The Biggest Little City, Reno, NV is surrounded by mountains, the Carson Range, the Bald Mountain Range, Peavine, the Pah Rah Range, and the Virginia and Flowery Ranges. They are all a draw to the bikepacking wanderlust. While they are are magical in their own way the Pah Rah Range has had a particular pull on me.
This backwards C-shaped range cups Sparks, Spanish Springs, and Warm Springs Valley to the west and casts an evening shadow on the tribal and non-tribal lands between Wadsworth and Nixon. The range is about 20 miles south to north and 14 miles wide. It rises from 4500′ to peaks above 8000′. I have poked into the range from as many access points as I could find. After visiting Pond Peak from Wadsworth, Virginia Peak from Warm Springs Valley and the ridgeline north of Virginia Peak I envisioned a long route through the range. There isn’t an ideal ridgeline road from Vista Blvd in Sparks to Pyramid Lake Highway in the north, but this is the most comprehensive route through the range I could stitch together.
The route starts out of Wadsworth on Olinghouse Rd. off SR 447. This was the ride I did with Dean Magnuson years ago on my Fargo, while he rode his fat bike. My KHS Grit 440 gravel bike was an ideal compromise of efficiency, traction, and comfort. I had a long day ahead so I rode past the turn-off for the Pond Peak summit figuring, been there, done that!
Now I was on new-to-me roads as I was descending into Wilcox Canyon. Interestingly there was property for sale on this route, my thought was it would be quite the commute! Dropping into Warm Springs Valley I was surprised by how much water was back there. Like so many Nevada mountain ranges, from a distance the Pah Rah Range looks as dry as can be.
My ride through Warm Springs Valley was a review of my first climb to Virginia Peak. I wandered through the rural neighborhoods until I found Microwave Road. This was the second climb of the day. Unfortunately the range does not have a crest trail. Again, for the sake of having a long day still ahead and about as much elevation gain as my legs could handle I passed the turn off for Virginia Peak. Again I was on new roads to connect to familiar roads above Pyramid Lake.
There are remote rural neighborhoods tucked away in Pah Rah Range. Although they are only 30-45 minutes away from Reno/Sparks they feel as though they could be tucked away in a distant juniper filled canyon. I am just a bit jealous. Past the turn off for Virginia Peak there were fewer homes. I was most struck by the creeks still flowing late in the season. By Rodero Rd and Monte Cristo Dr residential gave way to ranching.
Monte Cristo Dr offered a fun descent with stunning views of Pyramid Lake. But at one point it opened into a broad field of thistle. After running the gauntlet I made my way to the highway to return on pavement via Nixon. There was the obligatory ice cream break at the Nixon store before I made my way back to my car on Olinghouse Rd. The return could be made via the Tahoe-Pyramid Trail but at this point I was ready for the efficiency of the tarmac.
This is the most comprehensive route through the Pah Rah Range I can imagine. The loop was 60 miles with 8,900′ of climbing. I have yet to suggest a trail based on my rides but if a ridgeline trail from Pond Peak to Virginia Peak could be conceived it could be a fantastic recreational opportunity. While I used my gravel bike for this trip there were a few sections that would have been more comfortable on a mountain bike and at times I could have used some lower gears. The abundance of wildlife and water and the destruction of wildfires in the otherwise hidden canyons was the most eye opening aspects of the ride all within close proximity to the Biggest Little City.