The Ride Stuff
July – August 2015
Mountain biking was once the domain of young thrill-seekers; today, everyone has a fat-tire bike. From retirees to teens, the desire to get off the asphalt and see more of the land has spurred the creation of myriad trails and an impressive stewardship toward our public lands. According to the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), eight western states—including Nevada—receive $6.2 billion in economic benefits from cycling annually.
Hills or valleys, lush or rocky, easy or difficult…there’s a single- track for you in Nevada. While the northern part of the state is well- known to hikers and mountain bikers, southern Nevada should not be overlooked. When the snow flies up north, head south for some perfect temperatures. Austin, Caliente, Elko, Eureka, Ely, too; if you’re looking for a place to spin your wheels, you’ve come to the right state. Here are but a few Nevada trails for your fat-tire pleasure. Ride on!
BY ERIK MONTVILLE
A great location in southern Nevada is somewhere you’d least expect to ride: at 8,000 feet elevation. Mt. Charleston—40 minutes from Las Vegas—is one of the highest peaks in the Spring Mountain range. The local U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Great Basin Institute, and Southern Nevada Mountain Bike Association (SNMBA) are working together to developing a singletrack system in the range.
The first completed section is the aptly named Showgirl Trail. Beginning at the Juniper Trailhead located at 8,100 feet on Lucky Strike Road (Hilltop Campground) leading to Angel Peak off of Highway 158 (Deer Creek), the new singletrack winds down into high desert that isn’t what you would expect after riding in the vast lower valley. Tall pines keep it 20-30 degrees cooler than the desert floor. Typical summer days are in the high 70s. The trail winds up, down, in, and out of the tall giants, climbing to a peak locals call the “round-a-bout” due to the remnants of an old highway. This is the high spot at 8,250 feet, and it’s all downhill from there!
Another link trail is in progress to complete the entire Showgirl Trail. In the meantime, the trail ventures down the old highway bed, which can be very fast, and onto a trail called Tin Can—a twisty, windy trail that is shadowy and deep within the forest. This trail crosses Telephone Road and onto Showgirl again.
A moderate, short climb brings you to a few more miles of downhill, which slowly ventures into open high desert. Winding back and forth, with short climbs thrown in to keep you honest, you drop out under State Route 157 at approximately 5,800 feet, more than 2,400 vertical feet of elevation drop. This trail is best suited as a shuttle, but those who have the desire to grind out the climb will be rewarded with amazing mountain views, lots of shade, and a wonderful downhill back to the car. Showgirl is considered intermediate with a few areas of exposure but mostly fun, twisty singletrack.
BY ERIK MONTVILLE
Bristlecone Loop lets you experience what it’s like to ride at 9,400 feet of elevation. There are two ways to ride the trail: counter-clockwise and “the other way.” The trailhead is approximately 16 miles up State Route 156 (Lee Canyon), very close to the ski resort. Starting at 8,400 feet, go- ing counter-clockwise takes you up three miles of forest road, allowing you to acclimate to the thin, fresh air. The trails exiting Bristlecone along this route are for foot traffic only, so heed the warn- ing!
During the fall months, the aspen groves turn a wonderful yellow/orange and it’s amazing to see them mixed in with the evergreens. At the three-mile mark, a very short, steep hill appears. This is the beginning of the singletrack. Take in the majestic views; then a short climb brings you to the highest spot allowed for mountain bikes in southern Nevada: 9,400 feet.
This trail has some exposure (areas with steep drop-offs) along a few spots, and no one has ever been knocked for walking anything, so take precaution. You can gain speed pretty quick, so watch for the trees; they catch handlebars easily and without warning.
The trail winds through more low-level aspen groves before exiting near Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort. Take the pavement back to the car and this completes an approximately seven-mile loop. Bristlecone is rideable April-October, and considered intermediate due to the exposure and technical, rocky portions. It’s best ridden in the morning when foot traffic is low.
