Ever since I purchased my first my mountain bike, I have wanted to loop around the Tahoe Rim Trail (the TRT). The pure notion of riding your mountain bike on nothing but alpine singletrack around California’s largest (by water volume) lake was immensely appealing.  However, I had not done much in depth research about bikepacking this trail.  When you really start examining which sections of the TRT are legal to bike versus off limits to bike, the simple idea of circling the lake on your bike on one single trail quickly becomes complicated and convoluted. There are many blogs out there about this route, and each has a different opinion on which route to take. I suppose I am no different. There are at least 15 ways to skin this cat. As a starting point, there is a great website about the Tahoe Rim Trail complete with GPS files that are very useful.  Wes found Ride the Tahoe Rim Page on facebook, created by Matt Reynolds from Truckee, CA. 567eMatt’s route shared a lot of the California Sierra Trail Race which was created by Sean Allen from Auburn, CA; but it was also quite different in a few sections.  We both figured that Matt’s route was probably the most reliable and current route for only circling Lake Tahoe, so that is the course we set out to ride. Alan (from Mammoth Lakes) met Wes and me in Tahoe City.  Alan (an internet friend whom I had actually never met in person) was already sleeping in his truck when we arrived later than originally planned at 11:30 pm.  Wes’ family has a condo in Tahoe City on the lake, so that is where we started. Choosing Tahoe City as a starting point was our first big mistake, which I will get to later.  Our late arrival got us to bed around 1:00 am, so our intended starting time of 5:30 am quickly got thrown out the window.  We only had 3 days and 2 nights to complete the route, so this was our second big mistake, and we had not even started! Anywho, (as Alan likes to say instead of ‘anyhow’,) after getting coffee and breakfast burritos we started at about 8:30am. Despite the prediction for poor weather this weekend, it was a perfect fall Tahoe morning.
Our starting point from Wes’ pad (photo courtesy of Wes Barber)
We found the trailhead and started climbing up to the rim, and quickly got lost.  Looking back on Matt’s route, we missed it right from the start.  After restudying our track, it looks like we started going downhill on Mt. Watson Road for some reason.  Oh well, just another 30 minutes lost. EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg I knew the rim trail had some chunk, but this section was particularly scrumptious. I could quickly tell I was going to like this route. EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg There was nothing crazy hard about the trail, but there were plenty of ups and downs which kept our average speed at about 5-6 MPH or so, which is about the speed I expected. EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg The first water source we rode past was Watson Lake.  We didn’t need water by this point and the water in this lake looked pretty low and stagnant.  Watson Lake is not an exceptionally beautiful lake and there were actually quite a few people here.  This section of the TRT is easy to access for day trips and we saw a ton of hikers and other mountain bikers on the trail. EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg After Watson, there were some very fun sections of trail.  Flowy, chunky and perfect.  So fun I just rode through and did not take any photos (I always do that).  Then things got a little funky. First there was some hike-a-bike uphill that was a bit underused. EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg Then it got so steep and junky, that we had to walk our bikes downhill.  What was the point of the hike-a-bike up? EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg We did pass by a British mobster looking guy doing trail maintenance by himself that was packing some heat (he had a handgun strapped to his shorts). Needless to say, we did not pose for any photos with him. He was a mountain biker so perhaps there might be hope for this section of trail after all. But he will need a lot more manpower to make this section good.  So I will throw this idea out there as an alternate: Here is the “funky” section we did: EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg Maybe I am missing something and there are trespassing issues with this alternate, but could something like this perhaps be more enjoyable? EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg Anywho, after the hike-a-bike bushwack section, we finally arrived in the town of Incline Village.  