mountain biker on Armstrong Connector within Lake Tahoe Corral trail network

When we first moved to South Lake Tahoe, the idea of riding a mountain bike was terrifying. There is some big boy (and girl) terrain that can beat you into a bloody pulp as our friend can attest to. However, with over 78% of the area surrounding Lake Tahoe being public land, there are hundreds of miles of trails suitable for all skill levels, from first timers to experts like Danny MacAskill. Here’s our list of the top 9 mountain bike trails in South Lake Tahoe and why we love them.

For a comprehensive guide to ALL the mountain bike trails in Lake Tahoe and Truckee, don’t miss our article: Flume To Toads And Beyond – Lake Tahoe Mountain Bike Guide.

 

Valley View

Early and Late Season Fun
Trail difficulty: Intermediate (For easier descent take Tahoe Mountain-South trail)

Valley View Trail on Trailforks.com

For early-season riding, one of the prime spots to get our legs underneath us is Tahoe Mountain. It’s the small mountain just beyond the “Y” in South Lake Tahoe. Due to its lower elevation and boasting open, south-facing terrain, Tahoe Mountain tends to melt out early and hold off on snow longer than other areas. You’ll find about 19 miles of trails here with two main descent options on the south side: Tahoe Mountain South and Valley View. Valley View stands out as the most technical route in the network, featuring banked turns, three short rock gardens, and two optional log rides. Before you pick your descent, take a moment to soak in the breathtaking views of Mt. Tallac, Lake Tahoe, and the Angora burn area.

mountain biker going down Tahoe Mountain South Trail in late season
Jaime enjoying the south side of Tahoe Mountain during late season – Photo by Jaime Pirozzi – Local Freshies®

Great Late Season Too

Tahoe winters can be unpredictable, with each season bringing its own surprises. In those seasons when the snow is slow to arrive, you’ll find that mountain biking on Tahoe Mountain often surpasses skiing. In fact, we’ve enjoyed some of our best rides of the season on Christmas Eve!

Incense Cedar

Quick Out-and-Back From Town
Trail difficulty: Intermediate (due to climbing more than technical terrain)

Incense Cedar Trail on Trailforks.com

The Corral trail system is the beating heart of the South Lake Tahoe mountain biking scene. Corral is the star of the show with its banked turns, rock gardens, and an entire jump line for the bottom half. Mid-summer, this system can get quite popular since it’s easily shuttled via a paved access road. But our favorite in this area is Incense Cedar. Why? Because we can do this as a quick two-hour ride (or less) from town without making it a full day endeavor. And when Corral does get busy, it’s a great alternative if you want to go for a pedal pretty much by yourself.

 

How to Ride It

As an out-and-back you’ll enter via Powerline Road which is an unpaved access road. The lower section begins with a quick punchy set of switchbacks and then settles down to an easy climbing grade. Winding through a tall conifer forest, it provides a good deal of shade during the summer months. There’s one major obstacle for ascending – that’s a giant boulder more easily roll-able for the descent. Once you pass it, the trail continues its gradual climb with a mix of pump-track like rollers and some well sculpted berms, finishing up with a fun quick descent to Corral. From here you can either take Lower Corral and make it a large loop or turn around and enjoy all the hard work you’ve scoped out via Incense Cedar’s the flowy singletrack.

Mule Deer Connector

Our Litmus Test For Cardio
Trail difficulty: Intermediate (due to climbing more than technical terrain)

Mule Deer Connector Trail on Trailforks.com

There are trails perfect to test your limits and see where your cardio is at. Not so long that it becomes a full day affair but challenging enough to ensure you know how you stack up. This is the Mule Deer Connector. Not technical by any means, it starts off slowly teasing you with a few steep switchbacks, each one followed by a gradual climb. As you pedal closer to the top, you’re given a brief respite and when you think it’s over, it isn’t. Rather, the trail finishes off strong with two of the steepest switchbacks to get you to crest the top. As an out-and-back, you expect from the climb that its descent is fun and flowy. Once the Angora Lakes road opens, you can also do it as a shuttle.

 

Angora Ridge

Views, Spice and Everything Nice
Trail difficulty: Solid Intermediate

Lower Angora Ridge Trail on Trailforks.com

The cake after the steak and potatoes of Mule Deer Connector. The Angora Ridge trail is the Local Freshies Gal’s favorite trail in Tahoe. Built on a rocky glacial moraine ridgeline, while it doesn’t have the huge rock gardens like Cold Creek or Christmas Valley, it is relentlessly rocky at a moderate pitch. Not chicken heads but filled with enough rocks to keep you focused on where you need to navigate your front wheel. While you need to keep focused throughout, be sure to stop along the way and take in the jaw dropping views of Fallen Leaf Lake and Lake Tahoe. Fun as a downhill AND up.

Brian Kelly mountain biking on Tahoe Mountain
Brian Kelly on a leisurely ride with his better half on Angora Ridge – Photo by: Local Freshies®

Christmas Valley

Testing My Limits
Trail difficulty: Expert

Christmas Valley Trail on Trailforks.com

If you’re a mountain biker wanting to test your mettle, equipment, and technique, Santa has a present for you: Christmas Valley. This trail is one of the iconic mountain bikes trails not just on the south shore but all of Lake Tahoe. From the top, the trail slowly turns up the volume. A few switchbacks. Minor rocks to roll over. And then you arrive to the 1st big rock garden. This is only the beginning of a long and relentless trail. Not so much scary (See Mr. Toad’s below for that) but just a continuous testing of technique. The focus seems to be on making sure you got the skills to pay the bills. Route finding. Pedal placement. Consistent speed. And yet throughout the trail if you’re a strong intermediate, you’ll feel as though you could ride it cleanly. Then suddenly an odd, placed rock makes you think otherwise.

mountain biker on Christmas Valley Trail in Lake Tahoe
Rider: Darin Haworth – Photo by: Local Freshies®

The Bite Is Back

Many grizzled locals say the re-routing a few years ago has taken its “bite” away and tamed it. Local mountain biking organization TAMBA took that to heart and has introduced a variety of optional routes throughout it to add a little more heat to the trail.

