Tahoe Trip Planning FAQ

Tahoe Mountain Bike Trip Planning FAQ

So you’re planning a trip to Tahoe and want to mountain bike – good choice! Below are a few questions that we’ve been getting via email over the last couple years.

1.       What is the best time of year to come to Tahoe and mountain bike?
Summer means sun and blue skies, with daytime high temps in the low 80s and nighttime lows in the 50s. In a word: perfect. The best time to access all the Tahoe Trails is from about mid-June through mid-October. There are usually only a handful of rainy (or snowy) days in that four-month stretch, but weather in the mountains can be unpredictable any time of year.

Winter in Lake Tahoe is all about the snow, so unless you have a fat bike just plan on skiing or snowboarding.  Spring can be inconsistent since many of the higher-elevation trails (above 8,500 feet) don’t fully melt off until mid-June or even July on a heavy winter year. We’re usually riding lower lake-level trails by mid-April on an average year, hopefully!

2.       What type of trails does Tahoe have to offer?
Epic, iconic, scenic, technical, challenging, flowy, chunky, climbing, and amazing descents. Lake Tahoe sits in a basin ringed by the Sierra Nevada Mountains that rise up between 2,000 to 4,000 feet above the lake, so most trails are not flat. Lake level is 6,250 feet above sea level and a few of the highest trails go up to about 10,000 feet above sea level. Some trails traverse ridgelines or are in lower elevations, but you’ll still average about 1,000 feet of climbing over 10 miles. Tahoe trails are rocky, technical and demanding for the most part.

Check out our trail descriptions for more informaiton on what trails to ride. We also have a free pdf maps of South Shore trails to download. However, the most complete map of all the Tahoe-area trails is the Tahoe Adventure Map, for purchase at all local bike shops.

3.       How many miles of trails are in Tahoe?
With over 75% of the land in the Lake Tahoe Basin managed by the U.S. Forest Service we have a lot of public area to access with a great network of multi-use trails. Additional public land around the lake is managed by California State Parks and Nevada State Parks. Needless to say there’s no shortage of single-track mountain bike trails in Tahoe.

We have a couple hundred miles of multi-use trails you can ride in the area, with many trails being new or rebuilt within the last five years.  Let’s put it this way:  You wouldn’t have to ride the same trail twice on a two-week vacation here, although there are plenty of trails that are so awesome they beg to be ridden more than once.

4.       What type of bike set up is best in Tahoe?
For most Tahoe trails you’ll want a full-suspension bike with 4”-6” of travel.  Unless you’re super hardcore with a single speed, make sure you have at least 1×10 gearing; Tahoe trails go up and down mountains.  The weather is very dry in the summer and the soil is sandier as the summer goes on so fatter tires at 2.2” plus is a must.

If you’re going to the lift-access parks at Northstar or Mammoth, rent or bring a DH bike. Otherwise you won’t need a DH bike in Tahoe as there are very few true shuttle opportunities. Leave a cross-country hardtail at home, unless that’s your only bike; Tahoe trails generally are not tame, with a few exceptions like the Flume Trail.

5.       Where can I rent a bike?
Most of the local shops around the lake have a decent rental fleet of bikes in the summer. A few will also rent bikes in the off season. It’s a good idea to call ahead and reserve the bike that’s best for you.  Mention TAMBA and you should get a discount too.

A few places that have really stepped up to help TAMBA with trail building in recent years are also some of the most stocked bike shops around. Check out Sports LTD on the South Shore, Flume Trail Bikes on the North Shore, Cyclepaths in Tahoe City, and Village Ski Loft in Incline. Check out our “Sponsor” page for more shops and local places that support TAMBA. If you’re going to any of the ski resorts that offer lift access riding they will rent DH bikes.

6.       Where should I stay?
Everyone will tell you their personal opinions on where to stay around Tahoe. In general it’s hard to go wrong, but there are a few places where you will be able to access trails more easily for out-the-door riding.  The main road around Lake Tahoe is 72 miles long and goes through both California and Nevada.  There about seven or eight towns around the lake.  South Lake Tahoe, California, is the largest population center with about 20,000 residents. It offers fabulous out-the-door riding from just about anywhere in town (see our map).

Tahoe City, California, on the West Shore is a smaller lakeside town that also has great access to trails right from town. Kings Beach, California, is another smaller town on the North Shore very close to Northstar with some lesser-known neighborhood trails starting from town.

Northstar is a good option if you are looking to stay at a ski resort in the middle of a lift-accessed mountain bike park. Truckee, California, is not technically in Tahoe, but it alllows easy access and has its own network of great riding. Incline Village on the Nevada side of the North Shore is another smaller town but does not have as much public access to the lake or trails, but it is the closest town at the bottom of the famous Flume Trail.

Generally the small towns on the West Shore have the least amount of access to mountain bike trails because they are bounded on the mountain side by the Desolation Wilderness (no bikes allowed in Desolation Wilderness). Pick a good home base that suits your needs or spice it up by splitting your stay on both the South and North Shores.

There are also many public campgrounds around the lake, mostly run by the U.S. Forest Service and state parks. Reserve ahead of time because they fill up quick in the summer. For easy ride-from-camp spots check out Fallen Leak Lake/Camp Richardson, Hope Valley, and Big Meadow off Luther Pass. Super adventurous travelers should consider mountain bike camping. You can backcountry camp all along the Rim Trail (300′ off the trail); backpacking is not just for hikers anymore.

7.       What else can we do besides mountain bike?
Lake Tahoe is an outdoor paradise. There are endless beaches, campgrounds, and forests. There is good food and drink around the lake and some shopping if that’s your thing. There are many weekly events at the lake, including outdoor concerts, street fairs, and farmers markets. Of course on the Nevada side of the lake there are casinos and all the excitement that goes with that.

In the summer there are outdoor events scheduled every week, ranging from local mountain bike races to stand-up paddle boarding events and even the Iron Man competition. TAMBA holds regular trail build days from April to October, plus some fun events and rides too. Check out our events page.

8.       Where else nearby can I ride?
The Downieville area is a fabled mountain bike playground about an hour and a half from the North Shore of Tahoe and two and a half hours from the South Shore. Mammoth has amazing trails and one of the most iconic mountain bike parks in the country. It’s about two and a half hours from the South Shore and three hours from the North Shore.

The San Francisco Bay Area and Santa Cruz offer tons of year-round riding and are about three to five hours from Tahoe. The California foothills are one to two hours away and generally offer year-round riding. Check out places like Sly Park and Auburn.

Reno and the Carson Valley are just a short drive from Lake Tahoe and also offer some great high-desert riding. They are likely to be snow-free in the winter and shoulder seasons too.