Honestly, it’s impossible to discuss Lake Tahoe mountain biking trails without talking about the Flume Trail near Incline Village. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more beautiful mountain biking trail in all of America. But it’s not for the uninitiated. As Flume Trail Bikes shares, “It’s a moderately difficult 1-way, 14-mile ride at 7,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation, and more than 1,000 feet of climbing.” But the Lake Tahoe views!
I recommend making a day of it by starting your day at Tunnel Creek Cafe for breakfast, where you can also then rent a bike and catch the shuttle to Spooner Lake State Park. You’ll then ride the 14-mile trail back to the bike shop and cafe, where you can end the day with a beer.
Widely regarded as the most spectacular mountain-bike trail area, the Flume takes riders high above Lake Tahoe’s East Shore. Though there are some challenging climbs, the Flume Trail, so named for the old logging flume that followed the route, is not especially difficult.
Directions: Most mountain bikers choose a point-to-point ride on the Flume. Shuttles and bike rentals are available through Tunnel Creek Station. The Flume Trail connects to the Tahoe Rim Trail to the north and the North Canyon Creek Trail to the south, which eventually reaches Spooner Summit. Offshoots of the Flume will spit you out at Tunnel Creek or Chimney Beach.
Tahoe Meadows Tahoe Rim Trail
Distance- 1.5 miles
The Tahoe Meadows section of the Tahoe Rim Trail is mostly recognized for being the connector to the Flume Trail, but it’s a nice little trip on its own. Cycling is only allowed on even-numbered days (visit tahoerimtrail.org for full regulations). Mountain bikers can connect to Tunnel Creek Road or do a quick out-and-back jaunt.
Directions: From Incline Village, follow Highway 431 toward Mt. Rose. Parking will be on your right, just before the Mt. Rose Campground.
Distance– 3 miles
This technical singletrack is one of the premier downhils on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore. The trail zigzags through rock gardens, drops, trees, and few sandy sections, ending in the Diamond Peak Ski Area parking lot. Riders on mtbproject.com rate the trail intermediate in difficulty. The trail descends close to 2,000 feet. The most challenging features can be avoided.
Directions: From the Mt. Rose Tahoe Rim Trail parking lot, head south on the Tahoe Rim Trail (see tahoerimtrail.org for restrictions) for nearly 1 mile. Tyrolean Downhill will drop from the first prominent vista.
Painted Rock Loop
Distance- 18.1 miles
Another tie-in to the Tahoe Rim Trail, the Painted Rock Loop is a hearty chunk of riding for fairly fit cyclists. The trail climbs more than 2,300 feet to its apex and the dirt is, well, mostly rocks. Another challenge of the 18 mile loop is finding the route. This area has numerous trails, so wrong turns are a real possibility.
Directions: The start of Painted Rock is not too hard to find. From Carnelian Bay, head south on Highway 89. Turn right on Fabian Way, then take your first right on Village Road. Turn left on Country Club Drive. Park at the Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area. Look for beginning of the trail on the opposite side of Country Club Drive.
Antone Meadows Loop
Distance- 8.5 miles
The Antone Meadows Loop is the quintessential quiet Tahoe trail ride. It’s relatively easy. The single-track is in great shape. The trail climbs a few hundred feet to its highest point, just under 7,000 feet elevation. The second half is a downhill cruise through the grassy meadow and over Burton Creek. The trail is well marked by signage, so don’t worry about getting lost on this one.
Directions: From Carnelian Bay, head south on Highway 89. Turn right on Fabian Way then take your first right on Village Road. Turn left on Country Club Drive. Park at the Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area.
Page Meadows Loop
Distance– 8 miles
A quiet trail just out of Tahoe City, the Page Meadows Loop is a fun way to spend an afternoon. The trail is within riding distance of many bike rental shops in the area. Without any major obstacles, Page Meadows is suitable for the whole family. Stop in the meadow for a picnic or ride the extra distance to Scott Peak for amazing views.
Directions: From Highway 89, turn onto Granlibakken Road. Take your third left onto Rawhide Drive. The road will eventually turn into a dirt fire road. Continue riding to the meadows. The trail will eventually link with the Tahoe Rim Trail which can be taken back to Tahoe City.
Sawtooth Ridge Trail
Distance– 10 miles
With easy access from Truckee, Sawtooth is popular among locals. The single-track 10-mile loop is for intermediate riders. However, with no more than a couple hundred feet of elevation gain over the course of 10 miles, it makes for a fun, rolling ride for most beginners, too. While it doesn’t have the overlooks that the Flume Trail does, Sawtooth has great scenery and overlooks, including Truckee River Canyon overlooking the Truckee River, Squaw Valley, and Highway 89. Hikers and trail runners can also enjoy this as a good day hike.
Directions: From Truckee, take Old Brockway Road south. Turn right on Palisades Drive and continue onto Ponderosa Drive. Turn right on Silver Fir Drive then left on Thelin Drive. Stay to the right onto 06 Fire Road. Parking will be on your right and signage will mark the start of the trail.
Distance- 15 miles
Located near Donner Lake, the Emigrant Trail is considered one of Truckee’s most popular mountain biking trails. Most riders being at the Donner Party Camp Picnic Area, riding the rolling single-track, out-and-back 15-mile trail until they’re ready to return. Predominantly consisting of rolling hills with small changes in elevation, the Emigrant Trail is great for riders of all skill levels. It’s a good trail ride for those who want to enjoy wide-open views and some solid pedaling. Dive into Stampede Reservoir before pedaling back to the car. Bonus points: This is often one of the first accessible mountain biking trails in the spring.
Directions: From Truckee, take Highway 89 north. Turn left on Alder Creek Road. Park where Alder Creek Road and Carpenter Valley Road meet. For a shorter ride, park at the Donner Party Picneic Area off Highway 89 or even farther north where Highway 89 crosses Prosser Creek.
Donner Lake Rim Trail
For a different perspective of Donner Lake, head up to the Donner Lake Rim Trail (DRLT). The DRLT is a land trust and volunteer project, which will be 23 miles once complete. Currently, several miles (out-and-back) are currently open for mountain bikes, accessible at a number of locations. Many people access it at the Hole in the Ground Loop, which is also a popular Truckee mountain biking trail. While the Emigrant Trail is great for riders of all levels, the Donner Lake Rim Trail is more of a moderate to advanced trail.
Northstar California Bike Park
Northstar California’s Bike Park has consistently been rated one of the best lift-access bike parks in North America. The best part is that its all downhill, and categorized much like Northstar’s ski runs, so that it’s enjoyable for all bike levels. Plus, it’s home to the Specialized Bike Academy, the only one of its kind.
I recently asked Northstar’s mountain bike program manager, Luke Sheppard, for recommendations as the bike park nears its Memorial Day weekend opening (weather and conditions permitting). His recommendations included Livewire, Northstar’s premiere flow trail (2.1 miles with 42 jumps top to bottom), which is watered twice daily to create a riding surface that’s fast, rolling, and with less dust. Elsewhere, Coaster is Northstar’s newest top to bottom blue trail, featuring a mixture of intermediate berms, jumps, and natural obstacles, and a great starting place for those progressing from green to blue trails.