The Tahoe Twirl, Nevada to California and round again

  • Distance

    187 Mi.

    (301 KM)
  • Days

    4.5

  • % Unpaved

    90%

  • % Singletrack

    35%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    8

  • % Rideable (time)

    97%

  • Total Ascent

    19,305'

    (5,884 M)
  • High Point

    9,600'

    (2,926 M)
Set within the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada, the Tahoe Twirl circumnavigates the vast and mesmerising Lake Tahoe. Beginning in Reno, it blends burly desert jeep roads with classic Tahoe singletrack. Add mellow bikepaths, remote forest roads, fantastic camping real estate, and an abundance of swimming spots... and you have yourself a wonderful introduction to this beautiful area.
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Straddling both California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is, quite simply, a glorious place to be. This vast body of water comes complete with a ring of snow capped peaks and a network of sweet singletrack, weaving between its signature jumble of granite boulders and the mossy woodland that surrounds it.

The route covers a wide variety of terrain. There’s hot and exposed desert jeep tracks that spiral upwards from the fringes of casino-studded Reno, followed by the abandoned, overgrown roads that parallel Mount Rose Highway and its forlorn summertime ski resorts. There’s certainly no shortage of primo singletrack either; from the classic Flume Trail, complete with lofty views of this vast body of water, to extended segments of the Tahoe Rim Trail’s technical singetrack, endlessly weaving between chicanes of rock and pines. By way of respite, the route links various alpine lakes set high in the Sierra Nevada and of course, it skirts the populated waters of Lake Tahoe itself. The last day, the return leg from Truckee into Reno, offers a different appreciation of the area, via forest and gravel roads that hurdle Heness Pass into remote Dog Valley, before making use of Reno’s signposted bike paths to return to the heart of the city.

Striving to remain as rideable as possible, the Tahoe Twirl doesn’t string every last piece of singletrack together, come hell or high water, but it does strike a very nice balance between primo trail and shoreline bike paths. For this reason, it avoids the infamous Rubicon Trail and surrounding areas, littered as they are with deadfall. For the most part, this ride completely avoids the busy paved roads that heave with summer traffic, bar a short stretch around the tourist honeypot of Emerald Bay.

  • Tahoe Twirl, Bikepacking Lake Tahoe
  • Tahoe Twirl, Bikepacking Lake Tahoe
  • Tahoe Twirl, Bikepacking Lake Tahoe
  • Tahoe Twirl, Bikepacking Lake Tahoe
  • Tahoe Twirl, Bikepacking Lake Tahoe

Route Development

Thanks to Andy Forron for joining me on this ride and sharing the task of routefinding our way around the lake. To Joel Swenson and Arron Domeier at Surly for laying out the groundwork for this route, and (wisely) suggesting we avoid the harrowing pitfalls of the Rubicon Trail and surrounding areas. And to the many local riders who helped point us in the right direction along the way. And lastly, thanks to the friendly folks at Olympic bike shop, for steering us onto sweet trails that connect Tahoe City to Truckee and to local rider Matt C, who organises the Ride the Tahoe Rim bikepacing race, for his suggested bypass around Highway 89.

  • Tahoe Twirl, Bikepacking Lake Tahoe
  • Tahoe Twirl, Bikepacking Lake Tahoe

Difficulty

This route has been awarded an 8. The singletrack along the Tahoe Rim Trail is often testing but almost always rideable, bar the odd push and shove and a few short hike-a-bikes around Star Lake. There are significant, extended climbs throughout, and altitude will add significantly to their challenges, especially for those coming from the lowlands. On the other hand, regular resupply points and good access to water ensure logistics are relatively straightforward, allowing riders to run a light and nimble rig. Sections of easy going bike path, forest tracks, and gravel roads provide some welcome riding downtime.

  • Tahoe Twirl, Bikepacking Lake Tahoe
  • Tahoe Twirl, Bikepacking Lake Tahoe
  • Tahoe Twirl, Bikepacking Lake Tahoe
  • Highlights

    camera

  • Must Know

    alert

  • Camping

    home

  • Food/H2O

    drop

  • Trail Notes

    signpost

  • Resources

    link

  • Riding extended sections of the sublime Tahoe Rim Trail
  • Enjoying far reaching views of Lake Tahoe from the classic Flume Trail
  • The cool, translucent waters of alpine Star Lake
  • Stopping for regular, refreshing dips in Lake Tahoe and other bodies of water
  • Climbing out of the desert that surrounds Reno in the more lush and forested Tahoe National Forest
  • Abundant, beautiful camping in Tahoe National Forest
  • You’ll need a mountain bike for this ride: 2in+ tires and front suspension is recommended, though a rigid setup works too.
  • Allow for afternoon monsoon storms – make sure you have waterproofs and plan your attack on passes accordingly, hunkering down where need be.
  • Hang your food to avoid the unwelcome attention of bears and critters.
  • When to do ride this route: early summer through to fall, depending on the year.
  • Getting there: Amtrak runs to both Reno and Truckee from San Francisco and Oakland, though not all trains take bikes. The Greyhound offers an affordable service too.
  • Bring a water filter; water sources are clear and inviting.
  • Note that the Tahoe Rim Trail Association requests that mountain bikers only ride the section from Mt Rose to Spooner Lake on even numbered days of the calendar.
  • Much of the ride passes through the Tahoe National Forest, so there is no issue camping.
  • Being a popular tourist haven, all resupply points have accommodation options too, though weekend/summer can be busy.
  • Camping in the woods can be a little buggy; bring repellent or find more open, exposed spots.
  • Depending on the year, water is relatively abundant in Tahoe National Forest. 2-3 water bottles should be sufficient throughout the day. The driest areas include the climb out of Reno, the climb out of Tahoe City, and the forest roads beyond Heness Pass – see map for relatively reliable water points.
  • Within a few miles of dropping off Mount Rode Summit, water becomes more prevalent, with numerous streams, springs and lakes.
  • Food can be acquired every day, be it from large supermarkets in South Lake Tahoe , Tahoe City, and Truckee, to mountain grocery stores, bars, restaurants, or gas stations.

We rode this route in 4-5 days. We started in the late afternoon in Reno, making it to the top Mount Rose Summit by the end of the day. It took us three days of predominantly singletrack riding to get to Truckee, at a pace that allowed for photos, picnics and swimming. The last day from Truckee to Reno is easy going but can be more exposed and hot. Luckily, you can cool off in the Truckee River, right in the heart of Reno.

Note that we dropped down after Armstrong Pass, via Armstrong Connector – Sidewinder – Coral Trail – Powerline to Meyers/South Lake due to bad weather. But you can climb further along the Tahoe Rim Trail and descend Mr Toad’s Wild Ride/Saxon Creek as well.

Diehard singletrack lovers can work in more trail to the route; check out Trailforks and MTB Project for options.

Additional Resources

  • Lots of general information is to be found at the main hub of the Tahoe Rim Trail
  • To ride the full loop of Lake Tahoe on almost exclusively dirt and trail, see the awesome Ride the Tahoe Rim.  This gpx file is maintained by loca rider Matt Cor and is also run as a self-supported race. But be prepared to hike a hike across the infamous Rubicon Trail! The Tahoe Twirl is definitely a lot mellower.
  • Meriwether’s account of riding the Tahoe Rim Trail
  • If you have more time to explore unladen, there’s lots of great local trail info on MTB Projects and Trailforks

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.