Around the Virginia Mountains; Reno’s Best Gravel Grind

Winnemucca Ranch Road, Dogskin and Virginia Mtns

The Winnemuca Ranch Road area remains a favorite place for me to ride. The road is primarily gravel or dirt from Pyramid Lake Highway just north of Reno/Sparks to another gravel road, Fish Springs Road, east of Herlong, CA. The road runs through ranch land between the Dogskin and Virginia Mountains. Until this point I had only ridden about 1/2 of its length on previous trips. I didn’t want to make it an out-and-back and my previous plans were to make it a looped day trip to the south. This route was too long and had too much black top for my taste. The route I chose was to ride around the Virginia Mountains to the north. I used the route planning option on Garmin Connect and estimated the ride to be 83 miles long and while I knew most of my elevation gain would be made in the first 15 miles of the route but I definitely underestimated the cumulative elevation for the ride.

Planned Route on Garmin Connect

The first 13 miles were familiar territory, though the last time I had ridden through was on a looped  route around the Dogskin Mtns on packed snow.

Route around Dogskin Mtns on Garmin Connect

After that I was in new territory climbing through juniper forest with views of the blackened Virginia Mtns scarred by the wild fires we had this season. I climbed to a hanging valley that under wetter conditions would have a pond but now contained a mini playa (salt flat).

mini playa on Winnemucca Ranch Rd

Passing the playa I was startled by two large turkey vultures that had been perched at a bubbling water trough. This was the second trough I had passed and in addition to Dry Valley Creek the only sources of water on the trip. I brought a 6+ liter supply which was adequate for the day’s conditions.

water trough bellow Sugarloaf and Vinegar Pks   Beyond the playa I made a rugged descent with Flanigan Playa in view. I was riding my Salsa Fargo with 700×40 WTB Nano tires. This was a perfect choice for all but a few minutes of riding through the terrain. A few spots were rocky enough to make me wish I had fatter tires but the rest of the 80+ miles passed easily.

Fort Sage Mtns and State Line Peak
State Line Peak
Flanigan Playa
Flanigan Playa


I passed a hand painted signed that reassured me I was still on Winnemucca Ranch Rd. At this point I realized I had finally ridden all 25+ miles or so of Winnemucca Ranch Rd. My next intersection was with Fish Springs Rd which proved to be a postcard perfect gravel road around Flanigan Playa.

Along Fish Springs Road I came across signs that pointed me in other directions with ideas how I might link this route to other locations. Sand Pass Rd junction was my immediate destination, that was going to take me to Sutcliffe on Pyramid Lake. Gerlach is at the base of the Black Rock Desert and was the destination of the tour Raymond Eliot and I did around Pyramid Lake and the Smoke Creek Desert. Doyle and US 395 would be destinations if I were turning south to Reno or north to Susanville. The Flanigan Road sign was interesting as High Rock Rd could be an alternate route for this loop as well as connect to the route to Gerlach. Cresting a hill, where Fish Springs Rd intersects with Surprise Valley Rd, the gravel road extension of Pyramid Lake Highway (State Route 445), there was a sign that told me I was halfway between Gerlach and Reno (both good choices). I had stopped here once before en route to the Smoke Creek Desert and Gerlach and wondered where Fish Springs Road went; mystery solved.

Surprise Valley Road took me onto the Pyramid Lake Reservation and offered great views for the rest of my return loop. I made a familiar stop at George Washington Rock before rejoining the pavement at Warrior Point. One thought I had was to make the trip by leaving a car at my starting point on Winnemucca Ranch Rd and then meeting friends to camp at Warrior point. The ride would then be about 55 mi of outstanding gravel road.

I claim this as “the best” gravel grind for the Reno area. It is really not in my nature to pass such judgement. Reno’s most popular gravel grind is Heness Pass Rd/ Dog Valley to Loyalton- entirely in California. The route I did with Raymond Eliot from Pyramid Lake to Gerlach via the Smoke Creek Desert is also outstanding but not popular. With the rise in popularity of gravel grinding I think the northern Nevada is ripe for spectacular routes if not events. This route will have its place in the catalog of northern Nevada’s gravel roads- even if not Reno’s Best!

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