Tsali: Mouse Branch and Thompson Loops

Sinuous, mostly-smooth singletrack along the shores of beautiful Fontana Lake.

Mountain Biking Moderate

Distance
23 km
Ascent
549 m
Descent
549 m
Duration
2-3 hrs
Low Point
516 m
High Point
640 m
Gradient
Tsali: Mouse Branch and Thompson Loops Map

Tsali is one of the original mountain bike destinations of yore, dating back to time immemorial. The singletrack is smooth and flowy, and the views of Fontana Lake and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are jaw-dropping, making this a perennial favorite!

Description

Since the trails here have changed very little over the years, in some mountain bikers' opinions Tsali has lost the luster it once had. Those riders think it can't compete with modern flow trails and the radness of nearby Pisgah National Forest. But for other riders—perhaps beginners and intermediate riders who don't want technical challenge—Tsali's charms are as sweet as ever.

One of the original and continuing draws to the Tsali Trail System is the easy access to a well-developed campground, right at the trailhead. Mountain bike trails with high-quality camping amenities located smack in the center of the trail network are few and far between, helping Tsali continue to draw riders for weekend getaways year after year.

Overall the singletrack is fast, smooth, and flowy. The trail follows the contour of the topography and the shore of the lake quite closely overall, sweeping in and out of almost every single cove, never traveling in a straight line.

The Thompson and Mouse Branch loops are shorter and slightly easier than the Right and Left loops, but that doesn't mean they're boring! In fact, Thompson is home to the longest, most sustained downhill in the trail system. While the singletrack is mostly smooth, this flowy descent will put a smile on any mountain biker's face!

While the sign for Mouse Branch might advise you to ride it clockwise, according to Timm Muth, author of the "Mountain Biking North Carolina" Falcon Guidebook, "counter-clockwise is always the better choice." In an article on Singletracks.com, Muth explains that if you ride Mouse Branch counter-clockwise, "you begin your trip with a jazzy, mile-long run dotted with lots of little roots and hops. Then there’s a straight run out to the overlook, a jamming downhill across the clearcut, and a gradual doubletrack climb back out."

The trails at Tsali are shared with horses, but mountain bikers and equestrians swap trails based on the day of the week. While this means you don't have to worry about coming upon a horse on the trail, it does mean that you can't ride the entire network in the same day—which is why the two halves are listed separately. According to the US Forest Service, in Jan./Feb./March/April/June/Sept./Nov./Dec., the Right and Left loops are open to mountain bikers on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. In May/July/August/October, they're open to mountain bikers Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.

Sources: https://www.singletracks.com/blog/mtb-trails/love-newbies-8-easy-mtb-rides-western-north-carolina/2/

Difficulty

Moderate

Mostly stable trail tread with some variability, with unavoidable obstacles 8in/20cm tall or less. Other obstacles such as rock gullies and steep sections may exist. Ideal for lower intermediate riders.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.

Remoteness

2 out of 4

Away from help but easily accessed.

Best time to visit

January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November

Features

  • Flow
  • Rock Gardens

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area