Monday, September 20, 2010

3 Reasons Why Tsali's Left Loop Is the Best in the Trail System

Rocky Lakeside Singletrack
Out of all four trails in the Tsali trail system, this one has to be my favorite!  I personally think that this was the most interesting, picturesque, and downright-fun trail to ride in the area!

Like the rest of the trails in the system, these characteristics are basically true of the trail:
  • smooth, narrow singletrack
  • moderate climbs
  • sweet descents
  • awesome views
So why does this loop, in my opinion, rise above the other Tsali trails? There are 3 main reasons.

#1: Lakeside Singletrack
Rain Over Lake Fontana
Out of all the Tsali trails, the singletrack on the Left Loop spends the most time running with Lake Fontana in view.  In fact, much of the trail is as close to the water as it could possibly be.

In the rest of the trail system, whenever Fontana comes into view, it is usually off a ways and about 30 or 40 feet below.  At the furthest end of the Left Loop the trail is like this, but for most of it's length it runs right above the highwater mark, offering a different perspective and a visually immersive experience!

#2: Rocky = Good
Be careful that you don't spend too much time looking at the immersive view of Lake Fontana--because if you're not watching the rocks on the trail, that phrase is going to become a literal reality very quickly! While not very rocky in the grand scheme of things, when compared to the rest of Tsali the Left Loop offers up a welcome challenge!  There are several respectable rock gardens/obstacles, and most of these are located on the singletrack that sits right above the water.  These rocks really do promise you a swim if you don't nail them just right!  But most riders with any halfways-decent technical handling skills should be able to tackle these rocks, if they stay focused.  Still, its a welcome change of pace from the miles and miles of buff roller-coaster singletrack.

#3: Just Singletrack
Besides one short spur off to the overlook and one short crossing over a parking lot, there are virtual no navigational decisions that need to be made on this trail.  When compared to many of the trails in North Georgia and North Carolina, the Left Loop is a welcome relief from the constant barrage of navigational demands. Instead of having to worry about which forest road this is or where that trail goes, you can just push the cranks and ride.  And ride and ride and ride!  There is an approximately 8 mile section of singletrack that doesn't cross a single other trail or road--and it is such a welcome relief!

Less Climbing
Here is a point where the Left Loop differs from the rest of the Tsali trails, but it doesn't necessarily make it better or worse.  Simply put, this loop climbs and descends less than any of the others.  This is mainly due to point #1: it follows the contours of the lake at pretty much the same elevation.  So while I don't think this factor positively or negatively influenced how I enjoyed the trail, if you are looking for a flattish ride in North Carolina, the Left Loop might be for you.

Bottom Line
This is one of the best trails I've ridden in all of the Southeast!  From the sweet, serpentine singletrack to the stunning views, to the entertaining rock gardens, to the rejuvenation of the deep woods: Tsali's Left Loop offers up a generous dose of mountain bike perfection!  Get out there and Ride It!

Getting There
Head West 8 miles from Bryson City, North Carolina on Hwy. 74.  Hang a write on NC 28 and go about 3.5 miles past Freeman’s Motel.  The turn off onto the Tsali road will be on the right with a sign.  Head down that road about a mile and a half, and there will be big signs for the parking lots (on your left).

The Route
I decided to take the advice that Timm Muth left in a comment, and combined the Left and Right loops into a big 20 mile whopper of a ride.  The Right and the Left loops can both be ridden as a 10 mile loop with the gravel road that goes straight through the middle of the big loop.

Unlike the Right Loop, there are no bailout options on the left trail. There is one short option to head up to an overlook, but after that it's pure singletrack with zero intersections for 90% of its length. Being able to just ride and ride and ride is a welcome relief!

Navigational Resources

Timm Muth has written an awesome guidebook with detailed statistics and directions.  It includes almost all of the worth-while trails in North Carolina, and features a big section on the Tsali trails.  If you're planning on spending a lot of time in NC, this is a great investment!

The maps that I have come to live by are all a part of the National Geographic Trails Illustrated series.  Easy to read, almost always up to date, tear resistant and water proof, these maps are designed to ride in your Camelback months on end! #784 contains the Tsali Trail System:

Additional Information
  • There's a $2 per person fee for riding the trails.
  • The Right and Left loops are open to mountain bikers on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.
  • Camping is available in the adjacent Tsali Campground.  Primitive sights start at $15 a night, but there are facilities with running water, flush toilets, and hot showers.

All the Tsali Trails


scott,  September 21, 2010 at 7:01 AM  

Nice review! I am so glad I came across your blog so I can get fix of mtb info more often. Thank you good sir.

Greg Heil September 21, 2010 at 5:43 PM  

Dude, I'm just stoked that you enjoy it and that I can be of service! So yeah, you're very welcome!

Timm Muth,  September 23, 2010 at 9:02 AM  

Left Loop is my personal favorite as well, Greg. Nice writeup. And let me tell you, I've seen some really nasty tumbles down those rocks into the water, when a rider didn't stay focused. btw, how'd you like that quick rocky descent back down from the overlook? Whoo-hoo!


Greg Heil September 23, 2010 at 5:13 PM  

Dang, I can imagine what a fall that would be! Actually I skipped the overlook on the Left Loop... sounds like I shouldn't have, guess I wasn't being thorough enough!

Next time...

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Greg Heil is the Editor in Chief for He's been writing and publishing online since before blogging existed.

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