Dardanelles Lake via Big Meadow Trail

Dardanelles Lake
via Big Meadow Trail
Tahoe Rim Trail

I had visited Dardanelles Lake once a couple of years ago on a training hike with Search and Rescue. We bushwhacked our way through the Christmas Valley area and followed the river to the lake. I was only there for an hour or so, but remember it being a gorgeous lake and we decided it would be a great place to check out again, so we could both spend a little time there exploring. This time we would actually hike in on a trail though and it was decided to go via the Big Meadow Trail which is part of the Tahoe Rim Trail.  

We are packed and ready to go! 

Dardanelles Lake is kind of in the middle of nowhere. That doesn't mean that it's super private though. Quite a few people hike there via the Big Meadow trail, so don't expect to have the lake to yourself. But even with a little company, it's worth it. 

Big Meadow Trailhead off of Highway 89/Luther Pass

About 200 yards down the parking lot and you come to the trailhead marker. 

Follow the trail until it intersects with the Highway

Look both ways and run! The trail is over there...

Trailfie! We are on our way!

It's 10:30 and we should have plenty of time to get to the lake and set up camp before the rain begins. This could get interesting...

The trail starts out pretty rocky and is fairly steep here. 

But well maintained with stairs

The first marker. Follow it towards Meiss Meadow. 

Lots of Forestry work happening this year as they clean up the forest floor in this area. 

And here it is, the bridge to Big Meadow. 

And yes, suprisingly there is a Big Meadow....

The terrain changes after a mile or so, but still well maintained and heavily trafficked. This is an area with stairs. 

This is a multi-use trail. Hikers, Mountain Bikes, Equestrians, Dog Walkers are all welcome. 

The next marker is a switchback that is marked Valley Lake. 

Be sure to strike a pose when you make the turn...

Up and down over some rolling hills and you get to the Dardanelles marker. After reading a few other blogs and such, I hear that people often miss this one. It was pretty easy to spot on this trek today, but I could see how it could be hard to see in the winter months. 

There were several water crossings, all easily negotiated via these walkable rocks. 

Lots of huge redwoods. 

And here it is... Dardanelles Lake. 4 miles from the Big Meadow Trailhead. It's overcast and muggy, but the lake is beautiful. Many spots around the lake were taken, so we continued around the end of the lake to find a place to call home for the night. 

Through those trees is a little place we like to call home. 

And here it is... home.  A little more private than some. Missing the water views right from camp, but a great spot. 

A stones throw from camp is a great view of the lake

Camp. Set. 

Lunch by the lake. 
Turkey wraps made with Califlour crusts (cauliflower)
They are pretty delicious!!

Camp set, lunch eaten, now time for a serious nap!!

Kinda looking like rain... Let's hope this passes. 

Nope. Cue the rain... Thankfully it was just a light rain. Looks like we've gambled with the weather and won! 

But the water is glassy. So pretty. 

We had a little exploring to do around the lake. There are a few places to camp on this end of the lake, just a little harder to get to. 

Hoppity Skippity with a rock...

And back at camp, Chris points out that although that tree is leaning directly over our tent, it's still living, so we should be ok. Wait, what??? OMG. I didn't even notice it. Can I seriously go to bed with this huge tree leaning over us? I don't think so... 

Home Sweet Home. Again! 
This looks much safer...

Bring on the fire! Camping isn't really camping without a campfire. 

And a sunset by the lake. Oh wow. This was amazing. The colors just kept getting more brilliant as the sun set behind the hills. Gorgeous. Time for more campfire and bed. It's been a long week and we are both ready for some restful mountain sleep. 

Good Morning from Dardanelles!! Does it get any prettier than this? 

I couldn't stop taking pictures of the lake. The reflection of the clouds on the glassy morning water was stunningly beautiful. 

Postcard perfect. 

