Trail Report: Tahoe Mountain Trail – South Lake Tahoe, California

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Tahoe Mountain Trail is a great trail that was completed in the fall of 2013. While there has been a trail in that general area for quite some time, the new Tahoe Mountain trail is a fun piece of single track with a hard but rewarding climb, incredible views, and a speedy downhill. In the fall of 2015, an off-road bike path was completed in that area, so you can ride to the trailhead from Meyers or South Lake Tahoe on a really nice, off-road paved bike path, making for a perfect warm up. If you drive, you’ll want to park at the Sawmill Pond parking lot, just a little ways up Sawmill Road, which is across from the trail head.

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Photo via Google Maps

The trail is accessed via the trail head at the intersection of Lake Tahoe Boulevard and Sawmill Road in South Lake Tahoe, California.

All photos by Lynn Baumgartner
All photos by Lynn Baumgartner

There’s a nice map of the trail system at the trailhead. I’d recommend checking it out, as there are a bunch of social trails spurring off the main Tahoe Mountain trail, and it can be easy to head off on one of them. Most of them quickly dump you off on a road, so don’t worry too much about them, just follow the main trail and head in an uphill direction.

What much of the single track looks like.
What much of the single track looks like.

After about 100 yards on a single track trail, you’ll come to a gravel fire road. Turn right to go to the new trail. Going left will take you to the old trail, which I DO NOT recommend. The old trail is no longer maintained and fairly overgrown, and I thought that the climb up was much more difficult.

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After you’ve turned right onto the fire road and ridden about a quarter mile, start looking for the trail off to the left and uphill. Get ready to work hard on the climb! You end up climbing almost 900 feet over three miles, which requires some hard work, but isn’t so difficult that you can’t enjoy the amazing views!

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Pyramid Peak peeks out about halfway up.

The Tahoe Mountain trail takes you through the Angora Fire burn area, and the burned out trees result in eerie but stunning views.

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The 880 foot climb up is mostly on fairly smooth dirt single track, but because this is South Lake Tahoe, there are some sandy spots of decomposed granite. A couple switchbacks were sandy enough that I had to push through in June, and it gets worse throughout the summer. The only really technically challenging spot is about halfway up the climb, with a tight rocky turn through some close together boulders. Speaking of boulders, there are dozens of huge boulders scattered alongside the lower sections of the trail, making for striking and unique scenery.

Tahoe Mountain trail isn’t far from Pie Shop, a famous South Shore bouldering area
Tahoe Mountain trail isn’t far from Pie Shop, a famous South Shore bouldering area

The last third of the trail is much rockier than the rest of the trail, but still very rideable. I’ve ridden it on a hardtail bike with no problem at all, and technical, rocky climbing is my weakest area. It just feels jarring after two miles on such smooth dirt and sand. Once you’ve finally climbed to the top you’ll be rewarded with a 360 degree view of Tahoe and beyond. Lake Tahoe is visible from one side and you’ll see Desolation Wilderness off to the other. You’ll know you’ve reached the “true” top when a tall striped tower comes into view.

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At the top, I recommend that you take a break from your ride and explore the area. The views are amazing and, depending on the time of year, the wildflowers may be going crazy!

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June wildflowers

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Looking south-ish towards Desolation Wilderness
Looking south-ish towards Desolation Wilderness
Looking north-ish toward Lake Tahoe
Looking north-ish toward Lake Tahoe

After you’ve soaked in the view and rested a little, it’s time to enjoy the most fun (downhill!) portion of the ride. The well designed Tahoe Mountain trail is a dream to descend, just watch out for those sandy corners and the one tricky boulder section. Once you get towards the bottom, pay attention and stay on the main trail to avoid the social trails! You’ll eventually get where you’re going (the fire road) but unplanned detours aren’t very much fun. In practically no time at all, you’ll be back to the trailhead with a huge smile on your face!

Trail Report: Tahoe Mountain Trail in South Lake Tahoe, California // tahoefabulous.com
I hope you enjoy the trail as much as I did!

Trail Stats:
Location: Sawmill Road and Lake Tahoe Boulevard, South Lake Tahoe, California
Mileage: 6.3 miles
Elevation gain: 881 feet
Difficulty: Moderate

Note: This is an updated version of a trail report I wrote in June 2014.

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