Greyson and I rode from our house to the trails on Waddle Ranch Preserve in Martis Valley on our gravel bikes in the spring. We found some fun fire roads, but much of the single track was a little too gnarly for the gravel bikes. I can’t wait to get back out there on my full suspension, though!
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!
The Sawtooth Loop is a classic XC-style mountain bike loop in Truckee, and I always have a great time on it.
Last week, I climbed a new-to-me peak in the Truckee area – Castle Peak. If you’ve driven east into Truckee on I-80, you’ve probably seen this unique peak jutting into the sky. It’s noticeable mainly because of the distinctive south facing cliffs and turrets, leftovers from an ancient volcano. In the winter, Castle Peak is a popular snowshoe and ski destination and in the summer it’s great for hiking. When I went in mid-July, it was snow free and the wildflowers were incredible.
Castle Peak is a doable, but challenging summit off of the Pacific Crest Trail. There are a couple of different ways to access Castle Peak, and the route I took was around ~1,900 feet of climbing in just over 7 miles. While this hike doesn’t require any technical climbing, it’s a tough, steep hike at altitude with uneven, loose terrain, exposed to the heat of the sun and there are spots where a fall would result in serious injury. Plus, to get to the actual summit there is some class 3 scrambling. You should be in pretty good shape and have some technical hiking experience. Be sure to bring lots of water and the 10 essentials.
I started my hike at the parking area for the Donner Summit trails, just north of I-80 off of exit 176 for Castle Peak/Boreal resort. (For a longer hike with more time on the PCT, you could park on the south side of the freeway by Boreal Resort and get on the PCT right away.) From the parking area, head up the Castle Valley Fire Road. Pretty quickly past the gate, there’s a great view of Castle Peak to the right, but it’s kind of intimidating to see how far you’ll have to climb!
After about 0.56 miles, look for a double track trail to the right. There should be a trail marker for the Donner Lake Rim Trail, where you’ll head down for a bit before beginning to climb. After about 0.4 miles on the DLRT, the Pacific Crest Trail intersects the DLRT, and you’ll turn left and start heading north. Here the climb is pretty mellow and shaded – enjoy it while it lasts! When I hiked it, there were a ton of corn lilies in this section. At about 1.2 miles on the PCT, there is a sharp right uphill to a signed intersection.
Follow the signs to Castle Peak and take the trail on the right, Castle Peak West Trail. Now this is when things get challenging! The trail climbs 1,100+ feet in just over a mile, and much of the trail is loose and sandy, making footing a challenge. I took a ton of breaks in this section, stopping to catch my breath, check out the unique rock formations, drink water and enjoy the views. Unfortunately, it was a little hazy the day I did the hike with smoke from a fire near Susanville.
There’s a steep climb to a small saddle before the final push to the summit – be sure to take advantage of this relatively relaxed section to take it easy. There are lots of little social trails to the summit from here. It seemed to me that they all reconnected fairly quickly, as long as you keep heading towards the summit. The trail is steeper on the last push, but at least there are some shady spots. If you want to get to the true summit of Castle Peak, you’ll have to scramble down past the west summit and back up again with some class 3 climbing up to the top.
Once you’re there, enjoy a snack break, soak in the 360 degree view and get mentally ready for the hike down. Honestly, I struggled more on the hike down than the climb up. The loose, sandy steep sections took nearly constant attention not to slip and fall. It was stressful! I didn’t bring trekking poles, but I wished I had, especially on the sketchy downhill. However, the hike down gets a lot easier as soon as you’re back on the PCT, and then it’s easy sailing back to your car.
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.
The water level on our local rivers was pretty low this spring and early summer, so Greyson and I played around with paddling our Kokopelli Nirvana Whitewater rafts on Donner Lake. Can you packraft on flat water?
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!
Did you ever want to swim at the top of a waterfall? Well, for a short period of time it’s possible at Webber Falls north of Truckee! I made a short video highlighting this awesome natural spot below.
This is a really cool place, so if you do decide to find it and make a visit, remember to be respectful. No glass, no fires and Leave No Trace!
Last weekend, Greyson and I rode the Tyrolean Downhill with 100 of our closest trail runner friends! We had a great time – get out and ride this trail before it gets too sandy.
This trail is accessed via the Tahoe Rim Trail, and it’s requested that mountain bikers only ride the trail on even numbered days.
There’s a new mountain bike trail in Truckee, the Big Chief Trail, and it is awesome! While mountain bike/keyboard warriors may complain on the internet that the Forest Service only builds boring, easy trails, that’s absolutely not true of the Big Chief Trail. Ridden from the top down, the trail descends about 2,175 feet over ~8.5 miles, but it’s a pain to shuttle and involves a lot of driving. If you’re riding up, you can either ride up the Big Chief trail or up the 06 fire road, which I prefer. The Big Chief trailhead is about 3 miles up the 06 past the Sawtooth Trailhead. If you are shuttling from the top, the Upper Big Chief Trailhead is near the intersection of the Fiberboard Freeway and the 500 road. There’s limited parking, but the drive in is all paved. (Strava route for the shuttle here and Strava route for the fire road ride here.)
Big Chief Trail is split into two main sections, the top third (which was just completed this summer) and the bottom two thirds. Big Chief Upper is the most technical part, earning its advanced rating. At this point there are several large features that I couldn’t ride and didn’t have ride arounds, though I was able to walk them fairly easily. (I’ve heard, though, that eventually all the features will have ride arounds.) This section is pretty rocky overall in addition to the several technical features. After about 2.15 miles and ~850 feet of descent, the upper section crosses the 06 fire road and Big Chief Lower begins.
The lower section of Big Chief begins with a tiny climb that opens into expansive views and impressive rock work. The lower segment is easier overall than the upper section, but there are still challenging sections and lots of features like drops, rock rolls, wall rides and more. There’s also a fair amount of climbing on this section, with about 550 feet of climbing overall. Most of the climbing comes in a half mile section at about 1.3 miles into the lower section.
After the climb, the trail flattens out and gets bumpy with rock rolls, drops, wall rides, wooden features, and more. All the features have ride arounds, and this is a good spot to session and practice. After the techy features, it’s mostly a fun, flowy, downhill ride to the bottom. There are great jumps and berms, and the trail is mostly smooth, though there are a few rock gardens and roots to keep you on your toes.
The Big Chief Trail is a fun, challenging trail that I’d recommend for intermediate or better riders. There are definitely advanced features on the Big Chief Upper and lower sections, but the trail is totally doable as an intermediate rider as long as you’re paying attention and prepared to walk or ride around when available. That said, riding just the Big Chief Lower section is less challenging than doing the whole thing, and a great option for an easier ride.
(from the top of Big Chief Upper down)
Mileage: 7.85 miles
Elevation: 2,178 descent, 675 feet of climbing
Difficulty: Advanced Intermediate