Two Wheels and the Open Road
May – June 2013
Nevada’s highways and byways provide scenic cycling getaways.
BY TIM HAUSERMAN
The joy of road biking comes from finding a relatively lightly traveled, but well-maintained strip of asphalt that keeps you spinning through an array of beautiful scenery. In Nevada, the best rides are found where the mountains meet the desert or gentle rangelands abut snow-capped peaks.
You can roll pleasantly across the flats enjoying pastoral views then turn a corner and begin to climb, climb, climb; or you can ride in the early-morning stillness past rock formations right out of a western movie. The best part of a road ride in Nevada, however, is that it allows you to enjoy the splendor of the state at a speed at which it can be truly appreciated.
Following are six scenic Silver State rides (three in Northern Nevada and three in Southern Nevada). All lie within a 90-minute drive of either Reno or Las Vegas.
Verdi to the Mount Rose Highway
This popular Reno ride manages to stick mostly to lightly used roads—or those with wide bike lanes—while taking you through The Biggest Little City’s suburban area. The roundtrip is about 45 miles, but a variety of potential starting places allows you to cater the trip to the length of your preference.
A great place to start is Crystal Peak Park in Verdi. The route follows the Truckee River on Old Highway 40 east to Reno before meandering through pleasant neighborhoods on the city’s southwestern edge. After a few miles of scenic riverside riding, you reach a bike trail near the Somersett community before passing through Mogul to 4th Street. Again, following the river, 4th Street leads to Mayberry Drive, where you cross the Truckee River and turn right, quickly climbing Plateau Street.
Plateau leads up to Caughlin Parkway, which brings you to the steepest section of your ride and expansive views of the river, northwest Reno, and Peavine Peak, which dominates the skyline from this vantage. Caughlin crosses McCarran Boulevard and becomes Cashell Boulevard, winding down to a left turn on Skyline Boulevard, followed by a right turn on Moana Lane, more downhill, and another right on Lakeside Drive.
Lakeside winds through pastures and suburban horse country and eventually turns into Holcomb Lane, which connects riders to a right turn at Thomas Creek Road. Turn left from Thomas Creek onto Foothill Road and take a quick right turn onto Boulder Glen Way, which leads to a connector trail and bridge over the creek and to the southern continuation of Thomas Creek Road, which you will follow the rest of the way to your turnaround at the convenience store at State Route 431, the Mount Rose Highway.
Bowers Mansion to and around Washoe Lake
This 22-mile loop with less than 1,000 feet of climbing makes for a view-filled, but not overly difficult, ride. It takes you around Washoe Lake, known for wildlife and occasional strong winds. Check the wind conditions before embarking on this ride.
Begin and end at the historic Bowers Mansion where you will find parking, restrooms, and an expanse of grass under the trees, an inviting spot for a post-ride picnic. Ride south on Old Highway 395 to a right turn on Franktown Road, where a pleasantly winding road takes you through old ranches and striking homes right at the foot of the Carson Range.
There is a slight climb, followed by a fun downhill ride back to Old 395, where you turn right. Take a left under Interstate 580 to Eastlake Boulevard, which brings you around the southern and eastern shores of Washoe Lake. Ride through Washoe Lake State Park, New Washoe City, and eventually back to Old 395 to return to Bowers Mansion. Over the last few miles, keep your eyes peeled to the sky for hang gliders as you pass Slide Mountain Hang Glider Landing Zone.
Genoa to Diamond Valley and Back
My favorite ride in Northern Nevada begins on Jacks Valley Road in one of Nevada’s oldest towns, Genoa. The 42-mile route takes you along the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada through beautiful farm country, wetlands, open sage lands, and past several hiking trails.
Six miles on Jacks Valley Road brings you to Kingsbury Grade, where, if you are up for a big climb, you can grunt up 2,500 feet to the top. If that doesn’t sound appealing, Jacks Valley Road becomes Foothill Road past Genoa and continues mostly level in the shadow of the Sierra. A right turn on Fredricksburg Road takes you into California, where the climb up Emigrant Trail brings you to Woodsford at the intersection of California State Routes 88 and 89.
Take Highway 89 toward Markleeville briefly, before turning left on Diamond Valley Road where you ride through a lovely, remote valley before returning to Fredricksburg Road and retracing your route back to Genoa. Just a mile before Genoa on your return trip is 1862 David Walley’s Hot Springs Resort, a great place for a post-ride soak in mineral baths.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Start this 43-mile ride at the Dunkin’ Donuts near Charleston Boulevard and Desert Foothills Drive in Summerlin, then head west to Red Rock Canyon and Blue Diamond. It’s a pleasant ride on a lightly traveled, well-maintained road past Joshua trees and an austere desert landscape.
Locals call this ride a “great place to spin,” with the tiny town of Blue Diamond providing a general store for resupply. Las Vegas biking expert Lisa Caterbone, from BikingLasVegas.com, calls the one-way (outbound) Red Rock Canyon loop, “one of the hardest 13-mile rides I’ve ever done. While really fun and incredibly beautiful, it is not for the faint of heart.”
If you hit the route early, the only sound you will hear is your own breath. Quiet that gasping sound by taking frequent breaks to enjoy the stunning vistas of bright red, orange, and creamcolored rock formations. “It’s even nice on a cloudy day,” Caterbone says, adding that the clouds “cast beautiful shadows on the mountains.” When it rains, there is nothing like a rainbow over Red Rock Canyon.
River Mountains Loop Trail
This 35-mile, paved bike path with spectacular views of Lake Mead, Boulder City, and Henderson was completed in 2011. It includes some fun switchbacks, tight turns, and a steep set of climbs known as Three Sisters. Plan on getting in a major workout, as there is 2,500 feet of elevation gain on the route.
For many riders, what makes the River Mountains Loop Trail special is that you get the peace of mind of spinning 35 miles without encountering vehicle traffic. Though it’s just a short drive from Las Vegas, one-third of the trail is in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, affording beautiful lakeviews and a serene feeling of remoteness.
Keep your eyes peeled for jack rabbits and bighorn sheep, and an occasional rattlesnake may be found basking on the trail in the sun. As a loop, you can start almost anywhere and go in either direction. My favorite starting point is Henderson’s Railroad Pass Casino.
Valley of Fire State Park
Caterbone says the ride through Valley of Fire State Park is “one of most spectacular in Nevada.” Cyclists pass through dramatic desert landscape on a lightly traveled road. Amid the dazzling rock formations and bright colors, you’ll feel as though you have been dropped onto another planet. The first portion of the ride is a quiet climb through a stark desert landscape.
When you reach the highest point, the road switches to a dark-tar color as you wind through a landscape of vibrant red and orange rock formations. A number of pullouts allow you to ponder such fascinations as Bee Hive Rocks, Elephant Rock, and The Seven Sisters.
To complete this challenging 63-mile out-and-back ride, park at the Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza at Exit 75 off Interstate 15. Ride east through the park to Overton for a mid-ride break before turning around to return to the start. Given the potential for extreme heat and the remote nature of this ride, it is not recommended that you ride alone or in the heat of summer.