The long haul: Hit the trails for a long-distance mountain bike ride
Tahoe is a mountain bikers’ paradise. With seemingly endless networks of trails — often just a short ride from your home or hotel — there’s always an epic day of riding ahead of you. And thanks to the U.S. Forest Service and partner organizations like the nonprofit Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association, these trails are regularly maintained and expanded upon.
Originally founded in 1988, TAMBA returned in 2011 after a hiatus with the goal of building, maintaining, and advocating for multi-use trails in Tahoe. The volunteer-run organization maintains 100 miles of trail every year and was instrumental in getting many of the trails affected by the Caldor Fire in 2021 back into riding condition. Ben Fish helped revive the present-day TAMBA and served on the board until 2022 as president and trail director. Mountain biking — and trail building — are his passion, so who better to tap for intel on the best long-distance rides in the basin.
With many turns connecting these routes, Fish recommends using a mapping service to navigate the trails. Also be aware that due to the big winter, some of these trails might not be entirely clear of snow until July. Each ride is roughly 20 miles and takes over three hours to complete.
“This is an all time classic, pioneered by Gary Bell and others nearly 40 years ago, before the advent of full suspension and dropper posts. Start and end at the Corral Trailhead off Onedias Road in South Lake Tahoe. Ride up the single lane paved Fountain Place Forest Service Road, continue up Armstrong Pass Trail, turn west on the Tahoe Rim Trail where you’ll have amazing views down to Hope Valley as you finally start to ride downhill. About 13 miles in you’ll come to the intersection with Mr. Toads Wild Ride (officially known as Saxon Creek Trail). The infamous boulder waterfall section will greet you first, then you’ll cruise into the main part of the trail before entering a burn scar from the 2021 Caldor Fire that scorched the lower section of trail. A gradual dirt road at the end will bring you back to the trailhead where you started. Add in a Corral Trail loop if you still have energy. For an even bigger version of this ride, check out TAMBA’s annual Rose to Toads ride, a fundraising event slated for Sept. 10 this year. The group ride is over 62 miles in length with 8,000+ feet of climbing and 10,000+ feet of descent.”
“The most photographed trail in Tahoe, and it’s popular for good reason because the lake views are so beautiful it’ll stop you in your tracks. It can be busy, so be prepared to see a lot of riders, especially on a summer weekend or in the fall when the aspens are bright orange-yellow. One of the best ways to ride the Flume is to start at Spooner Lake State Park, ride the North Canyon dirt road to Marlette Lake before continuing to the famous Flume Trail. At the end you can turn around and make this and out and back ride. To make the ride longer and even more scenic, climb up Tunnel Creek Road and then turn onto the Tahoe Rim Trail riding south. Don’t miss the vista point where you’ll be above both Marlette Lake and Lake Tahoe for an amazing photo of both lakes. Ride back on North Canyon Road to your start at Spooner Lake State Park.”
“TAMBA recently rebuilt this trail into a flowy instant classic. Starting from Kilner Park south of Tahoe City, you’ll ride a paved bike path over Ward Creek to the bottom of Stanford Rock Trail. Climb the Stanford Rock trail to the top where you’ll be greeted by hand-built benches and amazing Lake Tahoe views. For a shorter ride, go back down Stanford Rock as an out and back ride. If you’re feeling more adventurous, continue to Twin Peaks and the Tahoe Rim Trail to create a longer clockwise loop back to Kilner Park and Ward Creek.”
Tahoe City, Tahoe Rim Trail Sections
“This is a great ride with many options to add on more trails, all while being able to ride directly from Tahoe City with no cars needed. A fun version is to ride a counterclockwise loop, starting with an easy pedal riding north on the paved bike path from Tahoe City to Dollar Creek. Continue to the Tahoe Rim Trail, connecting the Painted Rock and Glass Mountain sections of trail before riding back down into town where you started.”
“This is one of my favorite ‘choose your own adventure’ rides in South Lake Tahoe, with many options to make it as long or short as you like. One solid option is to start and end by the ‘Y’ where there’s great places to eat and drink. Ride the paved bike path towards Sawmill Pond, then turn off and climb the Tahoe Mountain South Side Trail to the top, drop down Valley View Trail and then continue over and climb up Mule Deer Trail. At the top, take a rest at the old fire lookout before riding down the Angora Ridge Trail, continue to Rock Garden Trail, before riding over to Fallen Leaf Lake for a mid-ride swim in the crystal-clear waters. After cooling off, ride the connector trails behind the high school or over to the paved bike path back into town.”
If you appreciate the mountain biking scene in Tahoe, consider giving back to the organization that helps keep it well-maintained and ever-evolving. Funds donated to TAMBA are used for trail building and maintenance. Alternatively, consider giving your time to a volunteer trail day hosted by the nonprofit. Visit http://www.tamba.org for more information.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Summer 2023 edition of Tahoe Magazine.
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