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~~Last updated March 2003~~

     Tahoe Rim Trail     

Big Meadow Trailhead

Big Meadow to Dardanelles Lake

  • Trail Location: Big Meadow Trailhead is located on Hwy. 89 at Luther Pass, 5 1/2 miles south of the junction of Hwy. 50, Meyers (5 miles from South Lake Tahoe, CA)
  • Trailhead Parking: There is lots of parking available with an area for horse trailers
  • Trail Difficulty: Moderate - some rocky and steep sections
  • Topo Map: 7.5 Freel Peak & 7.5 Echo Lake (69k)
  • Trail Photos: Coming!
  • Trail Description: Follows lower on this page
  • Trail Length: Approx. 10 miles round trip
  • Camping: A few choice camping spots at Dardanelles Lake. See related story below. Fire permit required. Contact USFS.
  • Water and grazing availability: You will cross  Big Meadow Creek within the first 1/2 mile, then there will be 2 - 3 more crossings of smaller creeks. Caution: Filter all water for human consumption! Grazing in Big Meadow and in small meadows along the trail. Grazing at Dardanelles Lake (below) is marginal; best spot in lilypond at outlet.
  • Trail High Points/Low Points: High: Big Meadow bursting with buttercup flowers (picture) in spring. Low: Getting to Dardanelles Lake on a day ride and realizing you should have brought your sleeping bag and stayed a while!

    Trail Description:

    Follow the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT Home Page) through Big Meadow towards Round Lake. At the intersection of the Big Meadow/Christmas Valley trails, turn right, downhill. Continue another ½ mile. Be on the lookout for the trail to Dardanelles on your left. Every year this junction looks different. There has been a 4 x 4 post trail marker but it has disappeared. A huge downed red fir blocked the trail for a while. The trail to Dardanelles Lake drops to a creek crossing. Don't worry if your horse won't drink here, you'll cross water a few more times.

    This trail is beautiful in the spring (July, mountain time), with meadows and wildflowers interspersed through pine, fir, lodgepole, and aspen forests. There is a small granite slab to cross midway to the lake. If you are uncomfortable with this, get off and walk across. My horse is very cautious on granite slabs. I can feel him tip-toeing gingerly across.

    Dardanelles Lake from above Before you come to the lake, the trail gets rocky and kind of steep. You'll be leaping up granite steps. As you crest to within view of the lake, stop and gander at Dardanelles.This gem of an alpine lake has an impressive rock wall jutting out of the south end. Look carefully for the trail to the right. It crosses above the lake on a narrow granite shelf, then continues around the north (right) side of the lake. Follow the trail all the way around to the peninsula. Don't follow the foot trail where it crosses the small dam, but veer right and cross through the small lily pond.
    Once you scramble up the other side and pick your way through the rock, you'll be out on the peninsula. It's really worth the trouble to get to. Walk out to the end. Granite slabs angle into the lake and make for excellent sun bathing spots. Tie your horse, or let him graze on the sparse grass. 


    The camping spot in the trees on the peninsula has been the host of many wonderful memories of me and my friends camping. Dardanelles Lake may not seem like a destination back country packing spot, as it is easily done round trip in a day ride, but its closeness makes it easy for groups to get together and feel as though they are tucked away far into the wilderness. The trail dead ends at the lake, so there is no through-fare traffic. It is an extremely popular camping/hiking/fishing/picnic destination, so don't expect this little gem of a lake to be deserted. But again, the easy access makes for a fun, quick gathering of friends for an over nighter.
    More than once, my friends and I have packed in camping equipment and gourmet meals for all our friends who would hike in or ride their mountain bikes. On one such particular outing, we had a sumptuous meal planned with steaks, salmon, rice, salad, potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, and SOMEONE (not mentioning names, PATRICK)  forgot to pack any eating utensils. Well, instead of making 14 people rip steaks with their incisors and balance rice on a twig, my friend jumped on his half-mustang mare and galloped back to the trailhead, tied his mare to a tree, jumped into his truck and dashed the two miles to his house for the box of plastic utensils sitting on the counter. He actually made it back to camp before the sun went down! We settled around the blazing fire with tin cups of cabernet and forks to eat the salad with!

    Deanne with Gabe all packed up on the trail to Dardanelles Lake, July, 1997

    If you haven't done much packing, I'd suggest Dardanelles Lake for a close-by, but beautiful and scenic over nighter. The lake usually offers great fishing. One camping trip 12 - 16 trout were BBQ'd for everyone's enjoyment. 

    The grazing at the lake is skimpy, however. You'll have to lead your horse around for hours to nibble enough to sustain him. The lily pond usually has lots of razor grass. Depending on the water level, there may be a lot to graze here. Since this camp spot is close by and I usually only go for one or two nights, I pack extra grain, bran, and carrots for treats. If you want to pack in a group for a few days, take an extra mule with a few bales of hay or cubes strapped on.

    Oh, yes, take plenty of fly spray! Fly masks are great, too (for the horses, silly!).

Created by: Deanne Del Vecchio, of Tahoe Design
Copyright © 1996 - 2006, by Deanne Del Vecchio. All Rights Reserved.

Site Originally Created October 24, 1996. 

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