Thursday, March 17, 2016


Tsali is next to Bryson City, NC. I first rode there in the late 80s, so this is a well established system. It is old school design, originally cut for equestrian use. Over the years it has been improved and maintained for bicycle use. Much of the trail has wonderful views of Fontana Lake, rising from a few feet above the lake to several hundred feet. Most climbs and descents are moderate, but there are several grunts on each loop to keep it interesting. Each of the four loops are 8 miles, and two can be combined to make a 16 to 20 mile loop. A really nice campground sits between the two sets of loops. Drinking water, a bike wash and bathroom are adjacent to the trailhead parking area. This system is highly recommended for a first experience in the mountains.

Milage >30

Elevation gain >3000'

On the first day we rode Mouse Branch and Thompson’s Loop for 17 miles of lake view trail. Both loops started with lengthy, sometimes steep climbs followed by undulating cross country and fast downhills. 

Ron cornering hard on Mouse Branch

Day two was the Right and Left loop. Elevation gain is broken up into numerous shorter climbs, some of which can be challenging because of steepness and loose rock. Let go of the brakes and scary fast speeds can be encountered on half a dozen well groomed downhills. But for the most part, it is gentle rolling, twisty singletrack.

Yes, there are climbs, but think of this as a future downhill.

Mike negotiates a tight switchback.

The lake is viewed from an overlook on the trail. The water level was low because the dam had been opened to draw down the water level before the spring rains. By the end of summer none of the shoreline will be visible. 

After our ride we had lunch at the NOC. Great food, huge portions, desserts that could count as a meal. From our table we could see the river with kayakers honing their skills, not unlike what we bikers had been doing only hours earlier. Next door is the NOC store, which is like a compact REI placed midway along the Appalachian Trail. Drool worthy gear for every sport imaginable. 

River's Edge Restaurant at the NOC.

View from the restaurant.

We stayed at the Euchella Lodge which has a dining deck over a ravine. After the days ride we would grab a few drinks and snacks, and sit on the deck to watch the sunset across the mountains. These trips are all about camaraderie. A fellow SWAMPer who in Tampa was an acquaintance, can become a new friend after sharing their biking experiences and life stories. Personal friends should be considered as one of life's greatest assets, and need to be cultivated as such.

Dinner on the deck overlooking the mountains.

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