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This great Day hike near South Lake Tahoe using the Big Meadow Trail Head of HWY 89 is a great day hike in all seasons.

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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
Meiss Meadow
saddlepoint "summit"
climb to "summit"
minutes to another trail junction and marker. Continuing straight (south) will take you to Round Lake,
Meiss Lake, and Carson Pass. The other option (northwest) begins the Lake Valley trail that in 3 – 5
minutes branches off the spur to Dardanelles Lake (west). A wooden post marker clearly marks the
The spur has a number of steam crossings, two almost immediately after leaving the Lake Valley trail.
While the trail is primarily a gentle downhill stretch following a stream and, in contrast to the trail thus
far, contains many lengthy sections that are largely flat. After 30-40 minutes, one reaches a short,
rocky section of moderately steep uphill that the comes out at the lake.
The lake has a number of interesting areas to explore. One
side has a large pinnacle of sheer rock the shoot up right next
to the lake, while the opposite side has large rocky slabs that
angle gently down into the water. It might be useful at this
point to make careful note where the trail out is located
relative to the lake. While the area is not so large that one
could get lost for a significant amount of time, if you are
racing the sun as I was, doing so can reduce both anxiety and
time when beginning the trek back. A reasonably well defined
trail heads around the northish side of the lake to the rock
slabs and a number of interesting campsites nestled among
them. The slabs are great as they allow one to walk into the
water and back out with minimal dirt sticking to wet feet and
allowing footwear to be put back on with relative ease (guess
what I do when I get to a mountain lake). From here it is
possible to circumnavigate the lake, however, the path to do so
is not so clear and and requires a lot of picking your own trail
and trial and error. However, it is possible to make it between
the lake and sheer pinnacle without walking through water.
On my trip, it was about two hours from the parking lot to the slab rocks, 20-30 minutes for rest and a
snack, and another two hours to pick my way around the far side of the lake and get back to the parking
trail entrance/exit
Dardanelles looking toward slab rocks
at slab rocks looking toward pinnacle
All in all, this is a very enjoyable trip. The scenery is beautiful, the lake clear and clean (and in warmer
months a plunge in would be great for cooling off), junctions well marked, and the trails clear and
pretty much obvious throughout.
The best free map I found for the trip :