Dardanelles Lake: A quick and beautiful fall hike

The easy access to wilderness at Lake Tahoe can be a double-edged sword. You can wake up late, lag a little bit and still hike to a gorgeous spot for lunch. The problem is so can everyone else.

But a lake like Dardanelles, off the Big Meadow Trailhead at the South Shore, is one of those areas that is close enough, and beautiful enough, that you won’t necessarily mind sharing the view.

The lake is about 3.5 miles south of the trailhead, located on Highway 89 north of Luther Pass. Following the Tahoe Rim Trail for the first couple miles, the hike takes you through the expansive open space that is Big Meadows before climbing into the shade of the forest.

A little more than two miles in, there’s a quick right-left combination that takes you the last mile and a half or so to the lake. There are a couple of climbs that can be strenuous over the course of the trail, but they’re short enough that the huffing and puffing can be kept to a minimum.

“Aspen trees and wildflowers along the trail make this an exceptionally scenic hike during the spring and fall,” according to a U.S. Forest Service description of the hike.

“The trail winds through willows before crossing two more streams,” the description continues. “A short climb leads you to Dardanelles Lake, surrounded by picturesque granite cliffs on one side and flat granite shelves on the other.”

A short hike up from Dardanelles provides distant glimpses of Lake Tahoe and a reminder of the size of the Upper Truckee River watershed. The camping sites around Dardanelles aren’t unlimited, but, with a little searching, there are plenty of flat, shaded spots that are plenty appropriate to lay your head.

The lake is part of Meiss (pronounced “mice”) Country between Luther and Carson Pass, according to the Forest Service.

The area is popular with day hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders so it’s a good idea to brush up on your trail etiquette before heading out. Hiking or overnight permits are not required, although the Forest Service requires a campfire permit for operation of a camp stove. Campfires are allowed in the area prior to fire restrictions, which begin in the spring or early summer and typically last until the beginning of winter. Parking is free at Big Meadow Trailhead.


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