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Length 9 miles
Time 2.5 hours
Total Climb 1450 feet
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Scenic Rating
Aerobic Difficulty
Technical Difficulty 

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Corral Trail

Corral Trail and its connections are some of the better known mountain biking options around Lake Tahoe. The name of this trail had been on my mental map long before I actually tried it. For example, at the time I write this, in the listing of trail locales on the TAMBA website, "Corral Area Trails" are shown near the top of a non-alphabetically ordered list containing a handful of biking hot spots around Tahoe. This is one the many pieces of evidence of this trail's prominence in the region that you may encounter if you research this trail online. I'm not completely certain about who deserves credit for the inception of Corral Trail, but I suspect that must be TAMBA. It's at least very clear that the many jumps and other MTB-specific trail features at the bottom of Corral Trail that I describe below are directly owed to them and are of relatively recent origin

I would have said that this ride is meant to ride Corral Trail, but the route you see on this page actually bypasses a short portion of this trail that I expect to be some of its most fun and exciting stretches, which is its upper part. So it's more like this is a ride I've done with Corral Trail being my original motivation, though the entirety of Corral Trail is not included in this route. The option that I've substituted for the upper stretches is Sidewinder Trail, and I did that merely because Sidewinder appeared on the map to do even more twists and turns than the corresponding stretch of Corral.

One other detail I'd like to point out from the outset is the fact that my original plan for this ride included an out-and-back extension on Armstrong Trail up to Armstrong Pass. I was forced to change my plan during the ride to leave that portion out because of wildfire smoke in the area. (I did this ride in the first few days of the Camp Fire in 2018, notorious for having destroyed the town of Paradise and other settlements. Part of my idea in doing a ride in Tahoe on this day was to escape the smoky conditions I expected in the Bay Area from that fire. The irony is that the day of this ride turned out to be the only one on which the Tahoe area was smoky due to the Camp Fire and the Bay Area was not.) Without that extension on Armstrong Trail, this ride is certainly too short to be worth a trip on its own from the Bay Area, but I'm showing it here anyway because it still does a decent job representing popular stretches of Corral, Sidewinder, and Armstrong Connector trails.

If you do include that out-and-back on Armstrong Trail to this route, you can expect it to add nearly 8 miles and something like 1200 feet of elevation gain to your ride. I have yet to set foot upon that trail myself, so I'm not familiar with what it's like. From map data available online, I can see that the climb to Armstrong Pass has two halves that are distinctly different from each other in terms of overall slope. The first two miles of the climb averages only 5% grade end to end, whereas the last mile and half or so before Armstrong Pass shows a more serious 8% average grade. Between those two segments lies a quarter-mile stretch that's essentially flat and must serve as a nice break on your way up. Since I haven't seen the trail myself, I can't tell if any technical factors make the climb tougher than what these rough averages would imply. However, one particular difficulty factor is easy to predict: Since this four-mile climb begins at the highest point of the route shown on this page, around 7700 feet of elevation, and climbs to Armstrong Pass that's at roughly 8700 feet, you can be sure that you'll notice the reduced level of oxygen if you're a sea-level dweller from the Bay Area.

Since this ride is aimed at traversing a couple of technical singletracks that make sense to ride mainly in the downhill direction and since the top end of these trails are reachable by car, making this a shuttle ride is an easy possibility. Fountain Place Road is open to traffic all the way to the highest point of this route, although it's a single lane that goes through a couple of gates along the way, which seems to imply that it's snowed in seasonally. You can bypass the entire climb by parking a car at the top where there's room for something on the order of 10 to 15 vehicles, and doing the ride only in the downhill direction. If you prefer to earn your fun and do the climb yourself as I did, the preferred way of doing it is to use the road for the climb as I did in order to respect the typical use of both Corral and Armstrong Connector trails, which is mainly in the downhill direction, although they're not formally one-way trails.

I read in a source that this is one of the earliest trails to be free of snow in the spring, possibly owing to its relatively low elevation by Tahoe standards. I'm not sure how early that "early" is but I wouldn't get my hopes up before April. That's my personal guess.

I started my ride from a paved roadside pocket with space for only three cars. This is just a few feet away from the main parking area that bikers typically use here, which is right at the junction of Fountain Place Road and a gravel Forest Service road (12N17). The suggested parking link on this page points to the latter, which is much more spacious.

