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Level: Intermediate
Length: 7 mi (11.3 km)
Surface: Singletrack
Configuration: Loop
Elevation: +302/ -359 ft
Total: 332 riders

Mountain Biking Tsali Thompson Loop

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#16 of 546 mountain bike trails in North Carolina
#221 in the world

Thompson Loop, like Mouse Branch Loop, is more technical than the Right and Left loops at Tsali. Thompson has a lot of tight twisting singletrack and like all the trails at Tsali is fun to ride at warp speed. There are a couple of uphills that might sneak up on you though. The overall elevation change is approximately 300 feet, so riding the loops backwards is still fast and equally challenging.
Find out about camping at Tsali.

First added by searsandrewj on Jan 1, 2003. Last updated May 2, 2020. → add an update
Before you go
  • Drinking water: unknown
  • Lift service: unknown
  • Night riding: yes
  • Pump track: unknown
  • Restrooms: unknown
  • Fat bike grooming: unknown
  • E-bikes allowed: unknown
  • Fee required: unknown
This trail information is user-generated. Help improve this information by suggesting a correction.
Getting there
"From Bryson City, take Hwy. 19 towards Andrews. Go right onto Hwy 28 North. Tsali is on the right, approximately 3.5 miles. Follow the gravel road about 1.5 miles to trail head.
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Tsali Thompson Loop Trail map

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Local Info

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B0B (on Oct 12, 2021)
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Trail conditions

Fair (on Oct 11, 2021)
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Camping & Lodging

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Tsali Thompson Loop videos

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Tsali - Thompson Loop
Thompson Downhill
Evening ride on Thompson
Thompson Loop Tsali NC Downhill
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Mountain Bike Trails Near Bryson City, North Carolina

Beginner | 1.1 mi
| 12 mi

Rider questions

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  • Julio Rodriquez

    Been coming to Tsali since the 90’s. If you live fairly close I would recommend going once a year for a fun time. Enjoy!

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  • Superswede9

    Thompson Loop Trail is great for intermediate riding with scenic, rolling single track by Fontana Lake with climbs that won't kill you. Very fun trail!

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  • Rollin' a Giant

    Loved this trail. Highly recommend. One tree was across the trail, but it was immaculately well maintained. Will come back for sure

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  • bkadkins

    Been cycling for years, but relatively new to mountain biking. Had a blast here after a 2 year break and found what I've been missing really quick! Great trail that kept me on alert and didn't disappoint. I felt like an Imperial biker scout on Endor. (Final descent, Thompson loop????)Had a few good challenging climbs and and even more challenging 1.5mile descent on the Thompson loop. Trail well maintained, maybe two or three narrow stretches to keep you guessing briefly, but more of a challenge than hindrance!!!! Ample rocks, roots and a few streams with rocks, and and switchbacks to keep things exciting. Several scenic spots to stop along the way. Close to several campgrounds. Highly recommend. Simply beautiful.

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  • pttlennon

    Great trail conditions today. Dry and fast. Only 2 trees down.

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  • djcmmoore   ✓ supporter

    Tsali Trails rotate use with horse traffic. Schedule for bikes:

    Left Loop and Right Loop: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday
    Mouse Branch Loop and Thompson Loop: Tueday, Thursday, Saturday

    Camping is available within Tsali Recreation Area where you can ride in/ride out to the trails. Sites contain water and electricity, and showers also available. Tumbling Waters Campground and Freemans Motel and Cottages are also popular accomodations.

    These loops are signed well with an encouraged direction, which this review follows.

    Tsali has a $2 user fee, which you must pay in cash at the main parking lot before riding.
    Description - From the main parking area, start with the Mouse Branch Loop. Head out the main road and continue in a clockwise direction. Many riders consider Mouse the most technical of the Tsali trails, but overall it is very similar to the others. There are plenty of loose rocks in places, and many fast, fun sections.

    When arriving with the the overlook section, stay right on Mouse then head left on the overlook trail which follows back around counter clockwise to the same spot. The overlook is a spectacular view of the lake and surrounding mountains, and very close to the highest point of the Mouse Loop. After snapping some photos, get ready to descend the fastest part of trail back down. Take a left again on and overlap the same small section of trail you used to pass through the first time. This time at the top of the climb, stay right on the Mouse again.

    Following the lakes contours for another 3.5 miles will take you back to the intersection with the entrance road and the Thompson Loop at Murphy Gap.

    Stay straight on Thompson and follow this loop in a counter-clockwise direction. Thompson has some ups and downs early in the ride, but generally has little elevation gain until you are a little over 2 miles in when youll begin a climb that gains about 350 ft. in 3 miles. After that, youll have about a mile of descending to complete this sweet ride.

