The Tahoe area has some of the best riding in a day’s drive of the Bay Area, and this summer we’ve been spending a lot of our weekends there. Ironically, until this season, we weren’t that excited about the area, simply due to our ignorance of the amazing terrain.
It’s not that there isn’t a huge amount of information on the trails in the area; if you do an online search you’ll be waist deep in online content. Our problem has been weeding through this stuff to find the types of trail experiences we crave: flowy, challenging, rock-filled climbs and descents with amazing views. The Hole in the Ground Trail checks all the boxes; if you haven’t ridden it, add it to the to-do list.
The Tahoe tourism machine could possibly be working too well. Rave reviews of boring, sand covered double track led us astray more than once, as we found ourselves on boring pedal fests with beautiful views of the lake, but more suited for grandma and aunt Joan. Without a filter to sort out the lame routes, we stuck to riding the bike park or skipping Tahoe altogether for another shuttle day in Downieville.
This year has been different for us though; we’re unhappy riding the same local trails, and the bug to ride fresh and exciting terrain has proven irresistible, so we’ve reached out through our network to get real recommendations of trails that utilize the full potential of today’s modern trail/all mountain bikes.
Hole in the Ground Trail is one of these. An intermediate to advanced ride, we found it best with two cars and a shuttle in order to avoid tedious road sections and 800 feet of climbing suitable for a road bike you’ll experience if ridden as a loop. Thanks to our friends Karen and Randy (formerly of the BTCEB), two recent transplants to the area, we had local knowledge on the best way to ride the trail and maximize the fun factor.
The trail starts up with an ascent up Andesite Ridge that gains quickly in elevation, but the layout of the trail makes the grades manageable, even on a 6″ travel shred sled. Some of the loose rocky turns took a bit of energy to power through cleanly, but I never had issues with climbing them running a one-by drive train with a 32t-40t low.
Shortly after the summit of the first peak, the good stuff begins as you start your first descent. Loose soil and rocks on narrow trail make it dicy at times, but this is where modern trail bikes excel, and we were all smiles as we each headed down one by one. Unfortunately, we came across a pack of riders doing the loop as an out and back. It wouldn’t have been a biggie, as yielding right of way to climbing riders is the norm, but after the first rider dabbed and stuck his foot down repeatedly, it was clear he wasn’t hip to trail etiquette.
Inga and Karen experienced the same from other riders that thought blocking the trail with their bikes was acceptable behavior.
Fortunately, other than encountering a few clueless souls, the rest of the ride was amazing. Huge rock slabs everywhere made for fun and interesting alternate lines, and there were more than a few fun rock wall rides set up I banged through while flowing down the trail. In fact, the descents were so fun I couldn’t stop until reaching the next climb, resulting in a complete lack of photos of the descents for this post. Sorry.
At one point the trail morphed into a section of flow trail that totally ripped. I’m assuming it was created sometime ago, but with bermed turns, a few rollers and high speed flow, by today’s standards it would be considered a “flow country” style trail. My 650b Nomad was ridiculously fun here, and it made climbing the hefty bike up more than worth it, as I never had issues hooking up and finding traction, even with the loose rock and soil.
After the final lake stop— after a short section of trail— the route leads to a 3.9 mile gravel covered road section. We could have done without this part, but you get one more section of single track descent, with rail road tie water bars adding a bit of variety.
Thumbs Up: the trail features two amazing spots with views of the lake where you could take a swim. The first one was a short climb to reach Sand Ridge Lake, with the other near the end of the ride. Enough rock slabs and rock sections to make you think you’re in Utah.
Not so Awesome: The main downside to the route were the fire road connectors, and the need to shuttle. While the trail can be ridden as a loop, we weren’t interested in having to ride the road section to get back to the starting point.
Bring supplies: I used three water bottles, and had we added mileage doing the Donner Lake Rim Trail, I would have wanted a Camelbak. Although the route as we didn’t wasn’t long in mileage, playing around on the technical sections can wear you out.