Lake Tahoe trails pose multi-use conflicts


Kyra Kliman

Mac Kliman hikes on the Five Lake Trail in Alpine Meadows.

Kyra Kliman, Editor

Lake Tahoe is a model for trail development around the world because of its sensitive terrain, an influx of outdoor enthusiasts, and the existing environmental stewardship regarding Lake Tahoe. Despite its sensitivity, it is not solely protected by the Forest Service. Local activists are also involved within these multi-use land issues.

Land managers have implemented specific days for hiking and biking in an effort to avoid conflict. According to, bikers should only ride between Tahoe Meadows and Tunnel Creek Road on even numbered calendar days.

SNC Outdoor and Adventure Leadership (ODAL), department chair Rosie Hackett, encourages trail stewardship for the, “outdoor code of conduct.” According to Hackett, awareness of the code of conduct says, “Mountain bikers should always give way to hikers, but that does not always happen.”

However, Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association (TAMBA) employee David Reichel says the Forest Service is moving away from the code of conduct and focuses on trail stewardship, a common understanding of trail use that reciprocates appropriate trail etiquette.

The introduction of e-bikes is yet another potential conflict for Tahoe trails. The controversy is human versus electric power. One perspective is that trail use should be guarded from electric motorized bikes in wilderness areas. The other is e-bikes allow people to have greater access to wilderness areas.

According to Reichel, bicycles are not mentioned in the [original] wilderness act of 1964 because they were not a consideration. Rather, cars were the priority until the 1980s when mountain bikes came on the scene. Today is even more complex with the influx of e-bikes on Tahoe trails.

The controversy can lead to a higher level of regulation, like the south shore experience.

According to Jason Bilek, SNC senior, who lives in South Lake Tahoe, people would illegally build bike trails with extreme and unsafe jumps, and the Forest Service would come in and wipe everything out. There was no cohesiveness, and a disconnect between locals and Forest Service grew. The solution was TAMBA, who were able to repair damaged trails and promote safety, which welcomed a wide range of biking enthusiasts.

The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, a Tahoe regulation unit, states e-bikes are illegal on dirt trails. Rather, they share the same rights as motorized vehicles. TAMBA supports this regulation. Reichel explains, “Today TAMBA, does not have a policy on e-bikes because they do not own any land and, therefore, cannot make the rules.” TAMBA follows Forest Service and State Park regulations.

While e-bikes are growing in popularity, the forest service adheres to its obligation for healthy stewardship on Tahoe trails. TAMBA is a resource to support multi- use Tahoe trails to uphold a common understanding of trail etiquette. Together TAMBA and the Forest Service are work- ing to create a cohesive understanding of trail use within the outdoor community.