Big Meadows to Dardanelles Lake
Round trip distance: ~7.5 miles
The Big Meadows trailhead is on California Hwy 89
pretty much midway between the junctions with Hwy
50 and Hwy 88. A sign marks its locations and is
located on the only stretch that curves like a long,
drawn-out “U”, with the open end pointing northward.
Being that I attempted this hike in early October
(weather getting colder) and on a Wednesday, I had
expected to have the trail largely to myself as had been
the case on midweek hikes over the previous 2 months.
I found, however, that there were a fair number of
people out enjoying the area – I encountered upwards
of 20 individuals or groups during my 4.5 hour
adventure. The Big Meadows trailhead has a fair
amount of parking and was no where near full.
However, given the activity on this chilly Wednesday, I
can imagine that parking can get rather tight on
weekends, especially during the warmer months.
The trail that initially leaves the parking area is wide
and easy for a few hundred feet and then crosses Hwy
89. once crossing the highway, the trail has large
number of switchbacks as it traverses a fairly steep,
wooded slope. While switchbacks help mitigate the
steepness of the slope, the moderate+ climb continues
without pause for ~15 minutes. Just after things level
off, the trail splits with the left fork (east) heading to
Scott Lake, while the right (west) leads to the others
(Round, Meiss, and Dardanelles). The fork is well
marked with a wooden post marker.
Taking the right fork, almost immediately opens up
into Meiss Meadow. The meadow allows a scenic
view of the surrounding hills and is an easy walk
following the climb from the road.
Enjoy the easy walk as once across the
meadow, the climbing begins again.
While not as steep as the previous
section, it is a largely unbroken climb
through the pines (and some poplars
with fall’s color change) for about 30-
40 minutes . The climb ends at a
saddle point between the surrounding
peaks, after which the trail continues
down the other side for about 10
Initial climb with switchbacks
climb to "summit"