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Seven Best Intermediate Mountain Bike Trails in Truckee-Tahoe to Build Your Skills

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 Trail // tahoefabulous.com

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 Trail // tahoefabulous.com

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 // tahoefabulous.com

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 Trail // tahoefabulous.com

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.

DLRT Castle Valley // tahoefabulous.com

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.

Lower Corral Trail // tahoefabulous.com

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 Trail // tahoefabulous.com

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!

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VIDEO: Fall Colors on the Donner Lake Rim Trail

The leaves are changing in Truckee-Tahoe right now, and it’s beautiful on the trails right now. A great place to check out the fall colors and get a great ride is the Donner Lake Rim Trail. This video is of the Glacier Way & Drifter Hut Switchbacks sections of the Donner Lake Rim Trail and the Wendin Way Trail. I hope you get out and enjoy!

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Five Awesome Fall Mountain Bike Rides in Tahoe-Truckee

Tahoe Truckee Fall Mountain Bike Rides // tahoefabulous.com

Fall, or “Locals Summer”, is hands down my favorite time to go mountain biking in Tahoe and Truckee. The weather is cooler, the trails are less crowded, and, if we’re lucky, we’ve gotten some rain to help tamp down the dust. However, some rides are better than other in the fall. Some trails get over ridden throughout the summer and are too loose by September, and others are high enough that early season snow renders them unrideable. Here are some of my favorite Truckee and Tahoe trails to ride in the fall.

Fall Riding Donner Lake Rim Trail // tahoefabulous.com

Donner Lake Rim Trail, Truckee, California
The Donner Lake Rim Trail, which currently traverses about 10.5 miles of single track above the north side of Donner Lake is an awesome fall ride. Other than some loose, dusty corners, the trail holds up really well into the late fall. The Donner Lake Rim Trail has some of the best views of Donner Lake, it’s one of the best mountain biking trails for fall colors. It’s easy to access, has plenty of parking, and it connects to other local trails, like Hole in the Ground and Wendin Way

The Donner Lake Rim Trail has sections for everyone, from beginners to advanced riders. The Castle Valley segment is rocky and technical, the Drifter Hut Switchbacks are mostly flowy with some tight corners, and the Skislope segment is either a mellow climb up or ride down. For more details about the trails, check out my Trail Guides for the Donner Lake Rim Trail from Castle Valley and from Glacier Way. I haven’t written a trail guide for the newest section of the Donner Lake Rim Trail that connects to Northwoods Drive, but you can check out my video of the trail here.

Fall Riding Corral Trail Network // tahoefabulous.com

Upper Corral and Incense Cedar Trails, South Lake Tahoe, California
While Truckee mainly gets dusty in the fall, South Lake Tahoe trails tend to get sandy from decomposed granite. This route consisting of Upper Corral and Incense Cedar mostly avoids the sandpits that form in the fall. To access the trails, head up Fountain Place Road, a paved road that can be ridden or shuttled. Upper Corral is a pretty technical downhill trail, earning its advanced rating on Trailforks. There are some tricky turns, mandatory drops, and long rock gardens, though all the features are walkable if needed. Incense Cedar, on the other hand, is a mellow trail that’s mainly downhill, with a few short climbs sprinkled throughout. Incense Cedar pops out onto Powerline Road, a fire road that can get pretty sandy in spots, but is rideable back to the parking area on Fountain Place. To see my Strava track for this route, click here. For more information about the Corral Trail Network, click here for my trail guide.

Fall MTB Riding Royal Gorge Rim Trail // tahoefabulous.com

Royal Gorge Rim Trail, Soda Springs, California
The Royal Gorge trails on Donner Summit make for great fall riding. The trails were designed with mountain biking in mind, so they hold up well. Also, since they’re less well known than other Truckee trails, they have much lower traffic than something like Jackass, and aren’t as beat up as a result.mFor a great fall ride, I’d recommend the Royal Gorge Rim Trail Loop, which is a little over 6 miles and about 1,000 feet of climbing. Be sure to take the Routen Peak Spur, and enjoy the incredible views. Click here to see my video featuring the Royal Gorge Trails.

Tyrolean Downhill, Incline Village, Nevada
The Tyrolean Downhill is an awesome shuttle trail that gets sandy, but is still an excellent late season ride. It’s got incredible views of Lake Tahoe and takes you through a variety of classic Tahoe terrain. Tyrolean has features that will challenge advanced riders, but the majority of the technical features have ride arounds that make this doable by intermediate riders – without losing the flow!

