Old Toll Road: Gateway to Virginia and Flowery Ranges

I first came across this ride in a guide book to Reno and Carson Cities’ mountain bike rides. It was originally a test of fitness to climb this old stage coach grade and a patch of dry dirt to ride on the east side of Reno if the west side was wet or snowy. It lies bellow Geiger Grade, one of Reno’s most famous road rides, hill climb time trials, and route to historic Virginia City. But on today’s ride I was looking at it with a whole different perspective.

It was still a moderately steep and rocky climb. But instead of having my head buried and telling myself it was only two more sweeping switch backs until it flattens out at the top I was looking around at the beauty of the canyon. The exposed rock ranged from light cream to rosy red, and dark brown. The pines and chaparral round out the high desert landscape. The views make for an extraordinary panorama. I was also looking for side trails that might extend this adventure but unfortunately this route is mostly surrounded by private land.


The Geiger Grade toll road was originally constructed in 1862 to connect the Comstock Lode to Truckee Meadows via wagons, coaches, and mule-team freighters. Now it serves as excellent passage for hikers, bikers, ATV users, and four wheelers to the Virginia and Flowery Ranges. I have mostly climbed Toll to its juncture with Geiger Grade and then turned around to descend Toll or turn to descend Geiger Grade back to Reno. Early in my first explorations of this route, circa 2000 I continued on to the residential area Virginia City Highlands and rode some of the jeep roads off Lousetown Rd. looking for the famous Lagomarsino Cyn Petroglyph Site. But I had no clear plan to get there, so I wandered in the desert until my dwindling water supplies force me to return.

Now I returned better provisioned, but not with a better plan, to explore the dirt roads off Virginia City Highlands’ Cartwright/Lousetown Rds. Virginia City Highlands is an interesting community in that it is private with public access that can be revoked at anytime. I have come across this provision in the areas north of Red Rock Rd as well. Every dirt road I came to was posted private until the last. In my mind I question the authority of some of these private postings because I think they might refer to the land but not the roads, but I figure it is best to error on the side of caution when at all possible. I understand residents may feel vulnerable to evil doers but I would like to enjoy access to public lands.

But the last road I came too was not posted, passed some beautiful homes, then descended a very steep road with great views of Dayton and the north end of the Pine Nut Range. As I was descending I encountered a group of wild horses. I always give them wide berth and patient to let them mosey on. So far I have not experienced any aggression from a herd and I hope to keep it that way.

 Powerline road above Tocchino Springs, Flowery Range, Nevada
Powerline road above Tocchino Springs, Flowery Range, Nevada

The fire road I was on was in good shape and passed several more parcels of private land and some for sale. The only other recreational users I saw were some motor bike riders. There were a couple of opportunities to continue in the Flowery Range but I chose to head towards Dayton. I eventually descended to Six Mile Canyon with the option of climbing back to Virginia City or descending to Dayton. Dayton would have been the option to continue the tour, but my choice was to return to Virginia City to return to Reno.

Looking across to Rawe Peak, Pine Nut Mtns
View of Rawe Peak, Pine Nut Range. Goal area to explore in fall/winter 2015/16

The paved road up the canyon is a popular route for road cyclists connecting Dayton and Virginia City. The creek along the road in the shade of giant cottonwoods and vertical rock walls was inviting except that it is posted it contains effluent from Virginia City’s water treatment plant. Nevada’s other sulphur springs. There were a few dirt roads off Six Mile Cyn but most were too steep to be inviting.

As a day’s outing and exploration this was a great roundtrip from Reno. A dirt route from Reno to Virginia City and on to Dayton or Carson City is apparent from this and other rides. The history is as rich as the terrain and biota, all the more reason to get out and explore Northern Nevada.

3 thoughts on “Old Toll Road: Gateway to Virginia and Flowery Ranges

  1. Pingback: Ride Report; Como Rd, Pine Nut Mtns. | Bikepacking Northern Nevada

  2. Janos Roja

    I am interested in doing a dirt ride to Virginia City. It seems like there are multiple routes, including, Jumbo, Ophir, Toll, and others. Which would you recommend for a half-day bike ride?

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