BY MEGG MUELLER
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area—about 50 minutes west of Las Vegas—is home to the Cottonwood Valley trail system. The Late Night trailhead is off State Route 160, west of the intersection with State Route 159, and has ample parking and pit toilets.
Red Rock, well, it’s a gorgeous place in late spring. Head south-west from the parking lot to 3-Mile Smile, which takes you under the highway via a tunnel; there’s also a trailhead near the toilets. The ride to Badger Pass—is a gentle, but consistent climb (about 660 feet of elevation gain) on easy singletrack.
There are no fewer than 12 connecting trails in this system, so the choice of descent is yours. There are great trail signs at intersections, but best to go with someone in the know or get a map from SNMBA’s website. The ride down the lower half of Red Valley, toward White Rhino, includes switchbacks, technical spots, rocky terrain, and incredibly fun, swoopy sections…these hills have it all. Well they don’t have trees, so ride early and avoid summer; go higher when it’s hot (try Showgirl Trail or Bristlecone Loop).
Head back to the north side of the highway, and take the upper tunnel to connect with a trail that runs parallel to the highway which you can take back to the parking lot. This loop is about eight miles. The real beauty of the ride, however, demands you ride along the famed red sandstone hills on the Late Night Trail. Look for the infamous duck tree located off the Inner Loop on the aptly named Rubber Duck Trail, then ride back to the parking for a total of a little more than 14 miles.
Cottonwood is a mountain biking paradise, with just about every type of terrain imaginable and some of the most gorgeous geological features you’ll ever see. It is not to be missed.
Clear Creek Trail
BY JEFF MOSER
One of Carson City’s newer trails, Clear Creek is almost 10.5 miles long (21 miles out-and-back), and gradually climbs and descends along its length at a comfortable 5-percent grade. The trail is easy to ride, but a few sandy sections, moderate exposure, and overall mileage may challenge beginners. The elevation ranges between 4,950 and 6,200 feet.
To get to the trailhead, head west on Jacks Valley Road just south of Carson City. The official trailhead is at Jacks Valley Elementary School, just a mile west of U.S. Route 395. An alternate trailhead with parking is just a half mile further to the west. This is where most mountain bikers start.
From the alternate trailhead, go through the gate by the information kiosk. Follow the dirt road west a short ways and make the first right on the road that climbs the hill. Immediately you’ll see a sign that directs you onto the Clear Creek Trail singletrack. The trail begins with a gentle climb, meandering up the hill through the high desert sagebrush.
After a couple miles, you’ll enter the trees. It’s less sandy here, and winds through the woods with frequent views of the valley below. Although the trail crosses many dirt roads along the way, the Clear Creek Trail is always clearly marked. For those looking for a shorter ride, Knob Point makes a good turnaround spot just seven miles in (half a mile less from the alternate trailhead). Perched at 6,050 feet, Knob Point offers spectacular views of Jacks and Carson Valleys a thousand feet below. Keep an eye out for the sign to this scenic lookout.
From Knob Point, it climbs north towards Clear Creek. Along the way there’s rolling terrain, a few switchbacks, and challenging rock features. Eventually, the trail reaches the high point where it crosses the south fork of Clear Creek near some prominent granite boulders. The sound of the creek and the shade of the aspens make this a nice spot to rest.
The trail then descends to Clear Creek Road—an old cracked asphalt road that parallels U.S. Route 50 above. Many people turn around here to keep it in the dirt and avoid additional climbing. The official trail descends another one and a half miles down the old roadbed and terminates a short ways after this, losing 190 feet of elevation in the process. Those looking for more mileage and climbing may enjoy this final section.
The descent back to the Jack’s Valley trailhead is a fun one! Occasionally it opens up for some fast riding, but frequent sharp turns will test cornering skills and keep your speed in check in many sections.
BY DANNY MILLER
The Flume Trail is one of the most photographed rides in the Lake Tahoe area. It’s not super technical, but there are quite a few difficult climbs. The elevation runs from 6,400 feet to almost 8,200 at the trail’s peak. My riding partner, Jeff Moser, kept saying, “It’s worth the pain.” He may have only said it once or twice but his words echoed in my head all day.