Cold Creek

Keeping It “Cool” In Summer
Trail difficulty: Varies (Upper is expert; lower section is great for intermediates and beginners)

Cold Creek Trail (Upper) on Trailforks.com

Due to it being located next to Cold Creek and under a deep forest canopy, even on the hottest summer days this trail offers a respite from the heat. Think of Cold Creek as two separate trails – upper and lower. The lower section is flowy and a great introduction into what makes mountain biking awesome. There are a few minor obstacles such as a tight weave through two tall pine trees and even some optional kickers and log rides to enjoy. But as you ascend higher just beyond the intersection of Powerline trail (a great introductory trail for first timer), the difficulty begins to slowly ratchet up.

Rider Darin Haworth at the beginning of the waterfall section on Cold Creek

Upper is for Experts

Don’t be fooled by its easy start. As you ascend in elevation, it will become more challenging. It offers a bit of everything: several minor creek crossings, a series of well-placed granite steps that wind their way down, and arguably one of the longest rock gardens in Tahoe. The highlight is a feature nicknamed the “waterfall” due to it looking like a waterfall. If you’re riding it as an out-and-back endeavor, you’ll likely need to hike-a-bike the “waterfall” section on the climb unless you’re Danny MacAskill.

 

Star Lake Connector

Our Favorite Summer Adventure
Trail difficulty: Intermediate

Star Lake Trail on Trailforks.com

Perched at 9,250’ above sea level, Star Lake stands as one of the most remote lakes in Tahoe. Its lofty elevation means the trail to it is usually one of the last to open and first to close due to snow. Perhaps this explains why Jaime and I make a point to visit at least once every summer. And the views… oh the views.

Bikes at Star Lake
The view from Star Lake is two bikes up – Photo by Local Freshies®

What To Expect

A perfect mix for a strong intermediate. Starting from the lake, it begins with a few weaving granite steps and boulders to navigate that quickly transitions to a fast flowy descent with swoopy turns. As the trail begins to level off, it becomes peppered with rocks and boulders that need to be navigated. Keep an eye out for one rock garden in particular that crosses a small creek. In the early season, it may become filled with water from snowmelt.

For a full immersion into what the experience is like, including different entry options and more, dive into our article: Biking To Star Lake Tahoe – Our Favorite Summer Adventure.

Bad News First…

Let’s bring up the brutal truth. There isn’t an easy way to get here. Regardless of where you start, the entrance to the trailhead is at a whopping 7,900’ that means A LOT of climbing before you get to it. The good news is all that pedaling up means 2,800’ of continuous downhill fun if you started at the High Meadows Road trailhead.

 

Lily Lake

Work of Art
Trail difficulty: Expert

Lily Lake Trail on Trailforks.com

When you gaze up from below, it’s hard to believe there’s a mountain bike trail snaking through that terrain. And yet it’s there, defying expectations. Out of any South Lake Tahoe bike trail, this one stands out as a marvel of trail construction. It would be what Frank Lloyd Wright would create if he was a mountain biker. Built in a way that serves both beauty and functionality without sacrificing anything. Along the way, you’ll encounter slickrock sections, boulder traverses, and all culminating with an expansive view of Fallen Leaf Lake, Lake Tahoe, and the Desolation Wilderness, from the edge of a 75-foot cliff.

Saxon Creek

Check Your Ego at The Door
Trail difficulty: As expert as it comes. Bring the big bike and full protection

Saxon Creek Trail (Mr. Toad's Wild Ride) on Trailforks.com

Mountain bikers know this trail by another more famous name – Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. It’s the ultimate measuring stick to see just how good you REALLY are. This is the trail that says loudly to mountain bikers, “You think you’re good enough? Hold by my beer.” Even its official name, “Saxon,” evokes images of the fierce Germanic Vikings, coastal raiders who plundered the English shores. Just like those Saxons, only the best will survive or expect to be “plundered” by it.

 

What to Expect

Prepare yourself for giant rock gardens that seemed to have been built by trolls, mandatory 6+ foot drops, and one-of-a-kind features like “the steps” that you need to see to believe. Will I ever ride this entire trail cleanly? Not in my lifetime and I’m ok with that. For those wondering what it’s REALLY like, be sure to read our personal experience of hitting Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

Honorable Mention – The Flume Trail

summer activities in lake tahoe flume trail mountain biking
Mountain biking on the Flume Trail; Photo by Local Freshies®

Although it’s not one of the MTN bike trails in South Lake Tahoe, we had to at least mention the Flume Trail. When we have friends or family visit that aren’t really mountain bikers, this trail specifically is our go to. While the riding isn’t particularly tough, you go for the views. Personally, it has the BEST views of Lake Tahoe. Every time we hit it, we’re blown away. Here’s what to expect on the Tahoe Flume Trail.

The post Our 9 Favorite MTN Bike Trails In South Lake Tahoe & Why appeared first on Local Freshies.