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 onto sweet trails that connect Tahoe City to Truckee.

  • 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

  • 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 would work too.
  • Allow for afternoon monsoon storms – make sure you have waterproofs and plan your attack on passes accordingly, hunkering down where need be.
  • 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

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.

  • Randy

    YES YES YES! I’m doing this for sure. Thank you for putting together this diverse and varied route. Any thoughts on clockwise v. counterclockwise? Also, whats the rack bag on that white ECR?

  • Cass Gilbert

    Thanks Randy.

    I think clockwise is best. It means a relatively hard start, but sets you up for a tonne of a nice singletrack afterwards, then a nice wind-down on gravel and bike paths. But I think both directions would work fine.

    It’s the new sand coloured ECR and it’s the Surly Porteur House bags on a 24 pack rack.

  • Andrew Forron

    Ill second clockwise.

  • Ian Zuckerman

    This looks like an awesome route. I literally just bikepacked the TRT last week, and I really wish I saw this, because this route looks a lot better than what I did. We had just about the same milage and our routes were identical from the Flume trailhead to Meyers, but I stayed nearer to 28 around the north end of the lake, and took the big detour west of Desolation, via the nice singletrack out to Strawberry, the fairly rough Barrett Jeep Trail to Loon Lake, and the unspeakable Rubicon Jeep Trail, which I highly recommend NEVER attempting to bike. I rode this on a Surly Krampus with 3′ knards, by the way, which felt like the perfect bike for a ride like this. Thanks for posting!

  • Cass Gilbert

    Thanks for the feedback Ian, good to know. Our original plan was to ride via Strawberry and hit the Rubican… luckily friends (strongly) advised us otherwise. Then we thought about making a massive detour to avoid the area altogether, but try and stay off pavement. But in the end, we decided to drop down to the lake. Initially it felt like a compromise – but the descent was awesome, and it was kind of fun to have a change of pace/go for a swim/follow some mellow bike paths, before hooking back up on the Tahoe Rim Trail again and enjoying a really great section of trail from Tahoe City to Truckee.

  • Randy

    Word, thank you! That Surly bag’s looking shaaaarp. Seems like a basketpacking set-up might be ill-advised here, given all the single-track?

  • Randy

    If you’re not coming from altitude, I kind of like the idea of going counter-clockwise bc it would give you a few days to get used to the elevation before having to dominate it.

  • Forest Baker

    Great job on this route. I love that the amazing trails around Truckee and Tahoe are getting more popular among bikepackers. We just launched another route (www.bonestoblue.com) that is similar to yours, but has a lot more single track and starts/ends in Truckee. The inaugural race starts this Sunday.

  • Yep, that event’s in our system: http://www.bikepacking.com/event/bones-blue-2017/

  • Cass Gilbert

    Yes, I was borrowing the rack and bag to try it out. But given how much techy singletrack there is, I’d definitely go with a lighter front end if I was riding it again.

  • Dirk Cajada

    As always, top notch content Cass.

  • Modest Husqvarna

    There is a really wonderful Lake Independence near to the “bridge out/river crossing” area and is worth the 5-6 mile detour to visit. There are also other roads with bridges west of the washout if you would rather pedal over and above rather than cross the thru Little Truckee R.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Thanks you for that nugget of info. I saw it’s possible to detour around it, but seeing as it’s a very quick, easy crossing (and a chance to wash smelly feet!), opted to head straight over. Good to know that Lake Independence makes a great destination in itself.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Thanks Dirk!

  • Joel Swenson

    I second never attempting that section on bike.

  • Joel Swenson

    I had a basketpacking set-up when I did the route. It wasn’t the worst for the most part but was definitely a pain on some of the gnarly hike-a-bike sections (many of which got thankfully got cut from the route when Cass did it). As Cass said, I’d probably opt for a lighter front set-up if I did it again.

  • Joel Swenson

    Having completed a good chunk of this route previously, I can’t recommend it enough.

  • Joel Swenson

    I’ll third clockwise.

  • Chris King

    Great route! The potential for extensions and side-trips are endless!

  • Cass Gilbert

    Thanks. We did hear about that trail but didn’t get a chance to ride it. 89 was ok, as it was mostly descent… but I’d prefer to be on some nice singletrack! If you recommend it as a rideable trail, I’ll see if I can edit it in.