Best to get an early start as this is an all-day adventure, and the ride is 14 miles one-way. Most people ride this as a shuttle ride (weather depending), but off-season the shuttle is not available, so start at the Tunnel Creek Café—the site of the old Ponderosa Ranch. You’ll pedal up steep, long fire roads, but can stop at all the historical landmarks. Each stop allows a rest and offers epic views. The trails are well-marked, but grab a map from the Tunnel Creek Café so you can choose the trails that best suit your skill level and time. About four miles in, Jeff added a detour to the Red House Flume trail—there’s some great places to check out, like Red House and cool abandoned buildings—which is just over three miles long. Connect to either the Sunflower Trail for singletrack with switchbacks or take Sunflower Hill Road for an easier option.
From here, you can connect back to the Flume Trail and ride to Spooner Lake parking lot, turn around and head back up for another 14 miles. Or join with the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) which heads to Spooner or has a couple options that connect back to the Flume Trail. If you choose the TRT, just know it can be challenging and you need a bit more skill to handle rocks, steps, and so on. Walk if you have to.
The Flume Trail is an intermediate ride, but if you are afraid of heights or get nervous around steep drop-offs, this might not be the best option. But the views will take your breath away so stop often to take photos of the lake and breathe in the fresh air.
If you circle back to the Tunnel Creek Café, you can have a great meal and a cool beverage, while chatting about how this is one of the best rides you have ever been on. It’s worth the pain!
BY MEGG MUELLER
Peavine Mountain wraps around Reno’s west side, and its rocky, mule deer-laden hills are covered with miles of trail. In the last 10 years, the trails have been taken in hand by the Poedunks—an IMBA-affiliated club that has led trail building efforts at Peavine. The result is more than 40 miles of non-motorized, authorized trails from which to choose. There’s very little shade on Peavine, making this area great for early season rides. The signage has improved greatly (thanks, Poedunks), but the best part is you can take a different trail just about every time, and as long as you’re prepared and keep your directional wits about you, you can seemingly ride forever.
The trailhead at Keystone Canyon—north off McCarran Blvd., about three miles west of N. Virginia Street—offers parking and a portable bathroom. From here, the trail winds north into the canyon for what seems like an endless amount of options. You can opt for the connector trail over to the Evans Canyon trail; the fork in the road is just two-tenths of a mile. This takes you over a hill (nice bench at the top with great views), and over to Evans, where you can ride up and loop back to Keystone, or continue north up into the hills.
Make no mistake, riding Peavine is all about the uphill. Keystone Trailhead sits below 5,000 feet elevation, and Peavine Road near the mountain’s peak is almost 6,600 feet. Mountain biking in northern Nevada is most-often this way; long climbs followed by that most awesome of payoffs, the screaming downhill.
Peavine has some swoopy trails—most notably Bobsled—but largely this is rocky, fairly technical singletrack. Beginners with strong lungs and fortitude can easily ride Peavine, however; all you have to do is turn around when you get tired and go downhill.
This beginner/intermediate loop follows a section of the Pony Express mail route through Emigrant Pass. The 10-mile loop begins in downtown Austin and climbs to Austin Summit; elevation gain is 1,300 feet. The trail heads north along a rocky two-track and through some grassy spring areas. A sharp left and you’re on to the Pony Express route. Once you reach the pass, it’s a fast and fun descent to Highway 50.
Castle Loop in Austin is an easy 4.5-mile trail with very little elevation gain (400 feet). It’s great for beginners and kids, plus it allows advanced riders a warm-up for longer rides or gives riders passing through a chance to see some of the area’s trail possibilities. The ride starts and ends at Austin Park. Austin rides adapted from austinnevada.com.
WORTH A CLICK
International Mountain Biking Association
Southern Nevada Mountain Bike Association
Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association
Carson Valley Trails Association
Austin Chamber of Commerce
Poedunk Trail Club