To do the Tyrolean Downhill as a shuttle (which most riders do), leave one car parked at the Diamond Peak Ski Resort parking lot, where the trail ends. While there are several ways to access the Tyrolean Downhill, my favorite is via the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT). Park at the Tahoe Meadows Tahoe Rim Trail parking area, off of Highway 431. Hop on the TRT: Tahoe Meadows to Tunnel Creek segment, and after about 1.6 miles, you’ll hit ab intersection. Turn right to get on Upper Tyrolean, which is a mellow flowing ride through the forest. After about 1.15 miles, Upper Tyrolean turns into the Tyrolean DH, which drops nearly 1,650 feet in 3.3 miles! The trail ends at the Diamond Peak parking lot, making this a super easy shuttle, with only about 350 feet of climbing over about 6 miles. Click here to see my Strava route, but ignore the spur at mile 0.8. We were riding through patchy snow at the top and took a wrong turn. For my video of the Tyrolean Downhill (also featuring a trail race and a bunch of runners who aren’t usually there), click here.

Fall MTB Rides: Big Chief Trail // tahoefabulous.com

Big Chief Trail, Truckee, California
One of the newest, techiest trails in Truckee is an incredible fall ride, the Big Chief Trail. The trail is mainly in the thick forest, and is well built so the dirt segments hold up well, even after long, dry periods. There are also incredible rock work, long rock gardens, and gravel sections which won’t get very loose and dusty. It’s made up of two sections, Big Chief Upper and Big Chief Lower and can be accessed by a 7.7 mile fire road climb on the 06/Sawtooth Road. It can also be shuttled and some people ride up the trail. The trail is multidirectional, but most riders tend to ride up the fire road. The whole ride is about 15.7 miles and around 2,000 feet of climbing. For my Strava route, click here.

This is a trail for advanced and intermediate riders, especially the upper section – there are some big drops, tight corners, and technical rock gardens. I ended up walking quite a few features on Big Chief Upper! For an easier ride, you can easily just do Big Chief Lower, as the start of this segment crosses the 06 at about mile 3.7. If you’re looking for even longer ride, you can tack on Sawtooth Loop or other trails in the Sawtooth network. Click here to see my video of Big Chief Trail.

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VIDEO: Mountain Biking the New Section of the Donner Lake Rim Trail

There’s a newly completed portion of the Donner Lake Rim Trail! Trailforks is calling it two segments – DLRT Teton and DLRT Skislope, which cover about 5.5 miles and around 950 feet of descent (or climbing, depending which direction you ride it). The trail is pretty dusty and riding slow right now, but it has incredible views and I think it will be amazing once it gets some rain!

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Mountain Biking the Donner Lake Rim Trail from Castle Valley

If you’re looking for a challenging and scenic ride you can shuttle in the Truckee area that is still mostly doable by intermediate riders, I highly recommend the the  Donner Lake Rim Trail (DLRT) from Castle Valley.

Donner Lake Rim Trail // tahoefabulous.com

Click here to see my Donner Lake Rim Trail Castle Valley Video.

To do this ride as a shuttle, leave one car parked at the Wendin Canyon Trailhead, located at the top of Donner Lake Road, in the dirt parking lot on the left. From there, get on the freeway westbound and take the exit for Boreal (Exit 176). Turn right off the freeway and you’ll be at the trailhead parking. This trailhead is access for the PCT and Hole in the Ground, so it can get busy on the weekends, but we’ve always found parking there, you just might have to park further down on the paved road.

Donner Lake Rim Trail // tahoefabulous.com
via Strava

Donner Lake Rim Trail // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

Start up Castle Valley Road, a chunky fire road climb that’s a pretty nice warm up. A little more than 0.5 miles from the trailhead, you’ll make a right turn on to what TrailForks calls Castle Valley East OHV trail. There should be a noticeable sign, pointing right directing you for DLRT access. There’s also a great view of Castle Peak to the right here.

Donner Lake Rim Trail // tahoefabulous.com

After a short downhill, this trail climbs ~190 feet in just over 0.5 miles. There, the double track forks left for the PCT and right for the Castle Valley section of the DLRT. This trail feels very old school to me – it’s not in any way flowy, and there are lots of short steep sections, both up and down with tight, blind turns and rocky drops. It’s definitely the section that I still have to walk a fair amount of any trails I ride regularly. That said, it’s really fun, great for sessioning and skill building, and the views are expansive. It’s one of the best places to ride sustained granite in the Tahoe-Truckee area and while features may be difficult to clear successfully, they’re not exposed.

Donner Lake Rim Trail // tahoefabulous.com

After the rocky granite section, the DLRT goes back into the trees for the Summit Lake segment. This section I find slightly easier than the Castle Valley section, and tends more towards roots and narrow trees, though there are still rocky features. Summit Lake is really pretty, and a nice place to stop for a breather or a snack.

Summit Lake // tahoefabulous.com
Photo by Greyson Howard

Just past the lake, stay left at the fork and get on Summit Lake Road. To me, this section seems something between fire road and double track, but I have seen jeeps on it, so keep an eye out for vehicles. After about 0.7 miles, you’ll take a sudden (and steep) left back onto the DLRT for the Negro Canyon segment. This section is a fun, smooth downhill, though it can get rather overgrown in the spring. The single track ends and spits you out for a left turn onto a short fire road climb. After about 0.1 miles, you’ll be back on single track, a short descent on the Wendin/Drifter Connector. When the connector ends, you’ll be on the Wendin Way trail, one of my favorite downhill trails in Truckee. By late summer, it can get fairly dusty, but the trail is well built enough that it never gets unrideable. There are a few rock gardens and rollable drops, but pretty much everything can be tackled by a confident intermediate rider. There’s one combo of features that’s a blind corner into a rocky drop that’s closely followed by a pinch between two boulders and then another tight rocky switchback that took me a long time to get confident on, though! After a little more than a mile of downhill and almost 500 feet of descending, you’ll be back at the trailhead where your car is parked.