I have been to Tahoe at least 15 times, but I have never been to this part of the lake. It’s one of the more sleepy towns along the lake, but plenty of services.  We decided on Rookies, a sports bar / casino.  Oh yeah, we were in Nevada now after all.  Our waitress was quite friendly but her English was not very bueno.  She was a transplant from Romania. I suppose eastern Europeans like her enjoy little mountain towns like this. It probably feels like home. EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg After Incline Village, we could see the bad weather finally starting to arrive. Just some clouds, but you could tell a storm was a brewing.  We were again faced with several route options.  We originally wanted to take the CSTR route which climbs all the way back up to the TRT. However, with the storm quickly approaching we decided to stay lower and take the Flume Trail, which is the way Matt’s route goes.  Wes had some other shortcut to access the Flume Trail, but we did not have the GPX file for it. I am pretty sure Wes’s option took Tunnel Creek Road up to Flume Trail, which is probably another viable option (maybe even the fastest): EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg However, we decided to more or less take Matt’s route up to Highway 431 because that is the GPX file we all had said. Highway 431 is awful. Constant cars going at least 60 MPH that give you no room. Not fun at all. The CSTR route follows this highway all the way up to the Tahoe Rim Trail which is a full 8 miles on the pavement. I am just playing devils advocate here, but I wonder about this option below that would skip most of the highway and instead climb steep switchbacked residential roads up to the highway. Still way better than riding on the highway in my humble opinion. This would limit the highway riding to only about 1 mile until you reach the Flume Trail.  A definite improvement than what we did. EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg The last alternate, if you prefer to go up to the TRT instead of the Flume Trail (this may have been part of the original CSTR route), is to take OLD Highway 241, which I believe is mostly dirt.  This would keep you off the highway for the majority of the climb until you reach the TRT trailhead. I can’t really speak to this option since we did not ride it, but it looks like the way to go if you were headed all the way back up to the TRT. EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpgAnywho, enough with the different route options! I told you it is convoluted!  After we got off the highway it felt like we were bikepacking again! The Flume Trail is world class.  Flowy and slightly downhill, with excellent views down to the lake – it is a true gem.  The sun set on us just before we got to Marlette Lake.  We had to snap some photos and video.  We made good time through this section. EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg Just after sunset, we finally we caught up to Alan waiting for us at Marlette Lake. EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg It was pretty clear by now that he was the strongest rider of the 3 of us, as I suspected he would be. Marlette Lake would probably make for a good spot to camp for the night, but we only had 3 days to do this ride and it was not raining yet, so we opted for getting closer to Spooner Lake instead. I had been to Spooner Lake before to ride, I and knew it was a little too close to the highway to make for a pleasant camping spot, so around 8:30 pm we found a little stream crossing our path and decided to set up shop there.  About 10 minutes after we stopped, it started to rain pretty good.  Wes and I are creatures of comfort and had tents. Alan is clearly more bad ass than us and he just a had a bivvy. This night I felt pretty damn good about my decision to bring a little more weight and have a nice dry tent for the night. I slept like a baby on Vicodin.


Alan was nowhere to be seen when I woke up.  I figured he was uncomfortable in his bivvy and probably got up early. Maybe he preferred to go at his own pace as well. We were slowing him down on day 1. Hell, I would have ditched us too if I were him. I woke up around 6:30, and Wes was still sound asleep. For someone in his middle ages, he sure likes to sleep in like a 16 year old teenager. The rain had subsided, but it was very foggy and wet still. The weather was sort of behaving, so it was time to ride. Finally I decided I had to yell at Wes’ tent to wake him up. But in hindsight, his sleeping in saved our ass later in the day from weather issues!
