Christmas Valley Trail to Dardanelles Lake - Hiking

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Just South of Lake Tahoe, Dardanelles Lake is a hidden gem. This forested lake offers a moderate day hike with awesome swimming as the reward.

Written by

Aaron Hussmann


8.4 miles

This is roundtrip from the Christmas Valley trailhead to Dardanelles Lake.

Destination Distance From Downtown

20.8 miles


3 of 5 diamonds

This is an 8.4 mile roundtrip hike with 1,400 feet of elevation gain. There are a few steep, sun-exposed sections that make this hike a bit more challenging.

Time To Complete

5 hours

This assumes a two mile per hour pace, adding about one half hour for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain.


Summer and Fall

This is best done once the heavy snowpack has melted. In early Summer, hikers should bring plenty of mosquito repellent.

Dog Friendly

On Leash Only

This is a great trail for dogs, but with many mountain bikers and other hikers, it is recommended they stay on leash until reaching the lake.

Fees Permits




Situated beneath towering granite cliffs, Dardanelles Lake is a perfect summer swimming hole located just South of Lake Tahoe. Featuring pockets of sandy shoreline and plentiful sunny granite slabs this lake is a gem in the Meiss Country Roadless Area. Hikers and wildflower enthusiasts of intermediate ability levels will enjoy this moderate hike as it weaves through boulder fields, meadows, forests, and stream zones. Hikers should be aware that this is a popular trail for downhill mountain biking, though both groups have been happily using this trail together for years.

What Makes It Great

Following a tributary of the Upper Truckee River for the majority of the hike, this 4.2 mile (8.4 mile roundtrip) trail first climbs from the Christmas Valley trailhead through the open scar of a former forest fire. Weaving through car-sized boulders, the trail through the burned area yields stunning Spring growth of wildflowers and native plants that are slowly re-vegetating the hillside. 

Climbing out of the burned area, the trail enters dense forest of massive old-growth trees and volcanic rock outcroppings as it hugs one of the offshoot creeks of the Upper Truckee River. After hiking 2.8 miles and gaining roughly 1,400 feet of elevation, the trail to Dardanelles splits right and crosses the creek. This turnoff is often unsigned and can be hard to miss. If you reach the junction for Big Meadow and Round Lake, you have overshot the Dardanelles turnoff by approximately 0.2 miles. 

After turning right and crossing the creek, the trail begins to weave through forests of Lodgepole pine and alpine meadows as it descents to Dardanelles Lake. Follow this trail for an additional 1.2 miles before arriving at a stunning view from Dardanelles Eastern shore. A well-defined path almost completely circumnavigates the lake (excluding the cliffs) and presents multiple lunch and swimming spots. 

Who is Going to Love It

This is a great hike intermediate hikers looking to find solitude away from the sometimes crowded Desolation Wilderness lakes. Dardanelles Lake offers multiple sunny spots for summer swimming and relaxation. This hike can be appropriate for younger hikers and families who feel confident hiking 8 miles. 

Wildflower enthusiasts will also particularly enjoy the section of new growth in the burned area of the trail, as well as in the meadow sections of the trail following the turnoff to Dardanelles Lake. 

During the Spring and early Summer months, mosquito repellent is highly encouraged.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Parking is free at this trailhead and no permits are required. This is a popular downhill mountain bike trail and respect among all user groups is always encouraged. There are a few seemingly blind corners on this trail so hikers should use caution and listen for bikes while making their way uphill. 

From South Lake Tahoe, take Highway 50/89 toward Meyers. In Meyers, turn left on Highway 89-S and continue for 2.5 miles. Turn right on Portal Dr, then left on South Upper Truckee Rd. Follow South Upper Truckee Road for approximately 1.5 miles before parking at the trailhead on your right.

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