Mountain Biking Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, and with a depth of 1,645 feet it is the second-deepest lake in the United States (behind Crater Lake in Oregon). If you’ve ever been to Tahoe, you know: this lake is absolutely gorgeous!

Looking down on Lake Tahoe from the Flume Trail.

The water is so clear that you might have a hard time believing your own eyes. Not only is the water in the lake gorgeous, but this massive expanse of crystalline-blue fluid is ringed on all sides by majestic mountain peaks.

While the Tahoe area is known as a world-class skiing and snowboarding destination during the winter, it is also an excellent mountain bike destination during the summer.

Ride

Much of the mountain biking around Lake Tahoe can be found on the Tahoe Rim Trail. Measuring 165 miles long, the TRT is a high-alpine singletrack trail that circles all the way around the lake. Unfortunately, only certain segments of the trail are open to mountain biking–about half of the total length, which still works out to over 80 miles of amazing singletrack!

The tread on the TRT is pretty similar to a lot of Colorado singletrack: a sandy, gravelly consistency that can feel loose at times or rock-solid, depending on the moisture level.

The technical difficulty of the trail can vary depending on the section, and here and there you can find some serious rocks and boulders to play on. But for the most part, the trail is relatively non-technical and very flowy!

Much of the singletrack is located high on the mountainsides, rolling through pine forests with next to zero undergrowth. The trees open up frequently to offer glimpses of the lake below, and at times the trail climbs high enough to break out above treeline into high-alpine meadows.

Above treeline on the Tahoe Rim Trail, with two lakes below.
Epic views from the Flume Trail. Photo: tarvisg

The Flume Trail is probably the most famous trail in the Tahoe area. The Flume section of the trail is pretty short–only 4 to 5 miles–but it connects to the TRT so you can easily make it into a much longer ride. Still, at only 4ish miles in length, it’s worth riding for the views alone!

For more information about my ride last summer on the TRT and Flume Trail, check out this article.

Photo: brianopitz

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is a grueling 20-mile loop of road climbing and technical singletrack descending near South Lake Tahoe. With 3,300 feet of climbing and 3,300 feet of descending, there is plenty of up and down to get your heart rate through the roof on this ride!

Photo: jeff

If you enjoy riding chair lifts to the top of the mountain (and who doesn’t, at least every now and then?) then be sure to check out Northstar Resort on the north end of the lake. Northstar has plenty of gnarly DH trails filled with enough tech sections, drops, and jumps to keep you busy for days!

Shuttle

Since much of the best mountain biking in the Tahoe area is on point-to-point singletrack, you can either do a bunch of out-and-back rides, try to loop with other nearby trails or roads, or you can shuttle. Shuttling is generally the best way to get maximum singletrack fun in a short amount of time.

If you have somebody who is willing to drive you or you have access to two vehicles, you could do your own shuttles. However, most of the time it is much more convenient and removes a lot of headache and extra driving time to just pay someone to drive you to the other end of the trail.

During my visit last summer, I used Flume Trail Bikes to do a great shuttle ride of the TRT and Flume Trails. Flume Trail Bikes has recently relocated, and can now be found in Incline Vilage.

Wanna Ride is another great shuttle service that serves several different parts of the Tahoe Rim Trail, as well as a few other rides in the area. They are based on the opposite end of the lake from Flume Trail Bikes (South Lake Tahoe) and focus mostly on rides in that area.

Stay

There are numerous campgrounds spread all around Lake Tahoe. The Mount Rose campground is near the northeast corner of the lake and is quite close to some excellent trails. The Fallen Leaf campground is located on the southern end of the lake and is conveniently located right outside the town of South Lake Tahoe. On the northwestern corner of the lake, the Tahoe State Recreation area is a good choice.

Image from travel.usnews.com

If you are looking for a hotel, there are plenty to be found in the town of South Lake Tahoe. Since the California/Nevada state line runs through the center of town, the northern half of South Lake Tahoe is dominated by casinos. If that’s your scene, there are plenty of rooms there. However, there are plenty of smaller hotels away from the casinos (on the California side of town) as well.

Image from Orbitz.com

If you want to find a room on the northern end of the lake, I’d recommend checking out one of the ski resorts: either Northstar at Tahoe or Squaw Valley. The towns of Tahoe City and Incline Village aren’t as well developed or as busy as South Lake Tahoe, so if you can even find a hotel room you’ll probably end up paying more $$ than the room is actually worth.

Eat

For great pizza and cheap beer in South Lake Tahoe, I personally recommend Sierra Pizza. On the north end, Gar Woods Grill is a swanky brunch spot with excellent views and a long pier jutting into the lake. There are so many great restaurants in the area–and Tahoe is a pretty big area!

For burgers and beer in Tahoe City, try checking out the Bridgetender.

Conclusion

Lake Tahoe is a pretty big area to cover in one mountain bike trip, but thanks to all of the available infrastructure from the local ski scene along with the area shuttle services, it is totally manageable. If you do take the time to visit Tahoe, I can guarantee that you’ll fall in love with the views and the trails, and it will take you a long time to pack the car and head back home on your last day!

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