OverviewThe Marlette Flume Trail is widely considered the most scenic and attractive ride in the greater Lake Tahoe area. With a nearly continuous 5 miles of bird's eye views of the "Jewel of the Sierra", it is no wonder.
A ride on the Marlette Flume actually involves riding a minimum of 12-13 miles, with a modest total gain of 1000-1500ft. There are several options for getting to and riding the trail, including loops, out-and-backs, and shuttles. Basically, there are challenges for every level of rider that involve the Marlette Flume!
Trail DescriptionThe Marlette Flume Trail itself actually begins at the outlet of Marlette Lake high above the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe. Getting to this point can involve several different paths, including the Mt.Rose Meadows, Tunnel Creek, Red House, Hobart Reservoir, and more. The most typical and well-traveled method is to ride up the North Canyon trail from Spooner Lake (more on this in the next section).
The Flume Trail itself begins at the Marlette Lake outlet with a short switchback sequence that is a bit tricky to ride due to granite boulders, and then a log bridge over the small outlet creek. After this, the trail follows the line of the historic Marlette Flume (aqueduct) on a nearly level contour all the way to the Tunnel Creek Station.
The entire trail is comprised of singletrack, with traffic riding in both directions. There is one very short (<50ft) section that requires dismounting and walking the bike across a narrow rocky gap, but the rest of the trail is pleasant hard-packed sand.
A vast majority of the trail rides along a narrow shelf cut into the hillside for the aqueduct, with steep slopes falling away to the Lake. Some stretches weave along forested slopes, and there are a couple very minor creek crossings.
Fast riding is not very easy nor recommended due to typical summertime traffic volumes, as there are many blind corners and often nowhere to go sideways. It's a scenic trail, not a speed or technical trophy...
The northern end of the Marlette Flume Trail is located at the junction with the Tunnel Creek road.
Also: There is a commercial outfit partnered with the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park that sets up shop in the Spooner Parking area offering various services, rentals, and sales for MTB'ers. They also provide an hourly car shuttle from the bottom of Tunnel Creek back to Spooner for a $10 fee.
Getting ThereAccessing the Marlette Flume via the easiest route involves parking at the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park facility at Spooner Lake. The entrance to this is 0.6mi north of US Highway 50 on State Route 28, and a modest fee of $6 per car is charged for the entrance.
From Spooner Lake, you ride up the North Canyon Trail 5mi and 1000ft to Marlette Lake. You then ride 1.5mi around the lake's southern end to the western outlet and the start of the Flume Trail.
At the end of the Marlette Flume Trail, you can either reverse the entire route, or take the Tunnel Creek Downhill to State Route 28 and take a car shuttle back (riding SR28 is NOT recommended!). Many other loops and combinations can be made in this part of the backcountry if you have time and like adventure.
When to BikeLike all routes in the Tahoe region, this is pretty much a summertime-only ride, but delays in snowfall can allow fun riding well into the Fall season. The 7800' elevation will retain snow drifts well after a strong winter.
In 2007, the trail was totally clear in early November, so keeping an eye on the local conditions is helpful for those late-season excursions.
Riding on weekdays is highly recommended, as weekend tourist traffic can be pretty heavy at times. Both wheeled and trekking pole transportation is common, so watch for slow-movers.
CautionsAs with any popular ride, there are a few cautions the first-timer should be aware of:
1) The governing authorities often use 4WD transport to reach the Lake from Spooner Summit or to conduct forestry activities, so keep an eye out for SUV's on the North Canyon Trail.
2) The State Park has posted several signs on the North Canyon road indicating a 5mph on corners speed limit with a 20mph maximum. These signs are often ignored by hikers intent on bypassing the hiker's trail (see below).
3) Despite the existence of a wonderful "hikers only" foot trail to Marlette Lake, many walkers choose to use the slightly easier North Canyon road as their "escape to the wilderness". Many in this position also consider their status to be at the top of the right-of-way chain. As a result, no matter whether you use verbal communication, bells, or gear-changing to alert these folk of your approach, do not expect them to move out of both tracks or give you a courteous look on the way by, no matter how slow you go.
4) On the Flume Trail, traffic runs in both directions. In most places it is easy to see approaching bikers, but there are also several blind and narrow corners. Please use caution when riding the Flume, as this is not a cross-country race track, but a scenic pedal. There are plenty of fast courses in Tahoe if you must charge full-speed-ahead.