 

Wendin Canyon Trail Truckee // tahoefabulous.com
Photo by Greyson Howard

These trails, along with many others in the Truckee area are built and maintained by the Truckee Donner Land Trust. The TDLT is an awesome organization whose mission is “To preserve and protect scenic, historic and recreational lands with high natural resource values in the greater Truckee Donner region and manage recreational activities on these lands in a sustainable manner.” This means, they’re not just protecting the land, they’re actively creating recreation opportunities on their properties, including for mountain bikers. If you enjoy recreating on these trails, I encourage you to help out with a volunteer trail day or donate to the organization if you can. Without organizations dedicated to preserving lands, our favorite trails are at risk to be sold off or shut down, so I encourage everyone to help out, however they can!

Trail Stats 
Location: Truckee, California
Mileage: ~7.25 miles
Elevation: ~490 feet
Difficulty: Advanced Intermediate
Washoe Land

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Trail Report: Wendin Canyon from Tahoe Donner, Truckee, California

There is an awesome new trail in the Truckee area! The Truckee Donner Land Trust has been steadily working on a 23-mile, multi-use trail that will circle Donner Lake.

Wendin Way Trail // tahoefabulous.com

Currently, there’s 7.2 miles completed, and the trail accesses some of the best views in the Truckee area – the Sierra Crest, Mount Rose and Donner Lake. Eventually, the trail will connect with other area trails, including the Pacific Crest Trail and Hole in the Ground trail. Additionally, there is an offshoot access trail called Wendin Way Trail through Johnson Canyon (sometimes known as Negro Canyon) that begins and ends near the Donner Lake exit north of I-80. With this less than stellar winter we’ve been having, I’ve gotten a chance to ride it a couple of times lately.

Map via Google Maps
Map via Google Maps

Both times, we shuttled the ride for a mostly downhill trip, leaving a car parked at Donner Lake, and driving our bikes up to the Tahoe Donner Glacier Way Trailhead. You can also park your second car at the trailhead parking lot at the bottom of Johnson Canyon, just off the Donner Lake I-80 ext. Don’t forget keys for both cars!

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The trail starts with a steady but not steep climb of 300 feet over almost two miles. Due to the fact that we were riding in February at above 7,500 feet, we had to push our bikes through a few slushy snow patches on the way up, and across a small snow field when the trail flattened out.There are a few offshoot trails, but just stay on the main wide trail until you see a sign directing you to turn left on to the Donner Lake Rim Trail. We were rewarded after the climb with sweeping views of the Sierra Crest and Donner Lake once we made it through.

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Now we get to the fun part! The rest of the trail is downhill, speedy single track. There are some rocky sections at the top and again at the bottom, but the trail is mainly nice dirt, and not the sandy decomposed granite that I’m used to riding in Tahoe! There are some sharp switchbacks and slightly exposed sections, but I would classify the ride as totally doable for intermediate riders, but still exciting enough to be fun for advanced riders. Note: there were a couple of big trees down when we rode this last weekend (2/16/2015), so be on the lookout for obstacles!

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After about 700 feet of descent at 3.5 miles from the start, there is a big metal sign at the Donner Lake Rim Trail/Wendin Way intersection. Go left onto the Wendin Way trail and continue your descent for another 1.5 miles and 500 feet through Johnson/Negro Canyon. I had so much fun on this part of the trail! Wendin Way Trail will spit you out back at the trailhead parking lot, or, like we did, you can continue down the paved Donner Lake Road to Donner Lake, where we left a car.

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Map and Elevation via Strava

The Donner Lake Rim Trail and Wendin Way Trail are my favorite trails I’ve ridden in Truckee so far. The Truckee Donner Land Trust does an amazing job with their trail building. Though this is a multi-use trail, it feels like it’s designed for mountain bikes. I felt like I could build up speed without losing control. The trails have enough rocks to feel challenging without being a miles-long rock garden sufferfest. I could glide through (most of) the switchbacks. I love that the Truckee Donner Land Trust is preserving wonderful places, but also making them so accessible for people to enjoy! (They also own the Webber Falls property). They are a wonderful group, doing a lot for the area, and they can use your support, through donations or by enjoying and respecting their properties. I hope you get a chance to enjoy them. I know I will be back on the Donner Lake Rim Trail!

 Donner Rim Trail Wendin Way Trail // tahoefabulous.com

Trail Stats:
Location: Glacier Way, Truckee, California
Mileage: 4.7 miles
Elevation gain: 342 feet
Difficulty: Intermediate
Washoe Land