Tsali Trails (Bryson City, NC)
The Tsali Trails in Bryson City, North Carolina definitely fit our definition of “mountain” bike trails. We were only able to ride the Left Loop and Right Loop trails, but those 2 combined for about 18 miles of excellent riding. Terrain featured on our ride included gravel fire road, double-track, single track and several creek crossings (with and without bridges). Obviously, because we were riding in the Blue Ridge Mountains, there were a lot of uphill climbs, requiring a good amount of cardio fitness to successfully master. However, the reward for all of the huffing and puffing (and occasional walking) to the top of the ridges was twofold: first, a great view of the lakes/river, and second, a fun and fast downhill run.
If you come to Tsali Recreational Area, be prepared to pay a $2 per person use fee, which appears to be well spent. The local mountain biking association does a great job maintaining the trails and from what we heard other riders saying, a lot of time and energy was spent on improvements to the trails over the winter. Camping is also available right next to the trailhead for a very reasonable fee of $15 on a first-come, first-serve basis. (The campground is very small, so we advise having a back-up plan in case it’s full.) While we didn’t get to camp this time, it is our plan to camp on our next trip to Tsali.
Here is a map of some of the trails we rode: white-map. The next time we find ourselves in the area, we plan to ride the other two loops–Mouse Branch and Thompson.
Our first visit to Tsali occurred in the spring, so, as can be seen in the pictures, the foliage was not yet fully out and the water levels were not at full pool. We can only imagine that the scenery is even more beautiful in the summer or early fall. All in all, though, the Tsali trails were a great introduction to true mountain biking.
For novice riders/children
The loops we rode were not very technical, strictly speaking. However, there are some rocky sections, some places where the trail is narrow and the drop-off steep, and the creek crossings could be problematic, especially as the water levels rise. The greatest obstacle for us as flatlanders was the climbing. We wouldn’t recommend sending young children out to ride these trails, but adolescents and adults with some decent bike handling skills should be able to do most of it, although it will be challenging. Just be prepared to get off the bike and walk a good deal if your cardio fitness is less than ideal.
For intermediate riders
Intermediate riders will also find these trails challenging in places, but not technically difficult. We really enjoyed the creek crossings and the way the trails wound around the mountains and followed the river. The downhill sections are fast and a lot of fun. Again though, be prepared to walk some sections if you don’t possess billy goat legs and a decent level of cardio fitness.
For advanced/expert riders
For riders with an advance level of cardio fitness, the Right and Left Loops at Tsali are just really fun, scenic rides, that provide some nice opportunities for interval training.
Overall, we found the trails at Tsali to be a mountain biker’s dream. We enjoyed them immensely and can’t wait to get back and ride the rest.