Trail Report: Mountain Biking Sawtooth Trail, Truckee, California

I’ve officially given up on winter. Not that I haven’t been riding/climbing/hiking all “winter,” but I’ve now officially given up on having any real winter in California this year. In honor of this revelation, I went on my first hard mountain bike ride of 2015, the Sawtooth Trail in Truckee, California.

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Sawtooth is a really fun and challenging lollipop trail through pine forests and across rocky pumice. The trail is easy to access, with the trailhead at a gravel parking lot on Sawtooth Court, just a couple of miles south of downtown Truckee. Click here for Google Maps directions.

Map via Google Maps
Map via Google Maps

Though I used to be more into riding trails that went generally in the downhill direction (via shuttle, chair lift, steep push up, etc.), I’ve gotten more into technical cross country style trails, hopefully with a mix rollers, technical sections, short but hard climbs, fast, flowy sections and awesome views. Sawtooth Trail delivers across all of these requirements!

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Sawtooth Trail is an 11 mile lollipop with about 750 feet of climbing. The 750 feel of elevation gain definitely worked me, though I don’t know if I should blame it on being out of shape, or the fact that a lot of the climbing is more technical that I’m used to. Though there are long, smooth sections of the trail, Sawtooth is rocky enough that I would strongly recommend a full suspension bike for it. It would definitely be doable by a skilled rider on a hardtail, but I don’t think it would be very much fun!

There are some really long rocky sections, but I didn’t find anything un-rideable (and rocks are definitely not my strong point!), but my wrists and hands were exhausted by the end, and loose rocks made the short, steep climbs lung busters. It took Greyson and I about 2 hours to complete the whole loop, which included several breaks for scenery, water, mechanical difficulties, etc – we definitely weren’t in a rush.

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The one main recommendation I would make with this trail, is to be sure to ride the lollipop clockwise. At about two miles in, you’ll hit a fork in the trail with a sign pointing straight to “Sawtooth Trail” and left to “Sawtooth Road”. Take the left toward Sawtooth Road! The trail crosses the dirt road and keeps going, eventually looping back to this intersection. I’ve ridden the trail in both directions, and riding the trail clockwise is way more fun! Otherwise you’ll be climbing up some nasty loose pumice.

Map and Elevation via Strava

This trail is closed to ATVs, and though it was a beautiful Sunday, we didn’t run into too many other mountain bikers, though I imagine it will get more crowded as more people give up on winter. It’s also fairly shaded for most of the trail, so I imagine it will be a little cooler in the summer than some of the other area trails.

Sawtooth is a really fun trail, and a great place to practice your rocky climbing skills. I can’t wait to go back! Also, Greyson has playing with the slo-mo feature on his new phone, and took a silly slo-mo video of me riding on Sawtooth Trail. You can check it out here.

Trail Stats:
Location: Sawtooth Court, Truckee, California
Mileage: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 775
Difficulty: Intermediate

 

Trail Report: Mountain Biking Donner Lake Rim Trail and Wendin Canyon, 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.

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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: 5581 feet
Difficulty: Moderate

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

01Tahoe Mountain Header

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.

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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.