half mile before reaching the lake; you’ll pass over a few big slabs of granite and make one final short ascent up some granite boulders before finally being rewarded with views of Dardanelles Lake. The trail joins the lake on the east side.
There are only a few campsites to the south, as the granite quickly rises out of the lake on this side. If you continue north, the trail wraps around the lake to the north and west, passing numerous suitable sites both on the lake side of the trail and on the opposite side. There’s a large peninsula with numerous campsites on it but these are more exposed and rocky with just small patches of dirt for a tent.
Enjoy the solitude if you go during shoulder season (there was only one other camper there on a Wednesday night at the end of August) or enjoy the company of dozens of new friends during the middle of summer! Take a dip in the water and cool off after your arrival.
Tips for hiking to Dardanelles Lake
- The trailhead at Big Meadow is extremely popular – get there early if you’re hiking to Scotts Lake in peak season!
- Perhaps bring an extra trash bag to pack out trash that you may find when you get there – it sucks, but this lake is busy and you’ll be paying it forward by making this lake more pristine.