Two alpine lakes, one day hike
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Lake Tahoe and Desolation Wilderness are two of the most popular outdoors destinations in the country for good reason.
They’ve got high mountain peaks, stunning alpine lakes and nearly perfect summertime hiking and backpacking weather.
But Lake Tahoe can be a little chaotic and Desolation requires a reservation for backpacking and isn’t open to mountain bikes.
It’s a good thing we’ve got Meiss Country Roadless Area. It’s located near both Desolation and Tahoe and shares lots of the same natural features but fewer restrictions.
We hiked in Meiss on a recent workday and in the span of a few hours were able to take in two alpine lakes and some beautiful mountain meadows that were filled with wildflowers.
The hike started from the Big Meadow Trailhead near Highway 89 between Myers, Calif., and Luther Pass. From there we hiked into Round Lake and made a side trip to Dardanelles Lake.
Trailhead parking was ample on a recent weekday but it fills up fast on weekends so it’s best to go early. There’s also a restroom and some interpretive signs and maps.
The route we took was mostly along the Tahoe Rim Trail, which was built and is maintained by Tahoe Rim Trail Association.
From the parking area it is a short walk to a crossing over Highway 89. After crossing the highway there’s about a half-mile of uphill hiking until you reach Big Meadow. This section is where you’ll spot the crossing for the trail to Scott’s Lake. If you want to add that to your trip it will be an extra five miles to get there and back.
Big Meadow is a classic mountain meadow that features a creek with a small wooden bridge and, when we were there, plenty of flowers.
The meadow is at about 7,500 feet in elevation and offers a nice, flat hike for about one-third of a mile before you start heading up and back into the forest.
From the edge of the forest there is about 500 feet of ascent in the next mile. You’ll top out on a ridge then drop down again for a third of a mile where you’ll reach the turnoff to Dardanelles Lake.
It’s a little more than a half mile from the intersection to Round Lake. If you make it to Round Lake you’ll find a large alpine lake with a great bottom for swimming. When we were there we saw two other groups swimming and there are likely many more on any given weekend.
If you take the side trip to Dardanelles you’ll be adding about 2.5 to three miles to your overall hike. The trail to Dardanelles is mostly descent, which means you’re ascending on the return to the Tahoe Rim Trail.
Be sure to pay attention as you’re heading down to Dardanelles because there’s a turn, marked by a small rock pile, that you need to make.
You’ll make a few stream crossings and pass through some small meadow areas before reaching an ascent over some granite slabs that are the last obstacle before reaching the lake.
It’s another excellent backcountry lake for swimming or just spending time in the sun.
The whole hike clocked in at about nine miles for us and took a little more than three hours at a 3 miles-per-hour pace. It would be much quicker on mountain bikes which are allowed in the Meiss Country Area.
This hike is a nice trip because it offers great scenery that’s accessible with just a few hours of hiking and enough ascent to provide a decent workout.
Big Meadow to Round Lake with side trip to Dardanelles via Tahoe Rim Trail
Distance: 3.2 miles one-way from Big Meadow Trailhead to Round Lake. Add 2.8 miles if you hike to Dardanelles and back to the Tahoe Rim Trail. Our total, round-trip distance for both destinations was 9.2 miles.
High point: 8,045 feet
Low point: 7,277 feet
Ascent: 961 feet on Round Lake portion plus return. Add about 400 feet of ascent if you hike into Dardanelles and back
Total time: It took us a little more than three hours at a brisk, 3 miles-per-hour pace.
Parking? There’s parking at the Big Meadow Trailhead. But it fills up fast on weekends so consider going early.
Rules? Hiking, mountain biking and equestrian uses are allowed. The U.S. Forest Service says dogs should be kept on a six-foot or shorter leash but when we hiked it almost none of the dogs we passed were on leashes. No permits required for day or overnight use.