Tsali Mouse Branch and Thompson Loops

 23 votes
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Featured Ride

14.9 Miles 23.9 Kilometers



1,566' 477 m


-1,553' -473 m


2,092' 638 m


1,702' 519 m



Avg Grade (2°)


Max Grade (8°)

All Clear

55 days agoUpdate

Two great classic loops at Tsali.

Paul Stahlschmidt


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 ( nantahalaareasorba.org/).


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4.2 from 23 votes

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Your Check-Ins


Dec 22, 2016
Steve Henson
Nov 19, 2016
James Lichty
Oct 29, 2016
George Willis
Oct 23, 2016
Derek Rutkosky
Oct 17, 2016
Bill Sanderson
Sep 8, 2016
Yolanda Vega
Mouse Branch!! Fun times...and I survived :)
Jun 10, 2016
tony Andrus
Ride time noted only. Definitely use the suggested route. I climbed mouse branch backwards by mistake and ran into a lot of opposite traffic. 13.1mi — 1h 37m
May 15, 2016
Paul Gremillion
Trails are in great shape. Rode all of Mouse and Thompson including lookout. Can't thank NASORBA enough for the new maps and great trail conditions. 14.9mi — 2h 00m

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Trail Ratings

  4.2 from 23 votes


  4.2 from 23 votes
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5,101 Since Jul 28, 2013
Intermediate Intermediate



All Clear 55 days ago

Getting forecast...

Rode Mouse Branch and it started to rain. Had the trail all to myself. The views were excellent but had to press it to get back when the lightning started. There are some steep droppoffs which could end you in the lake and the trail was surprisingly a bit overgrown. This used to be the stuff of legends......wish the weather would have held so I could have run The Thompson Loop.....all in all a great ride,,,but prefer the trails in Cloudland Canyon for the roller-coaster fun (Kettle Bottom especially!) Sep 9, 2014

Trails are in great shape! The trail use schedule has changed. Please view for planning purposes http://nasorba.weebly.com/area-trails.html Aug 19, 2015

Great ride on the Mouse Branch and Thompson loop this weekend. Camped at Tsali campground and rode in. Well maintained, thanks NASORBA! Only bummer was arriving Sunday into Monday could only ride Mouse and Thompson due to the horse restrictions... Oct 13, 2015

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