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Our Favorite Tahoe Mountain Biking Trails

Our Favorite Tahoe Mountain Biking Trails

Mountain bike aficionados and historians can– and will –debate about whether their sport was invented on the slopes of Marin's Mt. Tamalpais or in the mountains surrounding Crested Butte, Colorado.

But no can argue that some of California's best mountain bike terrain–with iconic rides like the Flume Trail and superb lift-serviced park trails at Northstar–can be found in the Lake Tahoe region.

The following are five rides, ranging from mellow to gnarly, that give off-road cyclists a sense of what Tahoe has to offer.

Tompkins Memorial Trail: This three-mile loop circumnavigates the sage-filled valley between Highway 267 and the lower, forested slopes of the Northstar resort south of Truckee. The crossings of the various arms of Martis Creek are bridged and the route is very doable by inexperienced riders. To get to the trailhead, follow 267 south from Truckee and turn into the parking lot at the "Wildlife Viewing Area" sign along the highway.

Powerlines Trail: This is a smooth, rolling single-track, suitable for beginners, that roughly parallels the paved Pioneer Trail road in South Lake Tahoe. At trail's end you can turn around for the return 3.1-mile trip to the trailhead or make a left and go up the more technical (1,600-foot elevation gain) Cold Creek trail to add another five miles to your round trip, The Powerlines Trail can be accessed by driving up Ski Run Boulevard, making a right on Saddle Road and traveling a small distance to the trailhead.

Cold Stream Valley: Another beginner/intermediate trail in the Truckee area, this route offers outstanding views of the Sierra crest and passes by a series of ponds while gently climbing up Cold Stream Valley. Follow the dirt Cold Stream Road from the trailhead on the east side of Donner Memorial State Park for about three miles to the top of the climb and the last pond; circle the little lake and head down the east side of the valley below the railroad grade. The trailhead can be found by heading west from Truckee on Donner Pass Road and turning left at the flashing red light; proceed past the Truckee Donner Lodge for a short distance to the gate (sometimes closed) marking the entrance to Cold Stream Road.

The Flume Trail: Perhaps the best-known mountain bike ride in the Tahoe region, if not the Sierra, is a must for any relatively proficient off-roader visiting the area. The 14-mile trail begins at the  Spooner Lake day use area near the junction of Highways 28 and 50 in Nevada, climbs 1,100 feet to a small summit, then drops down the the south shore of Marlette Lake. At the junction, head left to the signed Flume Trail for breath-taking ride along the side of a steep escarpment with the east shore of Lake Tahoe shimmering 1,600 feet below your pedals. At the junction with North Canyon Road, held left for a fun descent to Highway 28, just south of Incline Village. The route can be done in one of three ways: Utilizing a car shuttle from Incline to Spooner Lake, riding it as an out-and-back or at the junction of North Canyon Road and Highway 28, cycling along the pavement back to Spooner.

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride: This 10.5-mile, one-way ride is almost as iconic as the Flume Trail; the reason it's not is because it lacks the Flume's stunning views and it's only for advanced riders. The ride starts at the Big Meadow trailhead on Highway 89, between  Christmas Valley and Luther Pass. Head north on the Tahoe Rim Trail for a few miles, before taking a left on the Saxon Creek Trail; here begins a 1,500-foot descent over nearly six miles along the aforementioned creek. The upper portion is rocky and technical, while the lower section consists of smooth and fast banked turns. Many riders do the route by using a car shuttle system, parking one auto at the Big Meadow parking area and another at the ride's finish (which can be found by turning left off Pioneer Trail, if you're coming from South Lake Tahoe, on to Oneidas St.; follow Oneidas to the paved Forest Service road and follow that for a quarter mile to the dirt parking lot on the right).  There are also riders who opt to loop the route by starting at the dirt parking lot, continuing south along the paved Forest Service road for about 3.5 miles to the Armstrong Trail, which climbs nearly four miles and 1,500 feet up to the Tahoe Rim Trail; take a right at TRT and pedal about 5 miles to the Saxon Creek descent for a 27-mile circuit.