Carson Valley offers bevy of trail options
Editor’s note: Much of the trail information below is reprinted, with permission, from Bike Tahoe and the Carson Valley Trails Association. Go to biketahoe.org and carsonvalleytrails.org to learn more.
Carson Valley bike rides feature trails and roads less traveled now than during the late 1800s when mass emigration, Pony Express mail delivery and Wells Fargo Stage Lines traveled through the area — named after scout Kit Carson— en route to the gold fields near Placerville in California and the silver fields nearby in Virginia City.
Today, you can ride your bike on these same routes that served as early foot and horse trails, like Clear Creek, Genoa Loop and Ash/King Canyons. No less historical are road-cycling rides along Jacks Valley Road and Foothill Road, which is the original California Trail route from Missouri to the gold fields.
Cyclists looking for longer rides with elevation gains can choose one of the area’s most famous rides, The Emigrant Loop, traveling from South Lake Tahoe over Luther Pass, east to Foothill Road, and up and over Kingsbury Grade to return to South Lake Tahoe. The Amgen Tour of California professional bike race recently used this 52-mile loop.
Aside from the unique historical significance of these rides is the fact there are very few cars on the road — making for safe and enjoyable rides traveled by others more than 150 years before you.
Below is a brief description of the major bike rides located throughout the Carson Valley:
GENOA CRUISER RIDE
DISTANCE: 3 miles
ELEVATION: 121 feet
TRAILHEAD: Start at either end — the center of Genoa or from Walley’s Hot Springs Resort.
THE RIDE: A fun relaxing historic ride for the entire family along the western side of Carson Valley overlooking the lush grazing fields as the region’s earliest pioneers did. This ride parallels the original Overland Emigrant Trail. Bring an appetite, as this ride offers a great combination of early western history, food and beverages, a park, great views and a hot spring spa. What more could you ask for?
CLEAR CREEK OUT & BACK MOUNTAIN BIKE RIDE
DISTANCE: 16 miles
ELEVATION: 1,745 feet
TRAILHEAD: About a quarter-mile west of Jacks Valley Elementary School on Jacks Valley Road (SR 206) is a parking turnout area on the right — this is the trailhead.
THE RIDE: A fun singletrack starting in the Nevada desert on sand with short winding curves among sagebrush and gradually climbing through sandy sections and up into the Alpine forests on smooth soil. There is a cautionary sign about the possibility of rattlesnakes being present in the sagebrush area. Six miles up, you will arrive at a popular destination called the Knob Point. Here is an excellent vista of Jacks Valley. You can either return your descent here, or continue on another two miles to a trail junction at a road. There is a creek you can use if you have a water filtration device. Keep in mind this is also a popular trail for hikers and equestrians.
THE PONY EXPRESS ROAD
DISTANCE: 18.44 miles
ELEVATION: 1,358 feet
TRAILHEAD: This ride starts at Genoa, but can also begin at the Foothill/Kingsbury intersection.
THE RIDE: As the name suggests, this ride is along the original Pony Express route on the Emigrant Trail — traveling from the Genoa/Mormon Station to the Woodfords Station (SR 206). It is a popular road bike ride among locals because of its low traffic volume, quality pavement and views of the fertile Carson Valley, as well as the majestic peaks of Job’s Peak (10,633 feet), Job’s Sister (10,823 feet) and Freel Peak (10,881 feet). Freel Peak is the highest peak in the Tahoe area and the southern-most extension of the Carson Range. You will ride along Foothill Road and turn right on Fredericksburg Road. Continue southbound and turn right on Emigrant Trail and ride until it reaches Highway 88, where you will turn right to the Woodfords Station.
JACKS VALLEY-GENOA ROAD
DISTANCE: 8.52 miles
ELEVATION: 367 feet
TRAILHEAD: Jacks Valley Road / Highway 395 intersection.
