Saturday, August 16, 2014

Top Southeast Mountain Biking Trails: Checking Out Tsali Recreation Area

Recently we took a vacation to the North Carolina mountains. Living about two hours from the Great Smoky Mountains, it was close enough to home that we got to spend a lot of time taking in breathtaking vistas, towering trees and lush foliage. Cooler temps and views like this was exactly what I needed. It was a nice retreat from the South Carolina summer heat.

The Great Smoky Mountains - What a view!

The entrance from the NC side of the mountains.
We camped at Turkey Creek Campground in Almond, NC. I had heard that Tsali Recreation Area was nearby, home to some of the best mountain biking trails in the region, so we decided to check it out one afternoon. 

Tsali is within the Nantahala (pronounced "Na-tah-hay-luh'") National Forest owned by the US Fores Service, so it's covered in trees and has an extensive trail system. The drive to the trail head was winding and a bit long, giving one the feeling of "leaving it all behind." There is also a campground and boat launch within the park, providing visitors with several choices of outdoor activities. A day pass for biking is $2.

When we arrived at the trail head, there was a large gravel parking lot, bathrooms, an information kiosk and a washing station. 
Trail head and Facilities at Tsali

The bathrooms were nice, clean and were in the middle of being renovated. The open-air covered shelter had a few benches that were nice to sit and make any last minute adjustments before heading out on the trail. Providing a little cover from the elements was a nice touch. There was also a clear demarcation between the area were cars were allowed by the small, subtle wooden bollards, as shown in the photo above. The set-up was really welcoming. 

Moving just beyond the area, there was a clear sign that helped trail-users understand the trail schedule for mountain bikers and the equestrian community. Communicating trail etiquette, rules and schedule is important in creating an inviting, safe environment for everyone. A major issue on a trail system like this is the potential for conflict when a mountain biker comes up on a horse, and vice versa. (Mountain bikers are fast and quick moving, which can easily startle a horse.)  The photo below shows Tsali's trail schedule, limiting some trail use based on the day of the week.

Tsali Trail Schedule

For example, mountain bikers are allowed on the Tsali Trail on the weekends (Saturdays and Sundays), and horses are allowed on a different trail during the same time, on the Thompson Loop and the Mouse Loop. Interesting way to control traffic and mitigate issues between the parties.

There was also a bike washing station that was being used. You can get pretty dirty mountain biking. Here was a simple wooden frame that had four dangling "J" hooks where folks could hand their bike and wash it off with some running water. It was great to see how a simple, elegantly designed facility was a big asset at the trailhead. There's also a shower head where riders can rinse off if they get covered in mud. It was pretty nice.

Mountain Bike Washing Station at Tsali

There were also some general rules posted at the kisok. The list of reminders, rules and tips was extensive yet brief. If you do go out, make sure to take some time to read and absorb some of this stuff. (The photo below isn't the most ledible, but you get the idea.)

Sharing the Trail - Rules & Reminders

It looked like an awesome set up. This visit didn't provide the opportunity for us to try out the trails, but we enjoyed checking out the facilities and spending some time on Lake Fontana. It was beautiful.

If you've had the opportunity to ride the trails at Tsali, somewhere else nearby or want to share a great spot with other folks, please share them in the comments below. It's always great to check out new places and have new adventures!

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