So, there is this large rocky prominence that can be seen from all sides of the lake. Hmmm. I wonder what's behind there. Can we get to Little Round Top from here? Maybe we should go on an adventure and check it out! We had both bacon pancakes and blueberry pancakes for breakfast from Chef Begg and we are carbed up and ready to go! 

I can't believe it! I looked down and here is a lucky penny right at camp! It was even heads up. I'm taking this one up to the highest point we can get to today. 

We are continuing to test out gear for our Whitney hike. We wanted to see how our large packs would be emptied out and used as a day pack. Surprisingly, we were both super happy with how comfortable they were when empty and compacted down. We both removed the top storage area and were carrying water, snacks and a layer or two. These are going to work out well for peak bags when we bag that Whitney peak! 

We are not only going to explore the road less traveled, we are going to the area never traveled. No signs of anyone being out this way. 

Except for the very large bear that left this... It's super fresh. They are close by. 
Our spidey senses were definitely heightened after seeing this. I have my bear bell on my pack and we made sure to start talking a little louder. Don't want to sneak up on a bear. 

Heart rocks were everywhere on this trail. I'll spare the 100 pics I took of them and just post one. 
You're welcome. 

Trail? What trail? Off trail provides the best views and the greatest adventures. I definitely prefer it over a highly trafficked trail. 

We cut through trees trying to find the end of the rocky prominence so we could make it over the ridge that was behind it. 

About a mile in, we found an area that looked crossable. 

So we kept climbing... Up and up we go!

These are the best adventures when we just head up the mountain. 
No idea what's up ahead. Hopefully not bears....

It was very steep in parts. Hard to really show it in pics, but we keeping a solid footing was challenging at times and not many hand holds to speak of. We just moved slowly and carefully up these grades. 

and up and up... We are getting there. 

Up this last chute towards the top was one of the hardest areas to navigate. 

Come on up! The views are amazing from up here!

Looking back down at Dardanelles Lake

Not a bad view 

Our lunch spot

We have a peak box with us, so the highest peak on this ridge we must find. Oh look, that's it over there! 


This isn't an official peak, so we are calling this a "cache box". 
My first deposit of cache... My lucky penny and an offering to the weather gods to allow us to get back to camp safely. 

Tethered to the tree. 

Coordinates to the cache. 

As we look overhead, those beautiful blue skies are disappearing. We have had thunder happening for a while now and things are a changing. We should probably make our way down off of this peak quickly. 

It's a good thing we started when we did. Shortly after leaving, we were met with thunder/lighting and rain...  We hid under the rock for a while, then when it started to lighten up, we dashed down the mountain a little bit more. And then it really kicked in. 

Holy Hail!!!
 Lots and lots of hail. It's coming straight down, no wind. We quickly had to find a large tree to hug. Of course, YESTERDAY was the day we were supposed to have crazy weather, so I left camp without my rain gear. Rookie move. All we had was Chris's windbreaker over our heads and a little shelter from the tree overhead. We may be hiding out here for a while. 

It just kept getting bigger and bigger. 

A small sampling, but they were bigger than this and were a little stingy when you got a direct hit. 
Ouch. But we made it safely back to camp. The rain is starting to break a little. We both agree that it's time to break camp and head out. This may continue for a while. 
Everything at camp is soaked. The hammocks weigh 5 pounds each and everything is a muddy mess. Good thing it's 90 degrees at home, our entire gear setup will all need drying out when we get there. 

And just like that, the adventure weekend is over. What a great time. More fun stories to tell. 
Gotta love afternoon thunderstorms in Tahoe. 

As we are leaving, the skies are clearing. 

Getting back to the meadow. 

Apparently it hailed here too. 

And for now we say goodbye to Big Meadow. What a fun time. Hail storm and all! 
It was 4 miles each way to the Lake. It seemed uphill in both directions, but mostly rollers. Would be a great trip for a family vacation or those new to backpacking as the trails are very well marked. Unless of course you decide to charge up the mountain, then all bets are off and you should have some navigating items with you...