I climbed to the top of Hawkes Peak in Tahoe Donner and rode down Upper Mother Lode and True Grit. In typical August fashion, it was dusty and loose.
Tahoe Donner is the largest neighborhood in Truckee, full of second homes and vacation rentals on a ridgeline north of Donner Lake. It’s big enough that it has a golf course, rec center, forestry department, and a bunch of awesome mountain bike trails. While you can access the trails of Tahoe Donner from a few different trailheads around town, I’m highlighting three fun routes that all begin at the Alder Creek Adventure Center. Note: unless you are living, visiting, or staying at a rental in Tahoe Donner, park on the road outside of the fence where there’s usually plenty of parking.
Hawkes Peak Loop
This is the most challenging loop I’ve ridden in Tahoe Donner. It’s got great views, a section with more technical downhill than most of Tahoe Donner, and a super fun descent with lots of great little rock rolls and jumps. All of these routes begin with the same first few trails: Alder Creek Northern Terminus (0.34 miles) to Randy’s Ramble (0.33 miles) to Cinnamon Twist Connector (<0.1 miles) to Cinnamon Twist Upper. These first few segments aren’t well signed, so it’s nice to have the Trailforks app on your phone, but it’s also hard to get too lost, because eventually you’ll pop out on a fire road (or at least I always have) Once on Cinnamon Twist Upper, you’ll follow that for about 0.24 miles until it crosses the Sundance fire road where you’ll turn left and start the long climb up.
After about 0.3 miles on Sundance, the trail will fork and you’ll keep left to stay on Sundance until it splits at about 0.7 miles in, where the fire road crosses True Grit trail. Take the right turn on to Crazy Horse fire road for a 0.5 mile, steep climb before taking the right fork and continuing the steep fire road climbing on Andromeda fire road. (I definitely got off to push at a couple of the steep parts of this fire road climb and got very jealous of the group that passed us on E-Bikes.) After about 0.5 miles on Andromeda, the climb flattens out and you’ll bend right around the shoulder of Hawkes Peak. Keep a look out for a singletrack trail to your right at about 0.6 miles.
Hawk’s Peak (Upper Section) is the last bit of climbing. I ended up pushing up some of this 0.28 mile section too; it’s not overly technical, but I was tired! You’ll be rewarded with a summit and an incredible 360 degree view of Truckee. It’s (literally) all downhill from here! The first and most technical downhill segment is Mother Lode (Upper Section). I’ve ridden quite a few trails in Tahoe Donner, and I generally think that the trails are easier than their rating on Trailforks. This one is an exception, or at least it was when I rode it in early August of 2020. The trail was dry and loose with off camber turns and chunky rocks. For this loop, you won’t ride all of upper Mother Lode. At about 0.9 miles in, take a hard right onto the very short True Grit/Mother Lode Connector, which will dump you out onto True Grit (Upper Section).
While I enjoyed the views from the top and the challenge of Mother Lode, True Grit was when I really started having fun. Even though the trail was still loose and dusty, this part was holding together a bit better and it was fun and flowy. Trailforks separates True Grit into two segments, splitting them where it crosses the Sundance fire road, but while you’re riding it, it really doesn’t feel like two different trails, even though they have different difficulty grades. True Grit (Lower Section) starts at about 0.75 miles in. My favorite part of True Grit is the little features sprinkled throughout – rock rolls, small jumps, etc. They all have ride arounds if you’re not interested in features, but if you made it down Mother Lode, you can definitely handle all the features. The lower part of True Grit ends after about 0.85 miles at Alder Creek Road. Here, you can ride Alder Creek Road back to the parking area or (if you want a bit more time on the trails) ride about 0.15 miles before turning right onto Pony Express fire road for about 0.39 miles and getting back onto Alder Creek Northern Terminus.
True Grit Up & Mother Lode Down
This route is less technical than the previous one, and it avoids the steep fire road climb for a challenging but doable singletrack climb. This route also startsAlder Creek Northern Terminus (0.34 miles) to Randy’s Ramble (0.33 miles) to Cinnamon Twist Connector (<0.1 miles) to Cinnamon Twist Upper. On this route, you’ll only be on Cinnamon Twist Upper for 0.1 miles before it crosses True Grit (Lower Section) where you’ll turn left and start the real climb. After about 0.7 miles, the trail crosses a fire road and turns into True Grit (Upper Section) which climbs for another 0.75 miles before ending at another fire road. Go straight onto the <0.1 mile True Grit/Mother Lode Connector which is the last bit of climbing before the intersection with Mother Lode.
