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Tsali Mouse Branch and Thompson Loops



14.9 mile 23.9 kilometer loop
95% Singletrack


Ascent: 1,566' 477 m
Descent: -1,553' -473 m
High: 2,092' 638 m
Low: 1,702' 519 m


Avg Grade: 4% (2°)
Max Grade: 13% (8°)


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Trail shared by Paul Stahlschmidt

Two great classic loops at Tsali.

Paul Stahlschmidt

Electric Mountain Bikes Unknown

Features -none-


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 (


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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
Oct 11, 2019
Chuck Riegel
16.5mi — 2h 17m
May 15, 2019
John Evans
Nov 4, 2018
Beck M
Oct 31, 2018
Mark Brzezinski
Leaves surprisingly not slick. A few downed trees and minor overgrowth near end of MB, but not unexpected for late in the season. Overall great shape! 15.9mi — 2h 06m
Oct 15, 2018
Matt DeRose

Trail Ratings

  4.3 from 49 votes


  4.3 from 49 votes
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Descending Mouse Branch Overlook Trail
Jul 31, 2013 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

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