Touted as one of the most spectacular trails in the Lake Tahoe area (if not the world), visitors from around the globe flock to the Flume Trail in Tahoe for unbeatable access to hiking and mountain biking. Located in North Lake Tahoe near Incline Village, the Lake Tahoe Flume trail is a singletrack trail carved into steep granite cliffs overlooking Lake Tahoe, which follows the path where wooden square-box flumes once delivered water to Virginia City in the late 1800s. Today, the trail typically becomes snow-free and rideable around Memorial Day, and has several access points with different days designated for mountain biking or foot traffic.
Tahoe Flume Trail History
During the Comstock Lode days—when Virginia City hit one of the biggest silver strikes the world has ever known—the West’s shortage of available water came into stark view, especially with an ever-growing population of miners dotting the hills with campsites. To solve this problem, locals searched for water in the Carson Range and found Franktown Creek (Hobart) flowing into Washoe Lake. Engineers built a diversion dam and constructed a combination of box flume and pressure pipeline to channel water 2,000 ft. down to Washoe Valley. In 1887, more pipelines and flumes were built to tap into Hobart Creek and Marlette Lake, increasing the available water volume to 6.6 million gallons per day. This area is also home to the Lake Tahoe Wagon Trail, which was used to travel from Carson City up Kings Canyon and over the crest to arrive lakeside near Incline Village.
Tahoe Flume Trail Mountain Biking
One portion, and probably one of the most easily accessed sections of the Lake Tahoe Flume Trail, begins at Spooner Lake State Park, part of the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Parks four-unit network. The first section is a 1,100 climb that tops out at Marlette Lake at 8,157’. Once you hit the singletrack, keep a sharp eye on the trail—on one side are boulders the size of Volkswagens, and on the other side is a bumpy 1,600’ drop to Sand Harbor. A moderately difficult 14-mile ride with more than 1,000’ of climbing in the first four miles and 4.5 miles of singletrack, it’s safe to say the Marlette Flume Trail is a good trail for intermediate to advanced riders. The bike trail is rideable from May to November, weather permitting; however, according to the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, the trail is only open to mountain bikes on even days of the week. Don’t have your own wheels? The folks at Flume Trail Bikes can help.
Although the Flume Trail hike is definitely ranked as one of the best trails to mountain bike in the world, the amazing views of Lake Tahoe are just as spectacular when hiking or trail running. The full Lake Tahoe Flume Trail is more than 20 miles round trip, which is still a doable hike or run, but the most scenic hiking spots along the trail can be accessed from Marlette Lake in the Spooner Backcountry. A tame, 4.4-mile descent from Lake Marlette to Tunnel Creek Road makes for one of the best vantage points of the Lake Tahoe area and can be done as an out-and-back.
Flume Trail Shuttle Service
There is a commercial shuttle available and it is recommended for first-timers. The shuttle pick-up is at the Tunnel Creek Cafe (adjacent to the bike shop at Flume Trail Bikes if you’re in need of a rental). The shuttle takes you to Spooner Lake State Park and the start of the trail. Riding through the scenery-rich Flume Trail ends with a trip back to the bike rental shop and the café.
For more information on accessing the Lake Tahoe Flume Trail and planning your trip to North Lake Tahoe, contact the Incline Village Visitors Center at (775) 832-1606.
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