Turn right to start going down Mother Lode (Upper Section). This trail section is rated as advanced, but I think that’s mainly due to the top half and the part you’ll ride on this route is more of a challenging intermediate. It’s got great views, but feels a little exposed and the rocks are a little chattery. After about 0.25 miles, the trail becomes Mother Lode (Middle Section) for about 0.4 miles before it dead ends on Hastings, which is a fire road turned double track. Turn left, and after <0.1 miles, the double track turns into Mother Lode (Lower Section). The lower section of Mother Lode is bermed and flowy so it can get pretty loose and dusty in the late summer, but some fun rooty areas and twisty sections. At about 0.8 into lower Mother Lode, there’s an intersection with a trail called Fool’s Gold – don’t take this. Keep going and just before the 1 mile mark, lower Mother Lode turns into Hidden Gem at the crossing with a fire road, which is a pretty similar type of riding.
Hidden Gem ends at South Eur Valley Road at 1.1 miles where you’ll turn right and gently climb for about 1 mile. Keep a look out for a trail on your right – Cinnamon Twist Upper. Climb back up Cinnamon Twist and retrace your ride on Cinnamon Twist Connector, Randy’s Ramble, and Alder Creek Northern Terminus back to your car.
Mustang Sally is considered one of the best trails in Tahoe Donner and I definitely agree. While it’s rated as advanced on Trailforks, I think that’s a bit of an overstatement and is really more of a challenging intermediate with no mandatory features, steep drops, or difficult rock gardens. Again, start on Alder Creek Northern Terminus (0.34 miles) to Randy’s Ramble (0.33 miles) to Cinnamon Twist Connector (<0.1 miles) to Cinnamon Twist Upper. This time, you’ll ride the full 0.65 miles down Cinnamon Twist Upper to South Eur Valley Road. Turn left and look for Cinnamon Twist Lower at about 0.2 miles.
Cinnamon Twist will end at about 0.37 miles at Alder Creek Road. Continue straight and after about 0.3 miles, East Mustang Sally trail will be on your left. (Don’t turn onto the first trail you see on your left at about 0.2 miles, Mustang Sally has a trail sign.) East Mustang Sally is the main climb on this route – you’ll gain ~680 feet in under two miles. There’s a bit of a false summit at about 1.65 miles though. I was very disappointed to realize that I had more to climb after a short downhill! The actual top of the route has some cool big boulders and a nice view.
You’ll go a bit downhill on East Mustang Sally before you pop out on a fire road. Make a sharp left after a swing right to get on the real downhill, West Mustang Sally. This part of Mustang Sally drops ~540 feet in just under a mile, and like I mentioned earlier, it’s very rideable and fun. It dead ends at another singletrack, Sidewinder, which is about 1.25 miles of rolling hills and a couple of punchy climbs. Sidewinder dumps you back out on Alder Creek Road, and from there you’ll just retrace your ride: Cinnamon Twist Lower to South Eur Valley Road to Cinnamon Twist Upper to Randy’s Ramble to Alder Creek Northern Terminus.
Last time I rode the Tyrolean Downhill, we did it with 100+ runners during a trail race. This time, we went back for an emptier trail and session-ed some of the technical sections I rode around.
Summiting a peak via mountain bike is a cool experience, and riding the Royal Gorge Rim Trail to the top of Rowton Peak is great! Plus, the downhill is even more fun. The trails in Royal Gorge are an overlooked gem in the Truckee area, and I made a video of the ride up and down Rowton Peak.
Truckee and Tahoe are full of amazing mountain bike trails, ranging from easy beginner options to incredibly challenging choices. I think it is especially a perfect place to develop for intermediate riders to develop their skills. Over the last few years in Tahoe-Truckee, I’ve moved from an intermediate rider to someone who feels confident on most black diamond trails in this area.
