MTB Project Logo

Two great classic loops at Tsali.

Your Rating: Rating Rating Rating Rating Rating      Clear Rating
Your Difficulty:
Your Favorites: Add To-Do · Your List
Zoom in to see details
Map Key







2,092' 638 m


1,702' 519 m


1,566' 477 m


1,553' 473 m



Avg Grade (2°)


Max Grade (8°)

Dogs Unknown

E-Bikes Not Allowed


This ride combines Mouse Branch Loop and Thompson Loop, two of the four main trails at the Tsali Recreation Area at Fontana Lake.

Need to Know

Tsali Trails rotate use with horse traffic. Schedule for bikes:

Left Loop and Right Loop: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday
Mouse Branch Loop and Thompson Loop: Tueday, Thursday, Saturday

Camping is available within 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 accomodations.

These loops are signed well with an encouraged direction, which this review follows.

Tsali has a small user fee, which you must pay in cash at the main parking lot before riding.


From the main parking area, start with the Mouse Branch Loop. Head out the main road and continue in a clockwise direction. Many riders consider Mouse the most technical of the Tsali trails, but overall it is very similar to the others. There are plenty of loose rocks in places, and many fast, fun sections.

When arriving with the the overlook section, stay right on Mouse then head left on the overlook trail which follows back around counter clockwise to the same spot. The overlook is a spectacular view of the lake and surrounding mountains, and very close to the highest point of the Mouse Loop. After snapping some photos, get ready to descend the fastest part of trail back down. Take a left again on and overlap the same small section of trail you used to pass through the first time. This time at the top of the climb, stay right on the Mouse again.

Following the lakes contours for another 3.5 miles will take you back to the intersection with the entrance road and the Thompson Loop at Murphy Gap.

Stay straight on Thompson and follow this loop in a counter-clockwise direction. Thompson has some ups and downs early in the ride, but generally has little elevation gain until you are a little over 2 miles in when youll begin a climb that gains about 350 ft. in 3 miles. After that, youll have about a mile of descending to complete this sweet ride.

History & 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 (


Shared By:

Paul Stahlschmidt with improvements by Allen Jarvis

Trail Ratings

  4.3 from 53 votes


  4.3 from 53 votes
5 Star
4 Star
3 Star
2 Star
1 Star
Recommended Route Rankings


36 Views Last Month
14,290 Since Jul 28, 2013
Intermediate Intermediate



Descending Mouse Branch Overlook Trail
Jul 31, 2013 near Bryson…, NC
Mouse Branch Overlook
Feb 10, 2022 near Bryson…, NC
Overlooking Fontana lake.
May 6, 2022 near Bryson…, NC
View from Mouse Branch Overlook Trail at Tsali
Aug 9, 2014 near Bryson…, NC
Shady singletrack.
Sep 19, 2015 near Bryson…, NC
Cloudy day but incredible
Sep 24, 2020 near Bryson…, NC


Current Trail Conditions

Add Your Check-In


Aug 27, 2023
George Sawyer
May 29, 2022
Greg Johnson
Aug 15, 2021
Wilhelm Ritter
Mouse and Thompson loop days are wrong on site.
Jul 12, 2021
Tim Jakacki
12h 23m
Sep 5, 2020
Jd Hollingsworth
Dec 26, 2019
Amy White
Fun easy loop for beginners or an easy day. Easy pace with breaks. 14.9mi — 3h 00m
Oct 25, 2019
Greg Tempel
Oct 13, 2019
Chuck Riegel
Rode Mouse Branch (no Overlook) with my wife. Then returned later and finished Thompson Loop 14.7mi — 2h 05m

Join the Community

Create your FREE account today!
Already have an account? Login to close this notice.

Get Started