THE RIDE: A popular short road bike ride among locals because there are few cars and expansive vistas of the Carson Range and Jacks Valley. In sections it parallels the original Pony Express Route and ends in Genoa, the location of the Mormon Station — Nevada’s first settlement and saloon where you can still enjoy a whiskey or another beverage. There are a couple of golf courses and a lot of history. Should you continue south, beyond Genoa, the road name changes from Jacks Valley Road to become Foothill Road.
DIAMOND VALLEY LOOP ROAD
DISTANCE: 30.5 miles
ELEVATION: 2,073 feet
TRAILHEAD: Start/Finish at Junction of NSR 207/206 Kingsbury Grade and Foothill Road.
THE RIDE: A wonderful historical ride. Ride along the base of the Carson Range as you pass ranches and historical landmarks. Turn right on Fredericksburg Road and then right on Emigrant Trail. About 13 miles out you can stop at Woodfords Station and refresh yourself as the Pony Express riders and emigrants did before heading to Luther Pass or Carson Pass. Cautiously cross Highway 88 at Woodfords, as if going to Markleville, and you will turn left on Diamond Valley Road. Ride out into the valley and you get a sense of the Wild West — no urbanization or cars. You will loop back to Hwy 88 (Paynesville) where you cautiously cross and reconnect to Foothill Road for your return to Kingsbury Grade.
THE EMIGRANT LOOP ROAD
DISTANCE: 52 miles
ELEVATION: 4,672 feet
TRAILHEAD: There are several popular locations to connect to the Loop — Stateline, Pioneer Trail, South Upper Truckee Road, Foothill Road or Kingsbury Grade.
THE RIDE: Among local and professional road cyclists, this is a favorite endurance road bike ride that travels by high alpine meadows, Hope Valley, and along the Eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada. It challenges the rider’s ability for sustained steep climbs, long and fast descents, distance and elevation gains. The popular direction of travel is counter-clockwise. The route travels west from Stateline along Pioneer Trail where you will junction with Highway 50 in Meyers, and turn left. Continue westbound on 50, crossing the Truckee River, and shortly turn left on South Upper Truckee Road. You will cross the Truckee River again and immediately climb a steep single lane road for one mile to connect with Highway 89. Turn right on Highway 89, Luther Pass Road, and ride over Luther Pass (7,735 feet) and prepare for a long descent to Pickett’s Junction (highways 89/88). Turn left at the junction (Highway 88) and descend the Woodfords Canyon. Just past Woodfords, about a quarter mile, turn left on Emigrant Grade. When you junction with Foothill Road, turn left; then left on Kingsbury Grade SR 207; and then left on Highway 50 back to Stateline.
Similar to the above biking trails, there are countless walking paths and hiking trails across the Carson Valley, many of which are steeped in wonderful history.
Following is a brief description of the major hiking systems and trails located throughout the Carson Valley; for full details, maps and more, head to the Carson Valle Trails Association website at carsonvalleytrails.org:
GENOA TRAIL SYSTEM
The Genoa Trail System is 16 miles of trails in the Genoa area open to hikers, equestrians, mountain bikes and dogs. Trail names include the Genoa Loop, Eagle Ridge Loop, Sierra Canyon Trail and Discovery Trail. The Discovery Trail is the same trail as the upper section of both loops. The lower section of both loops follows public roads in and near the town of Genoa. For an even longer loop, users can traverse the entire Discovery Trail and loop down through Genoa for a 10-mile round-trip hike.
Bikers and equestrians are not recommended on the lower portion of the Genoa Loop in Genoa Canyon. Here, the trail narrows in challenging terrain with tight switchbacks and steep drop-offs. Please scout the area beforehand to determine if you can safely use this section of trail. The Sierra Canyon Trail is a long hike with substantial elevation gain/loss. It is 10 miles one way just to the Tahoe Rim Trail. Though dispersed public parking is available throughout most of the area, formal parking areas are available at the Eagle Ridge, Sierra Canyon and Genoa Canyon access points.