Here are my recommendations for trails in Truckee and Tahoe that are great for intermediate riders who are looking to challenge themselves. Some of these trails are completely rideable but challenging to ride fast and smooth, some have sections that I still need to walk and all have features that are great for sessioning and skills development.
Big Chief Upper & Lower, Sawtooth Trails, Truckee, CA: Big Chief is one of the newer trails in the Truckee area, just being finished in 2019. While the lower segments of the trail are much easier than the top third, all segments have technical features and impressive rock work that you can challenge yourself on. I’m still a long way from clearing all of the features on the top third, and the middle section has optional rock rolls and jumps to session. Check out my in depth trail report here and watch my video of Big Chief here.
Tyrolean Downhill, East Shore, Incline Village, NV: This super fun, super sandy and shuttle-able trail has great Lake Tahoe views and lots of optional features to practice jumps and rock rolls. It’s also a great route to take a group with mixed abilities on, since almost every feature has a fun and smooth ride around for beginners. Click here and here to watch my videos of the Tyrolean Downhill.
Animal Trail, Prosser Trails, Truckee, CA: This is a new favorite! It’s really rideable, with no major technical features. The challenge is to ride it smooth and fast, even in the steep, tight switchbacks. Click here to read my trail report for the Animal Trails and click here to watch my YouTube video.
Kingsbury Stinger, Kingsbury Grade, Stateline, NV: Thanks to the hard work of TAMBA, Kingsbury Stinger feels like a classic South Lake Tahoe mountain bike trail! It’s got great views, fast flowy berms, and natural and built rock features to test yourself on. Here’s a write up of my experience on the Kingsbury Stinger, and you can watch the video here.
Donner Lake Rim Trail: Castle Valley, Truckee, CA: Eventually the Donner Lake Rim Trail will be a 23-mile, fully bike-legal route around Donner Lake. Currently, the Truckee Donner Land Trust has completed 12 miles of trail and it already has something for everyone. The Castle Valley segment is what I think is the most challenging section. It’s full of natural granite features like steps, rock rolls, steep climbs and sharp turns. You can ride this as a shuttle and include the Wendin Way Trail for a fun and flowy downhill. Click here to read my trail report for Castle Valley and click here to watch my YouTube video of this ride.
Armstrong Connector to Upper and Lower Corral, South Lake Tahoe, CA: I have a special place in my heart for the Corral Trail Network. This is where I spent a lot of time riding and improving as a new rider when I lived in South Lake. Armstrong Connector has great views of Lake Tahoe and features like granite slabs that don’t show up on a ton of other trails in the area, Upper Corral is still a challenging trail for me – steep rock gardens and sharp corners in loose decomposed granite, and, of course Lower Corral is an excellent place to practice your jumps (all rollable tables still as far as I know) and lean into the berms. Click here for my route recommendations at the Corral Trail Network.
Mustang Sally, Tahoe Donner, Truckee, CA: I’ve just started exploring the fairly vast network of trails in Tahoe Donner. There are enough trails in that area that you could put together a fairly epic ride, plus they connect to the Donner Lake Rim Trail and the Prosser Trails! Mustang Sally is definitely worth seeking out. It’s on the easier side for a black diamond trail, and the tight switchbacks are great for working on your turns. Click here to see my Strava Route and here for my video of some of the Tahoe Donner trails, including Mustang Sally.
I hope these recommendations are helpful, and you get to spend some time out on the trail this summer! For some hot weather mountain biking gear, check out my recommendations here.
If you’re looking for some great beginner mountain bike trails in the Tahoe-Truckee area, click here!
Even though the COVID-19 outbreak has required that we stick close to home, I’ve still been exploring new to me mountain bike trails. I’ve just been trying out trails in Truckee and Tahoe that I haven’t ridden before. The Animal and Animal Crackers trails in the Prosser Trail Network, just north of Truckee off of Highway 89 quickly rose to the top of my favorite trails in the area.
Greyson and I rode these trails as a loop starting from the parking lot at the Donner Party Picnic Area. We parked on the west side of Highway 89 in the gravel parking area, so we could avoid having to cross the highway to get the trailhead. The trails start right from the parking area, so are easy to find. We headed up Emigrant Trail, taking it for about 0.35 miles before making a right turn onto the Lower Prosser Traverse, which is more of a decomposed fire road than a single track trail. At just before 0.9 miles, look for a left turn onto the Lower Prosser Crossover Trail, a short connector climb.
