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South Lake Tahoe Hiking Trails: Round Lake from Big Meadow

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Round Lake from Big Meadow Trailhead

The area between Carson Pass and Luther Pass is full of a network of trails and small little lakes.  And since it’s not in designated Wilderness, this area is a popular spot for backpackers unable to get a permit in Desolation or Mokelumne Wilderness areas.  Round Lake is one of these destinations.

  • 500MilesTrailhead: Big Meadow Trailhead, 6 miles south of Meyers on CA89  – Open in Google Maps.
  • Length: 6.6 miles round trip; 3 hours.
  • Difficulty: Moderate; there’s almost 1,000′ of climb getting in to Round Lake – mostly in the beginning.
  • Usage: Hikers, horses, dogs, mountain bikes.  No permits/fees required for Round Lake.
  • Best Time for Photography: This area is famous for wildflowers in late spring & early summer.
  • Are Drones Allowed: Yes.
  • Trail Info Current: Aug 13, 2017
  • Further Reading: 500 Miles of South Lake Tahoe Hikes
  • Go back to Lake Tahoe Hikes map
round lake

Click on map for Gaia GPS track information

Round Lake from Big Meadow Trailhead

I was hesitant initially to backpack for an overnighter at Round Lake on a Saturday night in the middle of summer, especially since Round Lake is right on the Tahoe Rim Trail.  See, this area requires no permits and so it’s usually full of people who couldn’t get the relatively few wilderness permits available in the area.  But I was surprised by the number of quality campsites available at the lake!

There are two ways to get to Round Lake.  Going through Big Meadow is probably more popular than going in through Carson Pass.  The Big Meadow parking area is on the north side of Hwy 89 and is signed well so you won’t miss it.  The parking area fills up quickly, especially in the summer, so get there early.

Walk southwest from the parking area towards Hwy 89 and cross at the trail crossing sign for the Tahoe Rim Trail.  Be careful for cars coming downhill from the east, they’ll be coming around a blind curve and going fast!

The first part of the hike to Round Lake starts with a series of switchbacks to Big Meadow.  You’ll gain about 300′ in elevation in a half mile, then hit wide open Big Meadow.  There’s a nice little stream and pool under the bridge crossing for the doggies to cool off.

Big Meadow

After crossing Big Meadow you’ll get back into the shade, and stay in the shade for the rest of the trail.  A slow, steady climb will take you up another 700′ or so over the next mile.  Then you’ll hit a ridge and start downhill towards the intersection with Dardanelles Lake.  You’ll see a sign at the bottom of the hill; take a right to Dardanelles but we’ll continue straight to Round Lake this time.

The next half-mile is a shallow climb through some interesting volcanic rock towards Round Lake.  The identifying geologic feature of this side of the valley is volcanic; the other side of the valley is glacial.  It’s really quite an interesting contrast.  Round Lake will jump out at you coming over a small hill, and you’ll see remnants of a volcano towering over the east side of the lake.

Volcanic rock along the trail to the north of Round Lake

There are a few campsites right along the trail if you continue south down the east side of Round Lake; the better option for camping is to take the trail fork west on the north side of Round Lake.  You’ll find many more campsites off this trail, spread out along the north and west shores.  The west shore is rising granite but there are a few suitable campsites here.

If you’re out for a long day hike, some other great destinations along this trail to check out include Meiss Meadow to the south and Dardanelles Lake to the north.


Tips for hiking to Round Lake

  • I said it before – get to the Big Meadow parking area early if you want to get in here in the peak of summer!
  • If all of the campsites are full, I’d continue south towards Meiss Meadow before backtracking to Dardanelles.  If Round Lake is full, you can bet Dardanelles is too.

Corrections, suggestions, or questions?  Please leave a comment below!

Marjorie Williams

Monday 21st of October 2019

Can you walk to this trailhead from Luther Pass Campground?

John Peltier

Monday 21st of October 2019

Hi Marjorie, for sure. It's going to be about a half-mile uphill from the campground to the trailhead, depending on where in the campground you are, but they're really close. You can just follow the campground road to the trailhead.