Hunter Lake, Hunter Creek, and the Steamboat Ditch

Steep descent on Hunter Lake Road
Hunter Lake Rd offers a wide variety of terrain, but steep and rocky dominates.

I’am including a rather large area in this ride but it is all out my backdoor; over looking Caughlin Ranch, Mogul, and Verdi, on the shoulder of the Carson Range’s Sunflower Peak against the Mt. Rose Wilderness. Now there’s a mouthful in a geographic description! But this diverse area around Reno’s border with the Mt. Rose Wilderness, as well as a challenging route through the wilderness, is all but overlooked with the exception of a few miles along the Steamboat Ditch Trail.
Hunter Lake Rd is a jeep road that splits the Mt. Rose Wilderness from Reno to Verdi. The rocky moderately pitched road climbs quickly offering views of downtown Reno, cooler mountain temperatures and forested cover. Route finding can be tricky, the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest uses their numerical road designations, never mentioning Hunter Lake Rd. I first heard about this route as a part of an epic test of endurance mountain biking that includes climbing and descending Peavine Peak as well. My earliest attempts were thwarted by route finding, the volume of climbing and my sense of commitment. Regardless, every wrong turn and jeep road side spur in this area is made well worth the effort by the variety of terrain, the views, and isolation.
I finally made it up to Hunter Lake on a fat bike excursion with my friend Dean Magnuson. The five inch wide tires were mostly over kill for this ride but worked well in the steep, loose, and rocky ascents and descents. Wider tire options are a nice advancement in adventure touring, keeping you on your bike and in the saddle longer delaying the eventual hike-a-bike. While the rest of mountain biking forums are filled with discussion of wheel size and suspension, bike packing gets to discus tire width and rack and pannier vs. rackless bags options. More important than tire width to the success of this trip was riding with Dean. I was motivated to show him this route and that kept me going. We returned by the same route. The alternative is to continue to descend Garson Rd. into Boomtown in Verdi.

Rocky high point just off Hunter Lake Road
Dean climbing a rocky high point off Hunter Lake Rd.

The success of making it to Hunter Lake with Dean broke down a mental barrier and I have since repeated the ride. As a ride for the summer months it cannot be beat. With an early start the gain in elevation along with the increased shade of the pines and mountain breezes keeps the ride comfortable. The return to the valley floor quickly reminds you what temperatures you have escaped but at least the return is all downhill. I will revisit this route repeatedly in the months to come to explore route options to the Truckee River further upstream from Verdi.

Collection of water from Hunter Lake before it runs through culvert under Hunter Lake Rd.
The beginning of Hunter Creek.

Hunter Lake is the headwaters for Hunter Creek a small tributary of the Truckee River. There is the Hunter Creek trail but as it goes through the Mt. Rose Wilderness it is off limits to bikes. As a day hike or a quick overnighter I highly recommend it. The vegetation around the creek is dense but I have picked up the occasional brook trout on a dry fly. The trail head for Hunter Creek is at the end of Woodchuck Circle off Plateau Rd. in the west side of Caughlin Ranch neighborhood. The corner of Plateau and Woodchuck is a popular trailhead for the Steamboat Ditch Trail.

Beaver Ponds on lower Hunter Creek
Beaver pond on lower Hunter Creek as seen from Steamboat Ditch Trail.

The Steamboat Ditch Trail is one of the most popular as well as disputed trails in the area. Only a small portion of its length is used but its popularity and proximity to nice neighborhoods has made its access and use a hot topic of discussion. The western portion of The Ditch seems to end at point called Hole in the Wall but there are roads that can take you further west to Belli Ranch. Everyone I have take on this route has been impressed. A quick spin through the Belli Ranch neighborhood allows you to hook up to Garson Rd (Nation Forest Rd 100) which is a wonderful rocky fire road that leads up to Hunter Lake or alternatively Bronco Creek. I consider The Ditch trail to be Reno’s premier multi-use, family use trail and an excellent place to take any new off-road rider.

3 thoughts on “Hunter Lake, Hunter Creek, and the Steamboat Ditch

  1. Spencer Whitman

    Hey There,

    Enjoying reading about your adventures, and using your descriptions to plan my own! I’m wondering if you have gpx tracks of these adventures that you wouldn’t mind sharing. I also had a question regarding what kind of tires you’d recommend for riding Henness Pass Rd. from Reno. I’ve got the option of using schwalbe marathon plus (semi slicks, armored) or swapping over my tires from my mtb (tubeless, 2.2-2.3 inches). Both of these would be on a hardtail 29er. Cheers!

    1. Hey Spencer,
      I am glad you are finding my reports entertaining and useful to planning your own outings. I don’t have gpx tracks of my rides. I need to figure that out, ha! I use a Garmin Edge Touring computer as well as a SPOT Gen3 GPS tracker when I am on my rides so I am definitely collecting the data. I share my rides on Garmin Connect as well as STRAVA if that helps.
      I have ridden Henness Pas Rd. on 700 x 32 tires to 26 x 5 and know riders on 700 x 28 slicks and 700 x 40 Schwalbe Marathon Plus. The road is in great shape but for comfort’s sake especially when descending I would choose the 29 x 2.2 set up. I have converted my Fargo to 27.5+ which is a very comfortable ride.
      Thanks for your feedback!
      -Kurstin Graham

  2. Pingback: Overnight Above Reno, S24O | Bikepacking Northern Nevada

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