The crossover trail dead ends at Lower Animal Crackers, where you’ll want to make a left to keep climbing up. From here, Lower Animal Crackers climbs about 375 feet in ~0.9 miles. Here, you’ll come to a trail intersection. From here, we decided to make the climb up to the top of Prosser Hill on Upper Animal Crackers, which is a right turn. We started climbing up, but accidentally took the left fork at one point and ended up on the moto primary Prosser Hill DH. We almost immediately had to start pushing up over the loose rocks and steps, and after about 0.5 miles we thought to check where we were on Trailforks and noticed we were on the wrong trail. Ooops! We quickly headed back down the technical (but rideable) trail and got back on Upper Animal Crackers.
Upper Animal Crackers climbs just under 600 feet in about 1.2 miles, and I don’t think it has a single switchback. It is a pretty unrelenting climb, and we ended up pushing up some steep sections before finally making it to the top of Prosser Hill. After hanging out and enjoying the view for a bit, we headed back down the way we came, for a fast, but kind of uninteresting downhill. While the view from Prosser Hill is great, Upper Animal Crackers isn’t a super fun trail, up or down. I think it’s worth doing at least once for the view, but I don’t think I’ll be revisiting this segment. Also, on the way down (at about mile 1.3 from the top, we accidentally took a left fork onto an unnamed moto trail and had to backtrack and then cut a little cross country to get back on Upper Animal Crackers. Having Trailforks on our phones was a life saver on this ride – I’d highly recommend!
After a bit back on Upper Animal Crackers, we made it to the trail intersection and took the right turn onto Animal Crossover, a short connector trail. Trailforks was useful here, too, to make sure we didn’t get on yet another moto trail nearby. The real downhill fun begins on Animal Trail, which Trailforks ranks as a black diamond. I thought it was on the easier side for an advanced trail, but could see it getting more challenging later in the season as it gets blown out. When we rode it in late May, it was still in great shape. I thought the downhill was all rideable, with the biggest challenges being some steep and tight switchbacks. There aren’t really any mandatory jumps or built features, but the trail is a great example of trail building that uses natural contours and features to make a fun and challenging trail. Animal Trail drops 635 feet in about 1.2 miles with hardly any climbing. It dead ends back at Lower Prosser Traverse for a right turn before a quick left back onto Emigrant Trail and then back at the parking area.
Like I said, I had a great time and really enjoyed this loop which was 9.15 miles and 1,757 feet of climbing, including our wrong turn detours. Next time, I’ll just do a shorter loop and skip Upper Animal Crackers, while paying closer attention at trail intersections. The trails aren’t super well marked, so I’d recommend having Trailforks on your phone and checking every so often, so you don’t end up on moto trails by accident.
The Sawtooth Loop is a classic XC-style mountain bike loop in Truckee, and I always have a great time on it.
There’s an awesome new trail network in Kings Beach, just north of Lake Tahoe! We rode a few trails there this weekend to check it out, and really enjoyed this awesome new mountain bike resource.
Sorry about my hydration strap flapping into view for a bit on the Beaver Trail section. I forgot to tuck it away.
Since Greyson and I spent the spring and summer sticking close to home, we took the opportunity to ride some of the local trails we haven’t ridden before. Animal & Animal Crackers shot to the top of my list of favorite local trails, and I made a quick video about it. Check it out!
As I mentioned earlier, I created a survey to rank the mountain bike trails and beer for smaller cities and towns. So far, I’ve gotten 18 responses, and here are the preliminary results. Bellingham seems to be the highest rated town, with the highest beer rating at 9.25 and a high trail score at 9.00. Whistler/Squamish had the highest rating for trails, an average of 9.86, with a decent beer score of 7.43. Interestingly, Bend had the second highest beer score of 8.89, but a fairly low trail score of 5.89. Reno had the lowest overall score with a trail score of 4.75 and beer score of 6.25. (I think that Reno beer score is seriously too low. If you need a recommendation for better Reno beer, let me know.)
Because several destinations had as few as two responses, I also did a chart with only the towns that had at least 5 responses.
Survey is still open, so you can still respond here. Thanks!