Biking Tahoe’s Flume Trail

Mj 618_348_biking tahoes flume trail
Scott Markewitz / Getty Images

Finding world-class mountain biking trails near Lake Tahoe isn't much work. After all, the renowned 165-mile singletrack Tahoe Rim trail is basically a giant loop around this alpine lake, and boasts plenty of remote, challenging terrain with cliff-side trails framed by vistas overlooking the water and mountains.

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But amid the curse of plenty here, there's no easier trail to tackle – though one packed with more vistas, speed, and historical significance – than the Flume Trail, a 13.5-mile day trip near the northeast corner of the lake. To get here, go from Incline Village, Nevada, 15 miles down Route 28 to Spooner Lake in Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park. The Spooner Lake Outdoor Company runs a bike outfitter from inside the park. Find them and try one of their full-suspension bikes ($45) and pay $10 extra for the shuttle (to take you back from the end of the ride).

To put things bluntly, this ride starts tough. The first four miles are a wide, dusty trail that gains about 1,300 feet, most of it in the last mile of the climb. Bring lots of water and drink liberally during this section. Once you hit the crest, you'll ride a little less than a mile to Marlette Lake (elevation 7,823 feet). The path is still wide here and you'll likely run into hikers, campers, and horses drinking the crystal clear lake water that's shrouded in pines, aspen, and willow trees. Follow the banks of the lake for 1.6 miles on a fast, flat trail that acts as a prelude to the main movement. At the dam, turn left, and the payoff begins.

In the late 19th century, Sierra Nevada Wood and Lumber Company transported its wares – raw lumber – down the east side of the mountains to the mines in Nevada by means of a wooden flume. What remains of the flume – some nails, metal brackets, and warped wood – lies discarded along the steep banks of the Flume Trail. In its place is a sandy, vertiginous trail that is thrilling – one slip will be your sure death – and breathtaking, with its unimpeded view of Lake Tahoe. You'd think you could spit in the lake, if it weren't 1,500 feet below. After 4.5 miles on this epic section (be sure to dwell, you won't want it to end), it's a 2.6-mile, 1,000-foot bomb down to the shuttle. Brake sparingly. [$45;]

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