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Length 12 miles
Time 3.5 hours
Total Climb 2000 feet
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Technical Difficulty 

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Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride is one of the most well known advanced rides around Lake Tahoe if not the most famous one. The name tells you most of what you need to know about the ride and the trail doesn't shortchange those expectations. Mr. Toad's Wild Ride is a singletrack trail that descends for about five miles from the Carson Range to the outskirts of South Lake Tahoe, losing roughly 1800 feet of net elevation in the process. Parts of this trail are extremely rocky and include drops that are two- to three-feet high. If you own a full-blown downhill bike, this is the one ride on this website where you can really benefit from its use.

This ride would have easily qualified for a technical difficulty rating of 11 if my rating scale had room for it, and parts of the ride maybe even a 12! However, actually only certain segments of the ride are extra difficult and they don't add up to too much mileage overall. But those limited segments are awe-inspiring indeed. The most difficult stretch of the trail begins when the trail starts to follow Saxon Creek very closely and lasts for a little less than a mile. There's a little respite after this, but then the technical difficulty is jacked up a notch or two again when you reach a section that includes the trail's stairs. (More on that below.) If you were to measure those two stretches together as one unbroken segment, it would add up to nearly 2.5 miles.

The toughest trail features on Mr. Toad's are large (2- to 3-foot-high) drops without bypasses, set among clusters of boulders, and sometimes cascades of such drops. Many of the most technical trail features on this ride were above my pay grade and I expect a lot of other riders would feel the same way. Only those with skills approaching super-human levels could hope to complete this ride without having to walk at numerous spots, in my opinion. Meanwhile, even the "spaces between the trail features" on the ride are technical enough to keep most intermediate riders plenty entertained and often allow good stretches of unbroken and fun flow. On the other hand, as tough as the technical parts of Mr. Toad's are, the trail features never spring up on you unexpectedly. Unless you're carrying reckless speed or not paying attention at all, you will never catch yourself saying "wow, that drop came out of nowhere!"

Another distinctive part of the descent down Mr.Toad's are the stairs that I already mentioned above. There is no shortage of bike-legal trails on which you encounter sets of steps, but the stairs on this ride cover the longest stretch that I've seen so far. Made up of wooden steps partially embedded into the ground and held together by steel cables, the stairs go on for what seems like a couple of hundred feet. This is actually a more ridable staircase than many, at the time I write this. The steepness does increase toward the bottom, though, so be careful.

By the way, the trail is actually not formally named Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and you won't find it labeled as such on any map that I know of. Its formal name is Saxon Creek Trail. I'll stick to its more widely recognized nickname on this page, although this presents a minor problem. The extent of trail that truly deserves the moniker "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" is really only the most technical stretch of Saxon Creek Trail; not the entire trail. Unfortunately, that stretch does not seem to have any natural end point that I can discern. So, I'll just refer to all of the mileage on Saxon Creek Trail in this ride as "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride", though that's clearly not that sensible.

As you might expect with any highly technical trail, the most sane way of riding it (at least its toughest parts) is downhill. What I've opted for here is to do it as a shuttle ride. It's also possible to ride it as part of a loop but the most common trail loop I'm aware of results in a 19-mile ride with more than 3000 feet of elevation gain topping out at 9000 feet. Of course, it's also possible to do it as part of a mixed loop where you do the climbs on paved roads by following Pioneer Trail (which is a paved road) and Luther Pass Road, which might result in an easier climb and less elevation gain.

I started this ride from a trailhead of Tahoe Rim Trail on Luther Pass Road. The space I used for parking is a fairly wide clearing and there are other roadside pockets not too far from that spot that could serve as a backup in case this clearing right by the trailhead is filled up. Incidentally, for my October ride done on a Saturday with beautifully cool and sunny weather ideal for biking, that clearing had only two or three cars when I showed up around noon.