The first segment of the ride is the paved climb to the top on Fountain Place Road, which makes up close to half the ride's mileage. The climb is steep only in a limited number of spots, but it's still a significant amount of work. However, on a chilly day like the day of my ride, it's a welcome warm-up. The steeper parts do reach up to an 18% grade a number of times, but it feels a notch or two easier than this sounds like since this is a paved climb. The road is a single-lane for the vast majority of the way to the top, but, as you would expect, traffic was nearly absent at the time of my Saturday-morning ride. On the way up, you pass by the well signed Corral Trail trailhead as well, where the ride's trail-descent half temporarily reaches the road again. The climb ends when you reach the similarly well signed trailhead where Armstrong Trail and Armstrong Connector Trail meet the road and pavement ends.

Armstrong Connector Trail starts out as a swoopy and smooth descent over relatively flat terrain for a short while. It soon starts cutting across a steeper hillside, which is when it becomes significantly technical. This trail is marked as having moderate difficulty (blue square) on the map visible at the Corral Trailhead, but its more technical parts feature numerous clusters of boulders that you have to squeeze through or step over, including a couple of significant drops. Even for boulders you can roll over, usually quite steep angles are involved. There's also a stretch of Armstrong Connector Trail where you can catch nice views of the South Lake Tahoe area repeatedly. This arrives somewhere around the most technical part of the ride. Toward its end, Armstrong Connector becomes more manageable and returns to being a twisty forest singletrack descent.

Armstrong Connector Trail fulfills the duty implied by its name by leaving you right at the beginning of Corral Trail at the Corral Trailhead I've already mentioned. As I've already mentioned, on this particular ride, I actually opted to take Sidewinder Trail (or, according to a couple of signs on site, "Sierra Sidewinder Trail"), which separates from Corral Trail just a couple of hundred feet from the Corral Trailhead and bypasses a section of Corral. The split of Sidewinder Trail from Corral Trail is a well marked junction, as are all the other singletrack junctions encountered on this particular ride. According to the map at the trailhead, the part of Corral Trail bypassed by Sidewinder is rated black diamond, so, after my difficult experience on Armstrong Connector Trail, which the same map had rated intermediate in difficulty level, I can't say that I'm sorry that I missed that portion of Corral.

Sidewinder Trail is a joyfully twisting descent under dense tree cover. This trail is also rated intermediate in difficulty on the Corral Trailhead trail map. If both Armstrong Connector and Sidewinder are supposed to be intermediate in difficulty, then their ratings must be based on completely different scales of difficulty. Sidewinder is smooth and mostly non-technical. I was able to ride Sidewinder with a good flow maintained, whereas I can't count how many times I had to get off and walk on Armstrong Connector. As its name suggests, Sidewinder Trail is full of twists and turns, and gives your steerer tube a good workout. The trail is full of hairpin turns from beginning to end (more so toward its end) to the extent that, in at least a couple of spots, it seems to fold back on itself repeatedly in a short stretch. However, the hairpin turns on Sidewinder are not the kind of hairpin turns you might expect to find on switchbacking trails in the Bay Area. They are not tight. They are much wider-diameter turns that are nicely bermed, which can be taken at decent speed.

Sidewinder Trail ends when it connects you back to a midway point on Corral Trail. From that point on, Corral Trail initially continues like a less twisty version of Sidewinder for a short distance, but it soon turns into a joy ride that consists of a chain of jumps over tabletops and flow-trail-like highly bermed turns. In fact, in one short stretch, the trail splits in two where one half follows a sequence of jumps while the other becomes a set of repeated tight twists that are highly bermed, until the two halves reconnect. All of these berms on Corral Trail have easy bypasses, which also means that this is a portion of the trail where it's fairly widened. The flat-topped berms that are wide to begin with are passed alongside by their bypasses, which makes the overall trail the width of a substantial fire road. The beginning of Armstrong Connector Trail also features a spot where a cluster log rides of varying difficulty levels are adjacent to each other, and I remember reading that this area constitutes the part of the Lake Tahoe mountain biking trail network that features the highest concentration of trail features like log rides and jumps.

Right near its end, Corral Trail returns to being a narrow singletrack for a short distance again before connecting you to Powerline Road. At this point in the ride, you connect two forest roads together to return to the starting point. This is just a short amount of mileage at the end of the ride that serves no purpose other than convenience, although one short stretch of one of these fire roads is moderately rocky and could allow some fun if you maintain a high speed.

For an advanced rider who can give its due to Armstrong Connector Trail as well as to the jumps on Corral, this ride should have had a fun rating of 9 easily. However, I didn't get that much out of Armstrong Connector Trail at my skill level, but the berms on Corral, even for someone like me who merely rolls over them, were still quite fun.

All of the trail surfaces on this ride range from coarse sand to forest duff and often are a mix of the two. This does mean that, especially during the late dry season (during which I did my ride) much of the trail surfaces can become soft and slippery. So, be careful when cornering and at off-camber spots.

© Ergin Guney


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