    History & Background - Tsali is managed by the Cheoah District of Nantahala National Forest. It has been a well known destination for mountain biking for a long time. It still has a solid reputation for weekend getaways, and has held up well to the tests of time and traffic.

    The trails are maintained by Nantahala Area SORBA, an organization that contributes hundreds of volunteer hours per year to maintain the system, and also sponsors some cool rides and outings ( nantahalaareasorba.org/).

    Land Manager: USFS - Nantahala National Forest Office
    Local Club: SORBA - Nantahala Area

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  • MTBCrash29   ✓ supporter

    Part of the Tsali trail system. A great trail! this loop offers plenty of fun for all levels. This was my wife's first ride. It had some long climbs and mixed with a forest road that helped in the experience, but a great downhill fast trail near the end of the trail. A must for anyone in NC, 1 of 4 trails in the Tsali Recreation area.

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  • Lee Harris

    This is the Best loop at Tsali. Full review and video here.

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  • Alexxxx

    Thompson loop is probably the best loop at Tsali in terms of longest running downhill. If you ride it the suggested direction, you begin with a great flowing section with some tight spots in and out of trees.

    The middle portion of Thompson is where you gain elevation during an easy uphill climb on some double track.

    Once at the final third of the trail, it is all downhill from here! The first downhill is straight and wide open, so let go of those breaks!! The second part ducks into the trees where you will find some fast and tight berms, plenty of roots, and tons of speed if you have the courage. This is my favorite downhill at Tsali, and for good reason.

    Cheers from The Singletrack Sampler

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  • LucindaInGA

    I think this is my favorite trail of the Tsali system. Nothing technical, just gentle ups and downs through the contours of the hills next to Lake Fontana. Beautiful scenery. Have to ride this counterclockwise to take advantage of the fun descent in the last couple of miles of the trail.

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  • tidwellt

    We were staying at pigeon forge and decided to take ou bikes with us. We made the drive over the smokeys to tsali and It was worth the drive. Thompson was a great flowing trail, a light climb that burnt the quads, and a great mile downhill at the end. I believe its rates a little higher then it should as I've ridden some of the too trails in Colorado but it is definitely the best trail I have ridden since living in the eastern part of the US.

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  • ****


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  • veloman62

    Dry and fast today. Nothing technical and really no climbs to speak of make this a allout roller coaster ride. A enjoyable ride for all skill levels.* Review edited 6/21/2012

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  • darrinw2001

    we rode this trail clockwise which is opposite of the suggested route, but it seems the trail flows better this way.. you have a 1 1/2 mile climb to start, but fast and flowy the rest of the way... Nothing really hard on this trail just some longish climbs and some quick turns that you need to look out for. great views and some nice little creek crossings.

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  • uekiya

    My favorite Tsali trail a little of everything. Fast section in the start of the loop, stream crossings, long uphill toward the end and an exceptional downhill to finish off! Great Trail!

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  • jfigel76

    I have rode this trail loop 2 times in 2 separate times of the year. The trail maintence here is awesome. The $3 fee to ride the trails, 80% stays in this area and it shows. Trail is just like everyone said. Nice winding, rolling hills and followed by a great, fast, knarley downhill. I rode in the recommended direction.

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  • Scooter13

    I rode this trail last week on my new bike. I've ridden it before as it is 20 miles from my home. Great trail. Great downhill at the end. Easier than Mouse Branch but I think more difficult than Left and Right loop even though Left and Right are much longer. Tsali is worth the trip for anyone wanting a sweet ride.

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  • Greg Heil   ✓ supporter

    An absolutely awesome loop that is such a pleasure to ride! For most of it, the trail flows up and down as it meanders along its way. Towards the middle, it spends a while climbing. AND THEN... I wish every trail ended this way, it finishes with a blazing fast, super flowy, mile-long downhill back to the car that is just an absolute treat! This trail is amazing!

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  • GoldenGoose

    Knocked out Thompson and Mouse branch today and can't wait to go back on another day and hit the Right and Left loops. The flow at Thompson almost rivaled some of the loops down at F.A.T.S. in South Carolina. Maybe it was the adrenaline but I felt like the first 3-4 miles absolutely flew by. Other than a few roots and a couple of loose rocks, the trail was pretty smooth. There were, however, several puddles on the trail that seem to be slow to drain. A little trail maintenance could easily get them to properly drain. Be sure to ride through them rather than around them so you don't make the trail grow. Trail is used by horses on alternating days but there are VERY few signs of them. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturdays are your days to enjoy this one.

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