FAY-LUTHER / JOBS PEAK RANCH TRAIL SYSTEM
This trail system connects the Fay-Luther and Jobs Peak Ranch trailheads, which are 3.5 miles apart. There is a total of about 9 miles of loop and connector trails to choose from. The Interpretive Loop provides interpretive signs about the area. There is no trail access to Jobs Peak. Please stay on designated trails only and respect neighboring private property.
Aside from hiking, all trails are open to mountain bikes and equestrians except for part of the Fay-Luther/Jobs Peak Ranch Trail between Jobs Peak Ranch Trailhead and the Valley View Loop. This section of trail has loose soils, cable steps and modest terrain challenges. Much of this section is also located on private land, which allows hikers only.
The trails are fairly gentle throughout the area. The first half mile from the Fay-Luther Trailhead and the first mile from the Jobs Peak Ranch Trailhead have limited shade, traveling through thick areas of big sagebrush, rabbitbrush and bitterbrush. The rest of the trail system is mostly an open Jeffrey pine forest with a mix of singleleaf pinyon, curlleaf mountain mahogany, white alder, aspen, willow and black cottonwood. There are very nice views of the Carson Range, Pine Nut Range and Carson Valley throughout the trail system.
To get there, from the intersection of Highway 395 and Highway 88 in Minden, drive south on 88 for 6.5 miles. Turn right on Fairview Lane and drive 1.7 miles (Fairview Lane becomes Foothill Road). The signed Fay-Luther Trailhead is on the west side of the road, with the Jobs Peak Ranch Trailhead 2 miles farther.
BENTLY HERITAGE TRAIL
Explore nearly five miles of hiking trail adjacent to the Carson River in the Carson Valley. The Nature Conservancy has partnered with the Carson Valley Trails Association, local Eagle Scouts and the property owner to construct the hiking trail system.
Here, the Carson River winds its way in braided channels, supporting willows and wetlands that sustain many animals and migratory birds. The trail provides visitors with access to these natural areas and to amazing panoramic views.
The Nature Conservancy has been working here since 2005, when a conservation easement was acquired with funding from Question 1 and the Nevada Department of Wildlife to preserve the incredible floodplain lands that surround the 4 miles of Carson River that flow through the property. In establishing the conservation easement, the property owner, Mr. Donald Bently, and the Conservancy envisioned a place where conservation would benefit both nature and people; demonstrating that habitat protection, cattle ranching, and public access can coexist. The Bently Heritage Trail fulfills that vision.
Because this is both a natural area and a working cattle ranch, the trail is open to hikers only. No horses, bikes or dogs are allowed.
RIVER FORK RANCH TRAIL SYSTEM
The River Fork Ranch Trail System is one mile east of Genoa on Genoa Lane at the confluence of the East and West Fork of the Carson River. The property is owned by The Nature Conservancy. The trail system is shown on the Genoa Trail System map. More information about River Fork Ranch can be found on the Nature Conservancy website (www.nature.org/en-us).
There are two trails at River Fork Ranch, the 0.75-mile East Brockliss Loop and the 2.0 mile West Fork Trail. Both trails are flat. There are two narrow boardwalks on the East Brockliss Loop. The West Fork Trail parallels the West Fork Carson River, connecting Genoa Lane to Muller Lane with panoramic views. Except during wet periods, this trail is relatively easy to access by wheelchair users as it follows a dirt ranch road.
There are also interpretive signs at the ranch house about the area. To protect the native animals, including nesting birds, turtles and frogs, dogs are not permitted on the trails. Hikers, bikers and equestrians are permitted.
CLEAR CREEK TRAIL
The Clear Creek Trail is 15 miles long starting at either Jacks Valley Trailhead next to Jacks Valley Elementary School or Spooner South Trailhead. This trail is a partnership that traverses through U.S. Forest Service land, private land, Douglas County trail easements and a Nature Conservancy Conservation Easement.
The Pinyon Trail is a 5-mile round-trip hike located about 7 miles east of Gardnerville. This trail is open to hikers, equestrians, mountain bikers and dogs. This trail project was funded and built by the Carson Valley Trails Association in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management and Douglas County.