Three Beginner MTB Trails in the Truckee/Tahoe Area

I first picked up mountain biking the summer we moved out to Truckee in 2018. Being brand new to the sport and getting acclimated to the elevation, led to some pretty slow and ugly performances on the bike.

I share this because if you are new to mountain biking, I want you to know that it’s okay to struggle! Seriously, my first 10 rides I would only go a few miles and would stop at the top of each climb completely out of breath. I was so embarrassed by my lack of skills and endurance that I would only ride with my husband and refused to ride with anyone else. Fast forward to now and I’m going on much longer rides and even doing some drops and jumps.

If you start with the rides I have listed below and practice each of them several times, I guarantee you’ll be crushing it within a few months. Good luck and see you on the trail!

Incline Flume

Located in Incline Village, this 8.5 mile trail is my go-to trail for beginner mountain bikers. The Incline Flume has it all for the beginner rider – smooth single-track, very little climbing, and amazing views of the north shore. There are a few different access points to this trail, so make sure you are doing the Incline Flume and not the Marlette Flume, which has a ton of climbing.

To start the ride off, shuttle to the trailhead by taking two cars and parking one down near the Tunnel Creek Café, which is located at the end of the trail. Then drive up to the trailhead and park across the street where there is typically ample space on the side of Mt. Rose Highway.  

The first few miles of the trail meander at near constant elevation above Incline Village. There are a few exposed sections and streams to cross, but nothing that can’t easily be walked. About halfway through the trail you will cross through the Diamond Peak ski area and then the trail will continue on similarly to the first section. At the 6.5 mile mark the trail intersects with Tunnel Creak trail where you will begin your descent to Tunnel Creek Café. Once you finish the ride and reach the Café, reward yourself with a much-deserved beer and relax at one of their many picnic tables.  

For a detailed map and directions, check out TrailForks.

Emigrant

With its mellow and non-technical single-track, Emigrant trail is the perfect choice for a beginner rider. It’s also one of the first trails in the area to shed the snow from winter, making it a great trail to warm up on in the spring.

Emigrant trail runs from the Donner Camp ground off of 89N all the way to Stampede (about 10 miles one way). For a beginner rider, I would not recommend doing the full 20 miles ride. Instead choose one of the following options:

For a true beginner: 5-mile out and back route

Park at the Donner Camp ground and begin your ride on the trail to the left. The trail starts flat but then quickly gets into a short climb. After about a mile of riding you will come to a fork, where you can choose to go either left or right. Ride for another 1.5 miles until you reach the highway and turn around. On your return, take the opposite side of the loop that you rode on the way out.

For a beginner/intermediate rider: 10 mile out and back route

Take the same route out to the highway as you would doing the 5-mile beginner route. However, once you reach the highway, instead of turning around, dismount and walk your bike to the right about 200 yards to the start of the second portion of the trail. Once you reach the second portion of the trail, you’ll ride another 2.5 miles ending with a final climb. Once you reach the top of your last climb, return the way you came.

Note: If you’re not comfortable with the short trek on the highway, you can also park at Hobart Mills, which is right near the start of the second portion of the ride. This will cut out about 5 miles from your ride, so adjust your route accordingly.

Sawtooth

Although a more technical ride than Emigrant and the Incline Flume, Sawtooth is a great ride for beginners as it is easily accessible from downtown Truckee and offers several route variations. The traditional Sawtooth loop is about 10.5 miles, which may be a bit much if you are just starting out, especially because there is a mixture of technical sections and climbing. Instead, I recommend you take one of the following routes if you are just starting out:

For a true beginner: Lower ridgeline 4-mile loop

Access to the Sawtooth trail, is on the FS06 fire road off of Thelin Dr. in the Sierra Meadows neighborhood. Park in the pullout on the right-hand side about .25 miles down the road. The beginning of this loop is fairly flat but with some technical sections. About a mile into your ride there is viewpoint showcasing the Truckee River below, which is a great place to take a water break. Continue your ride on the trail for another mile until you reach a fork. For a true beginner, I recommend you turn left and take the fire road back to the parking lot.

For a beginner/intermediate rider: Lower + upper ridgeline 8-mile loop

This route starts the same way as the true beginner loop, however this time when you reach the fork at the 2-mile point, continue straight instead of turning left onto the fire road. Continue on the trail for another 2 miles of flowy riding until you intersect with the fire road once more. If you’ve had enough of trail riding for the day, turn left down and ride the FS06 back to the parking lot, completing your 8-mile ride. If you still have gas left in the tank, finish the Sawtooth loop by crossing the fire road and continuing on the trail for another 4 miles. The end of the loop will spit you out at the FS06 where you can take the lower ridgeline back the opposite way you came or turn right and take the fire road back to the parking lot for a 10.5 mile ride.

Happy riding!

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