“A point-to-point ride on a symphony of singletrack will leave your face sore from grinning!”
— Empty Beer
Not accessible during Winter due to snow (usually).
The South Lake Tahoe area has several awesome and strenuous loops and point-to-point rides. This version covers terrain that most people don't often link together... and it is incredible!
Done as a shuttle, it covers mostly singletrack that ranges from fast and flowy to technical and chunky. You get views of Lake Tahoe, views of the southern Sierra, quaking aspen tree groves, huge meadows, tons of granite, babbling brooks, wildflowers galore (seasonal), you can ride through a waterfall (seasonal), and enjoy dramatic views of Strawberry Valley from the top of Lover's Leap, 1,100' above town... just before the final rip-roaring descent back to civilization below.
For a fit and skilled rider, there is very little hike-a-bike involved in this route, which includes about 5,400' of climbing and 7,400' of descending.
Need to Know
Leave a shuttle vehicle somewhere near the Strawberry Lodge on Highway 50. The GPS track here ends in a neighborhood behind/east of the lodge. Drive up Hwy 50 to South Lake Tahoe and take a right on Pioneer Dr. Follow that to Oniedas St., which goes by the bottom of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and becomes Fountain Place Rd. and passes the top of Corral Trail. (You could park at the bottom of Fountain Place Dr. and add a real grind of a pavement climb up to Armstrong Trail, but there is parking at the top too.
There are some businesses in South Lake Tahoe that could shuttle for a fee... check with Watta Bike, Wanna Ride, or Over The Edge Sports.
Note that once you climb Hawley Grade
and head to the Pony Express Trail XP and Lovers Leap Trail, the first 1/8 mile of Pony XP is shared with the Pacific Crest Trail and bikes are not allowed. Thus, to stay legal, you'll need to coast about 1 mi down Hwy 50 to ScoutPeak Rd and reconnect with the Pony Express Trail XP and Lovers Leap Trail
Climb Armstrong Pass Trail, take a right on the Tahoe Rim Trail: Heavenly Mountain - Big Meadow
, which starts as a hearty climb and has lots of fun downhill as you approach the top of Toads. Continue past Toads (Saxon Creek) and enjoy more downhill on the TRT until a left turn on the trail that heads to Grassy Lake/Hwy 89/Luther Pass. After a short and fun descent, you hit Hwy 89 and take a left.
Ride the highway for about 2 mi to the little known "Cattle Trail
", which is just before the "Luther Pass 7,740" sign. The trailhead is off to the right (west of 89) and follows an old paved road for 0.1 mi... then a right turn on the newly rerouted (2016) trail. Look for the official wood trailhead post. Once on the trail, you have a climb to Scott Lake. You pass through one USFS gate (please close it upon passing through... cattle graze there). The trail spits you out on a fire road, which you take a right on and climb a little bit to the very nice Scott Lake... a good place for a rest or a swim.
Leaving Scott Lake, you continue on the original dirt road up to the start of the Scott Lake Trail, which is an incredible 3-mi descent to Big Meadow. When you hit the junction (TRT), take a left and cross a small bridge before passing through the huge "Big Meadow."
Now you have a healthy climb on the TRT to the top, before descending down to the next junction, where you'll go right down the Christmas Valley Trail
. A bonus option would be to continue left at the junction and climb up to the lovely Round Lake and then come back down. On the way down Xmas Valley, you could also take a short but technical out and back trip to the beautiful, rockbound Dardanelle Lake.
Christmas Valley Trail
is an awesome descent with tons of technical riding, flow, views, granite, a creek. Upon exiting Xmas Valley, you briefly ride the paved road to the left and cross a bridge before taking the first left option towards Hawley Grade
Trail. If you need water, the creek on your left is a good place to FILTER some water.
is another good climb with a couple sections of hike-a-bike, esp if your legs are getting tired. Depending on the season, you'll go through either a dry or active waterfall. It is safe to go through if the water is not flowing crazy... the trail bed is all cemented in.
At the top of Hawley Grade
, you are at Echo Summit. You go left on Hwy 50 (staying against traffic... there is a wide shoulder) to the Sno-Park. Here is where the PCT is, unfortunately. Some people will walk their bike the next 1/8th mi to where the Pony Express Trail XP and Lovers Leap Trail splits off to the left... but the route on this write-up follows Hwy 50 for 1 mi to the first possible left turn onto Scout Peak Rd. Be careful on Hwy 50!
Once on Scout Peak Rd, you'll go around a green gate and follow a chip sealed road for just under a mile where you'll see signs for the Pony XP trail... go straight. Enjoy more miles of fun and scenic singletrack that most people don't know is there! You'll have a couple of spots where short hike-a-bike is most likely required, but otherwise, it is a pleasant mostly downhill ride to the road that goes into Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski resort. Cross the road and continue following Pony XP signs.
You'll ultimately follow Pony XP to where you can go to the top of Lovers Leap... or below it. Trust me... go above. A couple punchy climbs are ahead of you and then a final short hike-a-bike, then you're at the top! Make sure to go to the edge (towards your right) and soak in the view before starting the screaming descent to Strawberry.
The 2+ mi descent puts you on a fire road (go right) and follow the tracks given here for a secret way back to Strawberry, or just follow the downhill dirt options to Hwy 50 and pedal a short way up to the Strawberry Lodge.
A dip in the South Fork of the American River right there at 42 Mile Tract is a must (good swimming holes above and below!).
History & Background
The Pony Express Trail XP and Lovers Leap Trail is historic and a wonderful example of a National Historic Trail that allows hiking, running, horseback riding and mountain biking.