Tsali Left and Right Loops
Tsali Left Loop and Tsali Right Loop are combined to produce this 24-mile ride. Mountain bikers have been visiting Tsali Recreation Area for years to experience all of what these trails have to offer: amazing singletrack and beautiful views of Fontana Lake and of the surrounding Nantahala National Forest.
Riding this ride one day and the Tsali Mouse Branch and Thompson Loops either before or after provides a combined 40-mile outing to the region.
Tsali has a small user fee, which you must pay in cash at the main parking lot before riding.
From the main parking area, head toward the kiosk and pay the day use fee at the fee station. From here, roll past the bike wash and make the sharp turn on the Tsali Left Loop. After completing the left loop, you will start the Tsali Right Loop at this location.
Food and drink
Camping is available within the Tsali Recreation Area where you can ride in/ride out to the trails. Sites contain water and electricity, and showers also available. Tumbling Waters Campground and Freemans Motel and Cottages are also popular accommodations.
Tsali Trails rotate bike use with horse traffic. The Schedule changed in 2015 with the new mountain bike schedule as follows:
Tsali Right Loop and Tsali Left Loop: Monday, Wednesday, Friday & Sunday
Mouse Branch Loop and Thompson Loop: Tuesday, Thursday, & Saturday
Tsali Right Loop and Tsali Left Loop: Tuesday, Thursday, & Saturday
Mouse Branch Loop and Thompson Loop: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, & Sunday
Head up the hill and continue across County Line Road. The first section is a fun descent that has great views of the lake and is very close to the shoreline in places. About 4 miles into the ride, the trail turns more to the east, where you'll begin a gradual climb (with one nice downhill in the middle to break it up). After 4 more miles and approximately 300 ft. of elevation gain, you'll find yourself at an impressive cliff overlook.
The overlook here is one of the best views on the trail. Across the lake is Pilot Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On a clear day, you can see 6000 ft. peaks in the distance along the NC/TN state line.
From the overlook, there's a quick descent, and then an intersection with the Tsali Right Loop and County Line Road. Continue to go straight ahead here. You'll be back at this intersection when completing the Right Loop. This road is doubletrack. It has a solid climb in the beginning, but is mostly downhill after that.
Stay on this road all the way to the parking lot, passing the intersection with the Left Loop. This will give you a chance to take a break at the shelter or grab some food from your car. Head straight past the bike wash and trailhead to get to the Tsali Right Loop.
This ride adds on the overlook trail at Windy Point to the Right Loop, so the mileage is just a couple of miles longer. The Right Loop is very similar to the Left Loop, and there are rocky spots and a couple of difficult climbs. Similarly, there are plenty of fast flowy sections to balance out the climbs.
When riding the Right Loop toward Windy Point, you'll notice less shoreline riding for the most part, as the Tsali Peninsula itself is a bit steeper on the eastern slopes. There are still plenty of turns that follow the contours of the lake, but the trail is a bit further inland in places.
15 miles into this ride (about 4 mi. into the Right Loop) you'll start a solid climb that gains 250 feet in about one mile. After topping that out, it's an easier grade toward the overlook. Stay right at the forks in the trail to get to the Windy Point Overlook with more great views. The overlook loop is only about a mile long. On the way back, again, stay right, and also stay right at the shortcut trail. Follow the contours of the Meadow Branch for a bit, a big cove of the lake. Eventually, you'll be at the intersection with the Left Loop and be back in some familiar territory.
Follow County Line Road back to the parking lot where it will be time for some high-fives and discussions about the FUN you've had! There's no place like Tsali.
History and background
Tsali is managed by the Cheoah District of Nantahala National Forest. It has been a well-known destination for mountain biking for a long time. It still has a solid reputation for weekend getaways, and has held up well to the tests of time and traffic. The trails are maintained by Nantahala Area SORBA, an organization that contributes hundreds of volunteer hours per year to maintain the system, and also sponsors some cool rides and outings (nantahalaareasorba.org/).
Some of the information on this page has been sourced from:
35.323 km / 21.949 mi
835 m / 2,741 ft
837 m / 2,748 ft
625 m / 2,050 ft