While this is a one-way shuttle ride, it's unfortunately not all a descent. The climb at the beginning of the ride isn't terribly long (at about 2.5 miles), but I won't mince words: it's a tough one. I'm not sure if it's the frequently extra-steep slope that gets going without a proper warm-up, the shortage of oxygen during a climb from 7700 to effectively 9000 feet, or the fact that I wasn't in tip-top shape when I tried this ride, but I had to walk much of this climb. Near the very beginning, the climb immediately has you scrambling repeatedly over some jumbles of boulders. This seems to bode badly for the rest of the ride, but things clear up fairly soon, though the tough slope and the continuing existence of occasional rocky obstacles ensure that it's never easy. Thankfully, the second half of the climb gradually eases off in steepness, but it gets pretty serious again over a short stretch shortly before you reach the top at an elevation of about 8950 feet.

You arrive at Mr. Toad's Wild Ride a little after you begin your descent, near an area that's marked on the USGS topographic maps as "Tucker Flat". Mr. Toad's doesn't start immediately "with a bang" but things turn serious a little more than a quarter mile after you get on this trail. I've already described the character of this trail quite a bit above, which I won't repeat here, but one detail worth noting is that, at some point, this trail encounters a split that is unsigned and ambiguous. This arrives near the bottom end of Mr. Toad's, around the 7.5-mile mark of this ride. The correct direction to take here for this ride is "straight" but it might be a little tough to figure out especially because the more well worn traffic direction seems to be heading left there. The trail heading left at this junction would connect you in about a quarter mile to Iroquois Circle; a street in the outermost edges of Meyers. That spot wouldn't be a bad place to end your shuttle ride either, if a shorter ride would work better for you, because the vast majority of the fun trail mileage is already behind you by this point in the ride.

I've seen some sources describe tree branches that are inclined to reach out and grab your shoulders around the lower stretches of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, but I didn't observe any example of this during my ride. The entire route features trees, though the coverage is usually only enough to make you feel like you're riding through the trees, rather than under them. While there's shade on almost every stretch of the ride, it's always in patches, and you're regularly hit by sunlight. Only in a limited part of the lower reaches of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride does the tree cover vaguely approximate unbroken shade.

About midway through the ninth mile of the ride, the trail turns into a fire road (Forest Service Road 12N01A). On this ride, I followed this fire-road continuation of the trail for less than a mile before turning onto a singletrack shortcut at a reasonably prominent junction. For simplicity, there would be no harm in continuing a little extra distance until you make it to a junction with Oneidas Street and Fountain Place Road (FS1201) and turn onto Fountain Place Road there, which is where the singletrack shortcut takes you anyway. This 0.6-mile singletrack is admittedly more fun than riding on a wide gravel road, but it's not exactly not-to-be-missed either.

Following two more dirt roads (FS12N17 and Powerline Road) ultimately brings you to a signed junction where Railroad Grade Trail begins. This trail is a mostly smooth and flat singletrack, though parts of the trail appear to be built in a mildly twisty way purely for enjoyment. From that point of view, it's a fun little trail and even exhibits a few mildly technical features toward its end.

For the end of this shuttle ride, I used street parking at a cul-de-sac on Columbine Trail (a paved road). This spot didn't seem to be under a terrible amount of pressure from parking demand. At the end of my ride on that beautiful October day, my car was only the third one at the cul-de-sac.

All the trails on this ride are sandy to varying degrees. Most of the time, this is fairly coarse sand, looking like ground-up granite, which it probably is. This might change based on the season. During my early-fall ride, the sandy trails were enough to cause a few moments of front wheel grip loss for me, but not enough to spoil the ride.

If you see the setting of the route descending toward the lake from a hillside and expect to find good views of Lake Tahoe on the ride, you'll be disappointed. Other than one partial view from higher elevations near the end of the initial climb, you don't get to see the lake at all. On the other hand, the landscape immediately surrounding you is gorgeous with picturesque rock outcrops and sparse sprinklings of pretty conifer trees as well as the occasional partial view opening up toward a neighboring hilltop or ridge.

© Ergin Guney


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