Skip to Navigation

Tsali - Left and Right Loops

Bryson City, NC

With 4 loops and 42 miles of singletrack, plan a vacation weekend around riding Tsali. Tsali has been in existence for more than 30 years, and is thought of as the first place on the East Coast where mountain bikes were ridden. This is classic singletrack mountain biking, with ups, downs, rocks, ruts, roots, creek crossings, and epic views of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. All 4 trails are rated intermediate, with length being the primary indicator of difficulty. The trails all have a suggested direction, and only two are available per day, as cyclists and horse do not share the trails. Check the signage boards for which trails are for cyclists in the main parking lot.

The four trails are located on an isthmus next to Fontana Lake. You will be deep in the forest one moment and along the craggy lakeshore the next. There are three overlooks on the trails that provide stunning views of the Great Smokies. If you're luckily, on a clear day, you can see Clingman's Dome, the highest point east of the Mississippi River. There is camping located on site with very nice bath and shower houses in the camp area.

All four loops are intermediate in difficulty. This is classic, hand built singletrack. Rarely will your wheels leave the ground. It's fast, flowy, hardpacked surface will challenge you with speed, not technical terrain. Thompson is the shortest total loop at 7.5 miles. Super fast, super fun! Right Loop has 2 alternates that you can choose to make your ride shorter, and it has the toughest climb at the 4 mile mark. Left loop keeps you lake side for much of the ride, with a few tricky rocks to ride across and a few creek crossings. Mouse Branch is maybe the most technical, with off camber turns, a fast rocky decent after the overlook, and tighter turns.

We are located at 1700 feet of elevation, so you need to remember that the air is thinner here than in most of the east. Again, as most of the trails are handbuilt, they will have rocks and roots here and there, but long flowy sections where the most fit riders will excel. There are a couple sections on Right and Left Loops where you may have to get off and push, but overall, there are no extreme sections and no big jumps. While Thompson will take less than one hour, the other loops will take an average rider 2 hours each.

These trails were indeed built on old logging roads, and the USFS manages the area for many types of recreation. Of the 42 miles, nearly all of it is singletrack, except for County Line Road, which provides access for the USFS and emergency vehicles and the Nantahala Area SORBA chapter to do work. While some of the trails have a wider feel to them, the line predominately feels like singletrack.