  • Ian Zuckerman

    That was exactly my dilemma. It’s an interesting question. What’s the hike-a-bike threshold at which it’s better to just ride on pavement. For me it’s maybe 40-50%. The main section of Rubicon was maybe 95%, maybe more, and “hike” is generous – more like drag, heave, and wrench-a-bike over mountains of crushed boulder rubble. All that singletrack on the Nevada side is so sublime, though. Looking at your routing solution makes me tempted to do this all over again!

  • Cass Gilbert

    I’d say that sounds like a pretty good ratio, as long as it’s not sustained indefinitely! I always find it hard to let go of the notion compromising on a backcountry route (in my mind, I’m like: how bad can it really be?)… but like I say, we were very strong advised to do so. Sounds like it was a good call (-;

  • mbmattcor (TD 6400′)

    I can eliminate all the hwy 89 riding above truckee with fs road and singletrack options gif you wish. I’ll post the gpx. a few of us have been run off the that hwy by logging trucks.

  • mbmattcor (TD 6400′)

    https://www.facebook.com/ridethetahoerim/ Here’s another variation with almost complete no pavement option around LT. It’s brutal and adds a day to get around desolation wilderness to the west and over the rubicon jeep trail.
    Looks at Aug 22, 2016 for latest gpx of that route.

  • mbmattcor (TD 6400′)

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/gql1d1ur4uv8wpm/no_road_option_to_bypass_89.GPX
    There is also a way to bypass hwy 89 from alder creek rd to donner camp on single track east of the hwy…use the schwartz to find it.

  • mbmattcor (TD 6400′)

    @ianzuckerman:disqus used my route. It’s brutal on the rubicon as we can attest, but if you want almost all dirt option, it’s the only way legally around the lake.

  • Ian Zuckerman

    Yes, I did! I actually just left a post on your blog, thanking you for the route. Great work, man. We got beat up but had a blast. Thanks again for the routing work!

  • Cass Gilbert

    Thank you, I will check it out!

  • Cass Gilbert

    Thanks for the comments and links, Matt. I came across your route during my initial research of Lake Tahoe and whilst I love the idea of keeping to dirt and singletrack where possible, it seemed a bit intense for what I was after. Before we headed out, friends strongly suggested giving the Rubicon and surrounding areas a miss (maybe there is extra deadfall this year?), so I was happy to cut down to the shoreline and enjoy some mellow bike paths and take a dip instead. Maybe I’ll go back and ride the Rubicon one day (-;

  • ben

    Great route. About to do something similar in a few weeks. Reno to south Tahoe to Colfax, Foresthill, Truckee, Loyalton and back to Reno.

    You should note in the description of your route though that the Tahoe Rim Trail section from Mt Rose to Spooner Lake can only be ridden on EVEN numbered days. Check out this page for more info: https://tahoerimtrail.org/mountain-biking/

    Again, great route!

    b
    e
    n

  • Cass Gilbert

    Hi Ben,
    As far as I know, this is only a request/suggestion. Which is not to say you should disregard the request… but only that when bikepacking, it might be harder to work it into your schedule in the same way that a day rider can. But I’ll that in as a note for people to be aware of. Thanks!

  • ben

    Cass

    Fair enough. I figure if the people who maintain and promote the trail request that we don’t ride it on certain days, I’m happy to oblige. Given that there are many other ways to get down to Marquette and Spooner Lake other than TRT, I see no reason not to honor that request.

    Again, great route!

    b
    e
    n

  • Brad

    I can 2nd Matt’s Rubicon route is a butt whoopin! A fun one though ;)

  • Brad

    There’s some good work happening on making dirt trail options up the southwest / west shore. Stay tuned!

  • Cinco de Mayo

    Great route/article/photos, thanks for sharing it. It’s on the list. Sorry for the gear question, but what cook set is on the black Surly on the bottle boss on the underside of the downtube? What bottle cage are you using to secure it? I’m looking for something similar for a bike that can’t support a frame back (full sus).

  • Cinco de Mayo

    asdf

  • Ian Zuckerman

    Hey Brad, I’d love to see that alternative dirt route on the west shore. If you’re willing to share and post it here, that’d be really cool of you.

  • Chris King

    The stretch between Truckee and Henness Pass is laced with loads of dirt and paved roads, but the single track is the tops for fun factor – just watch out for day hikers closer to town, especially on weekends.