This (roughly) 15 mile ride is 100% on dirt and tours Painted Rock and the south side of Mt. Watson without going all the way up to Watson Lake which makes for a quite a bit longer ride. This is also a good one to know for the month at the start of every summer where the Watson Lake area and the meadows on top of the ridge (above 8k') are still too snowy, while this whole ride melts out earlier.
Not very technical, there's a very short hike-a-bike section but everything else is rideable for intermediate skill levels and up. Strength: you do need to be able to handle steep hills and switchbacks.
I've mapped this from my home over at Dollar Hill, where we start across the highway from the 7-11. This is a great spot to start because it's all dirt from start to finish and it's a couple hundred feet higher than Tahoe City. But if you know the area you can change your start and finish point on this and all north-of-Tahoe-City rides endlessly. Some ideas:
* Start from the west end of Tahoe City by the golf course and gas stations and ride up the dirt roads to meet this ride around mile 5 on the following map.
* Start from Jack Pine street right across the street from our shop, Tahoe City Bikes, and you can fuel up first at the Gear & Grind Cafe which is right there. Steep paved street but it gets you on the fire roads to again meet this ride around milepoint 5.
* Start from north tahoe high school or the X/C ski area or the upper streets of the Old County neighborhood.
Read the rest only if you need directions! Or if you're local and just wondering about the part where we loop across the south side of Watson without going all the way up and over the ridge to Watson Lake, skip ahead to miles 11-13.
The following description is if you're starting from Dollar Hill 7-11. If you're doing your own start from elsewhere just skip ahead some.
Mile points listed below are not real or from an actual measurement on a bike, they're just to match up with this map.
Mile 0: Across the highway from 7-11 and about 200 yards east there are some electrical transformer boxes, leave the road there and find a singletrack that gets you to dirt roads. Follow these to a gate (0.5) and keep going. Either just follow your nose for the next couple miles or if you need/want detailed descriptions here we go.
Mile 0.75-1.0: Jog right and left, find a nice singletrack that goes up Dollar Creek and passes by the north/east shore of Dollar Reservoir. If you find yourself on the other side of the reservoir just walk across the dam. This singletrack takes you up to (1.5) the main dirt road that lies along the foot of the hills. Head west on that. Map is not exact here because the details would be confusing. Directions are dead easy though: always take any turns that keep you toward the hills, just skip any that go too steeply up. Just keep heading due west.
Mile 4: At this point you've come up close to Antone Meadows or maybe you found the sweet singletrack that goes counterclockwise around its edge. Either way you end up at the northwest end of the meadows and riding a reclaimed logging track that's turning back into singletrack, heading up Burton Creek. You cross a couple of bridges as you circle around the valley and start to be heading more and more south. Don't take the first singletrack to the right that goes more directly up the creek (or take it, that would be a 2 mile shorter ride and give up the really fun hill before Painted Rock).
Take the 2nd singletrack on the right which happens not far after the 2nd bridge. This heads up a valley and through a partially burned area. Turn left when a trail goes south uphill. Bit of a grind for a half mile, then by mile (5) you're on the rusty bedspring trail and you cross the Fiberboard Freeway at a gravelly spot and continue on a trail that follows an old reclaimed dirt road, finally reaching the Tahoe Rim Trail at about (5.75) after a short steep section. Turn right of course on the TRT.
(6 to 9) Enjoy one of the sweetest sections of the Tahoe Rim Trail over Painted Rock and other hills, cross the paved Fiberboard road again and continue on the TRT. At about (9.75) when the trail reaches a short section of dirt road, pull a hairpin right turn to avoid ending up back at pavement. TRT continues past a killer lake view and (10 to 11) goes fairly level across the south side of Mt. Watson.
(11.25) Where the TRT takes off uphill to your left, just continue level. at 11.5ish you have the option to drop down Elevator Shaft if you know where to turn and want to shorten things up, but finishing the rest of this loop is much nicer.
(11.5) You'll notice you start to be on newly constructed trail. If you lose the track at all just follow flags tied in trees and bushes, but it's mostly there. There's just one spot after crossing upper Dollar Creek at about (11.75) where the trail gets vague, you're hiking a rocky section and have to make an unexpected move to the left uphill for a minute. Keep your eyes open and you'll make it through.
(12.2ish) you get past the hike-a-bike rocky part and are able to ride again; don't miss a slight left through the last of the rocks. If you miss it you end up dropping a little low to the right and toward the Lake, and that's right about where 3 Arrows crosses this route and continues steeply down. But for something more rideable stay left and level to slightly up for just a minute longer and you'll find the continuation of newly (re) built singletrack.
A couple of nice swoopy switchbacks through the woods, one of the best sections of this ropute so far, and singletrack continues until (12.5) you come right out at a hairpin turn on a dirt road, 16N49. Head right/northeast/downhill on that BUT only for a second, then take a right turn off of it. Toward the Lake. At a point where you see some car-blocking rocks on the right. This puts you on an old old road that used to be drivable but has reverted mostly to singletrack, known as the Shale Trail. This is a fun drop and a little easier and cleaner than Elevator Shaft.
At about (13.25) you hit the lower trail/fire-road system again and take a right turn to head west again back to wherever you started. If you used my starting point, take a left anywhere in there to get back to Dollar Hill or the X/C area.
This loop can be done in about 3 nonstop hours. It does have about 5 miles of boring dirt roads out of 15 miles total, but they go by really fast so you spend almost all of your actual riding time on singletrack. And it does have the one hike-a-bike section where you cross upper Dollar Creek, but I think you'll agree it's worth it.
Obviously this can be tied in with much longer loops; you could add OTB out around Painted Rock. You could go around (or up and over) Watson Peak and jump in Watson Lake to cool off. If you're going up to the lake you could take the Rim Trail to all kinds of other options. But I mostly wrote this up to show you the section from (11) to (13) because a lot of people don't know it yet. Most seem to assume that if you're heading up to Watson you have to go all the way to Watson Lake and continue on the Rim Trail way out towards Brockway Summit. Which is good, but this loop is better... plus it's a loop :)