You can’t have it all—unless you go to Truckee, that is. It’s less than 15 minutes from the north shore of Lake Tahoe and it’s paradise for adventuresome types like me. It’s the perfect combination of mountains and beach. You want watersports? They have that. Climbing? You betcha. World-class skiing? Duh. Mountain biking? Hell yeah! Apparently it’s also a great place for golfing, but I wouldn’t recommend doing that on purpose.
I had long heard rumors of the epic mountain biking in Truckee from friends who had lived near there, but I wanted confirmation so I grabbed some of my people and we headed yonder toward the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Though mountain biking season doesn’t typically kick in to high gear ‘til around the beginning of June, years that produce less than average snowfall make trails below 7,000’ rideable by May.
Established in the late 1860s as a railroad community, Truckee is a charming little whistle-stop town with a population of about 17,000 where the storefronts have cute names like Jack’s Hardware and Molly’s Cupboard. It’s a place where you might expect friendly woodland creatures to sing a song welcoming you to town as the mayor’s wife greets you with one of her freshly baked homemade cookies. Neighbors exchange friendly banter as they pass on the streets, and can you believe it, this happens on the bike trails too. The Truckee townspeople seem to have managed some sort of perplexing residential arrangement that allows them to all live next door to each other. And they all own the most adorable dogs too. Perhaps each person is assigned one standard-issue cute puppy with proof of residency? We stayed at the Historic Truckee Hotel in the center of town within walking distance of…everywhere else in Truckee. It’s also a stop on the walking tour of local haunted attractions, but we did not happen to spot any boogie monsters during our stay.
After we checked in and did a little carb-loading, we met up with our Tahoe Mountain Guides at Cyclepaths Bike Shop, who not only helped us with all of our bike needs, but were also kind enough to help us successfully navigate around the intricate Sawtooth Ridge Trail system without bumping into any bears. Yes, bears. One of our guides, Ken, had a bear bell and assured us we were safe. I don’t mean to be suspicious, but am I to believe that simply ringing a bike bell is a sufficient strategy to avoid being eaten for lunch? I mean, how do the bears know that’s the don’t-eat-the-tourists-bell? What if the bears mistake it for a dinner bell? I think what’s really going on here is that our guides have struck up some kind of deal with the local bear sleuth. Though I can only surmise what the deal is, I bet it involves homemade cookies. Bears love cookies. The largely rocky singletrack has a few healthy climbs, enough technical portions and death cookies to keep it interesting, and just as many opt-outs to make it suitable for most ability levels. Pedaling about the flowy sections sans rocks amid the towering pine trees evoked a sense of sheer joy. I don’t think I would get tired of riding here. We earned our way to the end and finished the trail on the aptly named Happy Face.
After our ride, we were at that stage of hunger where we couldn’t decide where we wanted to eat, so we agreed to eat everywhere. We started with appetizers at Jax at the Tracks, then strolled across the street to Moody’s Bistro and Bar for entrees (housed in the same building as the Historic Truckee Hotel) and finished up by, you guessed it, walking to the other side of the street to The Bar of America. There we shared a dessert so sinful that we were actually carded for it. Not kidding.
The next morning, we saddled up and rode to a place called Painted Rock on the Tahoe Rim Trail via The Wall, which our guides, Bob and Bobbi, innocuously referred to as “a bit of a lung-burner.” The sweeping view of Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, and Lake Tahoe from Painted Rock makes all the climbing well worth it, but yeah, it entails some uphill suffering. This singletrack leads to a gratifying section of downhill called the Fiberboard Freeway, which used to be a conduit for loggers and leads into a spaghetti bowl of trail options with a bevy of downhill delights. There are so many spectacular trail choices for pedal-philes here. The Flume Trail is a must for riders in search of massive exposure paired with unparalleled views. It’s often featured as one of the country’s most scenic rides and offers miles of singletrack right on the ridgeline so it has breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe from 1,600 feet above it. There’s a tad bit of uphill on this one too.
After you wear yourself out on the uphill rides, I highly recommend checking out the downhill mountain biking at Tahoe’s Northstar California Resort to anyone interested in ridiculous amounts of fun. I tend to get a little overconfident while wearing a full face helmet and full body armor, but so far it has worked out okay for me. There’s enough versatile DH to sate beginners and experts alike. The Flameout, Livewire, and Meander trails are good bets, but you really can’t go wrong. The bike park is open from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. from early June through the end of August. While we were there we ate possibly the best Thai Curry pizza ever at Rubicon Pizza Company.
The next morning, after getting our morning caffeine jolt at The Coffee Bar, we thought it would be good to counterbalance all of the pedaling with some paddling. We spent the day kayaking on Lake Tahoe rowing through many gradients of clear blue water and passing by the palatial mansions that dot the shoreline. Andy, our Tahoe City Kayak guide, gave us a history lesson about the exploits of one of Tahoe’s most famous residents, George Whittell, Jr. Most of the stories were about Whittell’s pet lion, exotic cars, and his days in the circus, but all of it was most fascinating.
Lake Tahoe has been one of my favorite places on the planet for many moons. Partially because its proximity makes it a good option for spontaneous weekend road trips, which I have taken advantage of once or twice, but mostly because the area provides a full breadth of recreational pursuits. By our last day in Truckee, we felt like locals. We had finally figured out the best places to park, we had a yoga studio picked out, we could list several eateries we would recommend and, best of all, we had made enough new friends to participate in the passerby pleasantries. I can’t explain why I haven’t been to Truckee before, but I know I’ll be back soon.