Campsite for night #1
Our first stop for the day was Spooner Lake where as I recalled from hiking here, there was a water spigot. The singletrack around Spooner is quite flat and pleasant. A great connection to avoid the paved highway. Right after we crossed highway 50 to get back on the TRT, another mountain biker came out of nowhere to say hello. This guy was an avid bikepacker himself and he saw us and rode across the highway just to say hello. I would have to say he was the coolest person we met along the way for sure. We should have all taken a group photo, but of course I always forget the importance of taking photos in instances like this. The next section of the TRT was pretty challenging, but great and rewarding at the same time. I sensed there might be some great views of the lake along this section, but with the freezing fog, visibility was about 40 feet at the most. It was fucking freezing! After each descent, we had to stop and warm our hands by blowing on them. EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg The 2nd half of this section was really fun.  Nice boulder drops and some technical goodness.  It was so fun I didn’t take any photos. I tend to skip photos when I am enjoying the trail. Live in the moment right? We got to a point where Matt’s route detoured from the TRT. Bikes are, in fact, allowed on that section of the trail, so I was a little disappointed that we were not staying on the singletrack. I knew that Matt’s route would take us to the Fox and Hound Bar – it was cold and we were hungry, so that is the course we took. Today was a great day for the Fox and Hound Bar, but if the weather had been good, I think that staying true to the TRT in this location might have been the way to go.  You could still descend out and back to go to Fox and Hound, but at least you would be staying on dirt and not pavement. That being said, I would bet the vast majority of riders out there would prefer Matt’s route because it is less climbing and the most direct way to get to food. For us, Matt’s route was the right choice on this stormy day.  It started pouring just before we got inside. Our timing could not have been better.  We pondered if Alan was stuck out in this storm at the highest section of the route (around 10,000 feet). His early start today was actually starting to seem like a bad decision. I am a firm believer that one should not post to social media while bikepacking.  Call me old fashioned, but I like to turn my phone off and not hear any electronic noises. I don’t think Wes subscribes to my ethos on this issue. He took this awful photo during lunch.  I look like a frail old hippie. I think Wes needs to drink more beer while riding, instead of spending time on Facebook. As they say, to each his own… EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg The storm finally started to clear a bit. The weather was definitely still questionable, but we decided to have a go for it. The climb from the bar goes to the eastern-most run at Heavenly Ski Resort.  I had snowboarded this run at least 10 times. It felt odd to be riding my bike here near the chair lifts. Once we were back on the TRT, it was pretty slow going. Lots of short hike-a-bike sections, but gorgeous intermittent views down towards Carson City more than made up for it. EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg Then we saw our first bit of snow, and Alan’s fresh tracks! Things could not have been very fun for him when the last storm cell had passed through. EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg Then Star Lake (which normally would make for a great place to camp) was an Arctic winter wonderland! EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg Just after Star Lake Wes finally got in touch with Alan. He finished with the dirt riding in South Lake and took the highway back to Tahoe City.  All I remember him saying was “I wanted to end on a high note”. For early October, there was a decent dusting of snow up here! Here is Wes at the top of Freel Peak Saddle, the highest point of the entire loop (Freel Peak proper would have been an excellent peak to hike to from this point under better weather conditions). EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg The next 10 miles of riding were the best 10 miles I have ever bikepacked.  Flowy and slightly chunky singletrack with plenty of tacky hero dirt. We diverged from the TRT here at Armstrong Pass (both Matt and Sean’s route stay on the TRT) and instead descended down the Armstrong Pass Trail (I think we also were on the Corral Trail and Sidewinder Trail as well). Anywho, it was the most fun 10 miles of the entire trip. Nothing else even comes close! EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpg EC_Tahoe_Rim_Blog.doc-.jpgAfter this amazing decent, reality set in again. We had a lot more climbing to do. But first we gorged ourselves on pizza at Bob Dogs Pizza in Meyers (my 2nd full pizza, and my 9th and 10th beer on this trip). After Bob Dogs, it was a really steep paved climb up to the Pony Express Trail. The first paved climb was a closed road that was not open to cars, which was nice, but these roads were all relentlessly steep (but at least rideable). After some slightly sketchy night riding on Pony Express Trail, we decided to call it a night near some footbridge and creek. We were very close to Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort. I wanted to be past the town of Strawberry by this point. I knew we had a hard last day ahead of us. I didn’t know exactly how hard our last day would be, but from the research I had done I figured it would not be much faster than 3 mph pace for most of the day.

Click here to read Day 2 of the trip

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