Day Trip; Around Little High Rock Cyn Wilderness

Pete in the saddle
Pete coming up Smokey Canyon with the bottom of Little High Rock canyon in the distance

Pete Rissler, a local wildlife biologist, invited me on this trip around Little High Rock Canyon Wilderness. My first thought was, what an opportunity to get out with a local guide, I’m in! He promised great wildlife viewing, a 40+ mile loop around Nevada’s fantastic wilderness and the potential for wildlife like I have never seen. Maybe these weren’t his exact promises, but it was what I had formulated in my mind. His goals included a gravel grind tune-up ride for the up and coming Lost and Found event.

We drove from Reno to Gerlach at the base of the Black Rock Desert. Pete is very familiar with the area but hadn’t been out since the recent flooding. He said, while it represents an impressive amount of water for the region, the flooding in 1983 was greater.

Black Rock Desert
Black Rock Desert “Lake”

We continued north of Gerlach past the turn off to Soldier Meadows to the George  W Lund Petrified Forest. At this point we were on the southern border of the Little High Rock Canyon Wilderness. This area is a patchwork of Wilderness, and Wilderness Study Areas. They are stitched together by a network of roads that range in quality of groomed gravel roads to barely used jeep roads that are disappearing from under use. While travel in wilderness is generally limited to non-mechanized forms, in this area you can travel between wildernesses on designated routes.

Pull out on edge of wilderness, Lund Petrified Forest

We took of from the parking pull-off at the petrified forest. Pete’s gravel/cross bike was perfectly suited to these roads. My bike, a mountain hardtail with drop-bars,  was better suited to the roads ahead. Pete chose a clockwise loop around the wilderness which in hindsight proved to be the most rideable direction.

The first turn-off took us to Little High Rock Lake and the top of Little High Rock Cyn. To explore the canyon further would have been a soggy hike but I am sure well worth it. Beyond the lake we came to an old corral and abandoned home, Denio Camp, complete with a flowing spring. Great real estate for the adventurer or rancher.

Our next turn took us on a rugged jeep road that climbed between High Rock Cyn and Little High Rock Cyn Wildernesses. At this point we were riding on mountain bike terrain. The trail became steeper and rockier. But the views grew in vastness. Pete pointed out potential landscapes for seeing sage grouse and chukar but none made themselves apparent. While I have seen the occasional pronghorn antelope on rides, this trip had dozens. We saw small groups of males and females, young fawns, and many individual males.

Chunky road between wildernesses
Chukar and Sage Grouse habitat

The trail made a radical descent to High Rock Lake. It was steep, rocky and loose. The conditions made my descent questionably a good idea while Pete wisely took a stroll. As the lake came into view, it was noticeable larger than pictured in topo maps and satellite views. At this point we were riding between the Little High Rock Canyon and High Rock Lake Wildernesses. The lake would make an excellent base camp to explore the area’s 10 wildernesses within the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area.


We made our way past the bottom of Little High Rock Canyon and the classic Little High Rock Hilton. Our final road out followed Willow and Little Smokey Creeks through Smokey Canyon until we exited onto Leadville Rd.

Little High Rock Hilton
A place to weather a storm
Pete finishing up our ride
Back onto Leadville Rd.

We finished our loop at the petrified forest with a respect for what it takes to travel in Nevada’s outback by bicycle. The route fulfilled all of Pete’s promises, we saw a variety of wildlife, wild flowers, unique geology and traveled through 46 miles of Nevada’s backroads along precious wilderness. Check out our route here at Ride with GPS.

5 thoughts on “Day Trip; Around Little High Rock Cyn Wilderness

  1. Pingback: Ride Report; Carson Sink’s Dunes | Bikepacking Northern Nevada

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  5. Pingback: Rides with Friends #5; Around Little High Rock Canyon Wilderness – Bikepacking Northern Nevada

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