Tsali Recreation Area
|Bryson City, Nc||Singletrack, Fire Road||Beginner - Advanced||38 miles||$2 / Day|
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The following information may be filled with bias and personal opinions. It is surely only as accurate as my some-what dubious memory, but it is about as good as I can do and still ride.
DESCRIPTION: Tsali is said by many to have some of the best singletrack in the East. I would not be one to argue the point. There are four separate loops here. The trails are open to bicycles and horses, but on a rotating day schedule. The two trails called Right and Left Loops are grouped together as a unit. They share a common section called County Line Road. The other two trails called Mouse Branch and Thompson Loops are together as a unit and share a common start. On one day the Right Loop and Left Loop will be open to bicycles and closed to horses. On that same day Mouse Branch Loop and Thompson Loop will be closed to bicycles and open to horses. On any given day both bicyclists and equestrians will have fine trails to ride. Very few equestrians come here anymore. Many, many mountain bikers come here. For one three-day weekend when I was riding Tsali, there were zero horse trailers in the required horse parking area. There were however approximately one half of all the mountain bikers in East TN, North GA, and Western NC riding at least one day that weekend. Most of them on Sunday. But don't let the crowds keep you away. Anything this good can be subject to crowding. When backpacking I have often shied away from the trails in the Smokey Mountains because of the crowds. I have come to realize the throngs of people go there because of the unique and beautiful places which cannot be found elsewhere. So it is with Tsali. Separated from the SMNP by beautiful Fontana Lake, views of the lake and the SMNP add to the riding experience and are found no where else. Add to these, pine forests, hardwood forest, trails through thick mountain laurel stands, across small mountain streams and you have a recipe for some serious outdoor time. For a desert you may catch a glimpse of white tailed deer, black bear or an occasional bobcat. Expect to put in 60 miles or more of riding the good single track during a three-day stay.
WHO RIDES HERE: Local folks and people who travel hundreds of miles to partake of the single track fill the woods especially on weekends. You can expect to see racers, wanna-be-racers and other hammerhead here. You can also expect to see entire families including preteen kids miles from the trail head, just out for a ride in the woods. Everyone in between can be seen here. You will see neat mega-buck rides most of us can only dream of owning. You will see department store bikes, but mostly middle line Mountain Bikes. All of these will be ridden by folks out to have a good time. If you go to Tsali be sure you do not arrive on the weekend of the big race. For info on it check out NOC web page.
LOCATION: Tsali Recreation area is a few miles off HWY. 19. If headed North on 19 HWY., turn left at a sign onto 28 between NOC and Bryson City. Follow the signs to Tsali. You will turn right off of 28 onto 1282 which is a dirt road to arrive at the parking and camping areas.
FACILITIES: The day use parking area is at the end of Rd # 1282. The $2.00 per person fee entitles you to park, ride, use the restrooms, use the bike washing station and get drinking water. There is an information board with late-breaking-info and trail maps are usually available. The camping area is on the left. The $15.00 per day fee entitles you to camp in one of the 40 campsites, ride and to use the hot showers and other facilities.
Loop - This trail is 11.2 miles. This includes the part
called County Line Road which is shared with Left Loop. If you
ride this loop on Sunday, you may want to ride counterclockwise.
Most of the riders were riding CCW. the last time I rode it. Be
sure to go out to Windy Gap Overlook. The trail back from W.G.
Overlook on the West side of the mountain is a blast. Most of
this Right Loop is narrow nice single track or old logging roads
that are like wide single track. The start is on the right side
of the parking area. There are shortcuts to the County Line Road from this Loop.
Left Loop - This loop is 11.9 miles around. It shares County Line Road with Right Loop. Left Loop is mostly single track with many nice views of Fontana Lake and the surrounding mountains. County Line Road starts at the back of the parking area past the bike washing area. This is one end of the trail. The other end of the trail is at the Horse Trailer Parking Area. To find the Horse Area ride out the entrance of the Day Use Parking and turn right. You will go through horse parking to a trail head.
Mouse Branch Loop - This is 7.2 Around and shares a common start with Thompson Loop. This start is located where the road splits to go to day use parking and the campground. As you start down the road to the Campground immediately on the left at the intersection you will see an iron gate. Ride around the end of this gate and down the blocked road as it curves right and then climbs the side of the mountain around the campground. As you climb the double track, you can see the camps below on your right. Watch for the short connector trail to Mouse Branch Loop soon to be on your right. This trail junction is an open area. After riding the loop you will return to this junction.
Thompson Loop - This loop is 7.4 Miles long. Start behind the gate as with Mouse Branch, just don't take the connector trail to the right. This trail is great. The loop closes with a return to the bottom of the hill before the first climb on the gated double-track. These two trails have few vistas, but more than make up for that with mountain stream crossings, narrow trails through dense laurel stands and some fast down hill runs.
Comment: I have been asked by several folk which trails are easier and which are the most difficult. I believe Thomson Loop is the easiest followed by Mouse Branch Loop. Both of these however have some difficult climbs for a rider who is a beginner or who is not in good shape. As to the Left and Right Loops, I guess the Left Loop is the easiest. Start down the County Line Road and ride it CCW. Neither of these loops is really difficult, they are just long and can tire some riders out before they reach the end.
IN THE AREA:
Nantahala National Forest District Ranger, Cheoah Ranger District, can provide you with the latest information. They are open from April 15th until late October. The phone number is 828-479-6431. Their web site contains information about camping and other facilities and should have the latest information. Check there first. Cheoah Ranger District (http://www.main.nc.us/graham/hiking/rangerhq.html)