One of the things I’d like to do before I die is to explore the entire length of the Tahoe Rim Trail. The entire trail is 165 miles long, so it will probably take me a few years. Thankfully, there are many sections open to mountain biking.
Recently my family explored the portion of the Tahoe Rim Trail from Big Meadow (near Luther Pass on HWY 89) to Round Lake. Along the way I took mental notes of how this section would be to ride. Although this section of the Tahoe Rim Trail is only open to bikes for 5 miles from the Big Meadows trailhead to where it meets the Pacific Crest Trail, there are a couple side adventures to be had for additional mileage. The Scott’s Lake Trail heads off to the east from Big Meadow, and the Dardanelles Lake Trail heads off to the west further up the trail.
From the the Big Meadow trailhead, there is a steep climb up several steps from the highway up to the elevation of Big Meadow. It’s not very long, so it wouldn’t be too big a deal pushing your bike up this section. Once up above the rock steps, the trail is very smooth.
There is another way to access this trail system from Highway 88. A dirt road switchbacks up from Highway 88 to Scott’s Lake. You can drive all the way up to Scott’s Lake, and even camp there if you have the time. Local rider Marcus, having explored this area thoroughly, had this to say about the riding on this section of the TRT:
The most fun place to start is Scott’s Lake, you get to skip the rocky 1st quarter mile from the Big Meadows trailhead. Dardanelles is the most fun trail to ride to because it has some well made creek crossings. The trail from Scott’s Lake to Big Meadow is totally rolling and fun. The trail to Dardanelles has a couple of small hike sections, but for some reason I find Dardanelles much more appealing than Round Lake. The drop to Christmas valley is brutal. It can be fun if you are really good, are having a great day, and you are like 20 years old.
Once you hit Big Meadow, the trail is smooth and flat. It almost gives the illusion that it’ll be easy going from here on out. After leaving Big Meadow though, the trail pitches up fairly steep. It’s still very smooth, but you will be using your granny gear. There is plenty of shade, and the trail climbs up along pretty meadows. There is a lot of slow moving water around, so bring your mosquito repellent!
Once you reach the saddle, you begin to enter a different zone as you leave the drier portion of the Carson Range behind. Small lakes are abundant. Signs of ancient volcanic activity become visible. Amazingly tall fir trees that escaped the lumber companies loom above you.
A long switchback takes you down the other side of the saddle. As you descend into the next valley, you are reminded that you’ll eventually have to come back up this steep section of trail! Near the bottom, the trail to Dardanelles Lake peels off to the east (also the Christmas Valley Trail). We continued climbing up through interesting rock formations on the way to Round Lake. Giant boulders made of smaller rocks and petrified mud are scattered around the trail, and glimpses of the giant cliffs called the Dardanelles are visible through the trees.
Round Lake made a relaxing place to have lunch, and it was extraordinary to look up at the cliffs above us. Round Lake was a bit greener than other lakes I’ve been to though, so there may be better destinations in the area if you’re looking for a swim.
To summarize…this section of the Tahoe Rim Trail doesn’t have the length and gentler grades of some of the other sections I’ve ridden (Mt. Rose Meadows to Marlette Lake comes to mind…), but it is definitely worth exploring if you don’t mind a few tough climbs and the occasional bike portage. There is plenty of mileage and scenery to be had if you incorporate a few out-and-backs. Marcus’s camping option at Scott’s Lake sounds wonderful…anyone?