Hiking in the Carson-Tahoe Region

*Above photo taken from the trail at Jack’s Valley Conservancy, with the distant Job’s Peak visible straight ahead of the trail in the photo.

Now that Michael and I have had tons of time in the Carson Valley, I thought it was about time to write a post about local trails. Michael and I are avid hikers. We love discovering places to hit the trail and see gorgeous views or discover scenic woods or enjoy climbing on rocks as we hike. Trails seem to abound here in Nevada, where we have found a wide community of folks who love the outdoors as much as we do. In New York State we lived in a rural community, but most of the land in East Coast states is already owned as private property or is set aside as state park land. If one wishes to discover a trail, one often must search for it, as the trail systems exist, but are typically strung together along the edges of private property and state parks. It can be frustrating to find those wild places where we can freely enjoy the land, as they are not easy to access. In the Southwest we have been pleasantly surprised to find lots of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) property, as well as other types of land for the public, which allows for a lot more freedom to enjoy the outdoors.

For those who love to hike, this post is for you.

During the warmer months, Michael and I really loved hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail, though we only hiked a tiny portion of it. We hiked in both directions from the Spooner Summit area, which one accesses from Highway 395 to Route 50 West in the Carson Valley, and which takes you eventually to Lake Tahoe. Directly off Route 50, you will see signs for Spooner Summit, and you can park on either side of the road in the lots provided. One side of the road offers a picnic area and a pit toilet for the public (heading south on the trail), and that side of the trail will give you a slightly more strenuous workout from the more immediate altitude gain. You will also find an interesting display of Spooner Summit history on that side of the road, as well as a number of delicious views of Lake Tahoe while hiking. Do note that this trail system is high altitude at over 7,000 feet, and if you are not used to hiking at such an altitude you may find yourself huffing and puffing. For hiking during warm weather months, however, we found the higher altitude and the trees offered great relief from the punishing heat of the sun.

What I loved most about this trail was the variety of flora in the lush forest undergrowth, flowers blooming in warm months, lots of green, and an almost magical ambience in the midst of butterflies flitting beneath the forest canopy. What I did not love was the number of people who frequent this trail, from day hikers and backpackers to mountain bikers and even horses. Peak times for trail use seem to be weekends, but expect to see people on the trail anytime of the day. Every time I hiked the trail at Spooner Summit I saw several people, regardless of the time or day of the week. Still, people have generally good trail etiquette and share well. If it interests you, one may hike around Spooner Lake if you make a donation to the trail. I have not made that hike, so I do not know how well-traveled the trail may be. The Rim Trail is very well groomed and clearly marked, dogs are allowed on leash, and signs on either side of the trail give info and maps. Be aware that bears and mountain lions live in the woods of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, and people occasionally encounter these animals. Be prepared with pepper spray to protect yourself if necessary, but please also read up on what to do if one encounters wildlife. Hikers should be armed with knowledge about what to do to avoid being hurt or attacked. I hiked up there for months, though, and never saw any signs of bears or wildcats. When I went hiking in Ely, NV in the Egan Crest Trail System, I saw plenty of signs of wildcats. Keep your eyes open either way. Most likely the animals will avoid you, even if they are there.

If you decide to head up to the lake, we really loved the state park in Emerald Bay. It’s on South Lake Tahoe, and is only open in the summer months when the snow pack has melted. When you drive the access road to the park, you’ll understand why. In any case, the park offers a lot of trail hiking, whether you wish to hike up the mountains or along the shores of the bay. Some of the trails require a fee to hike, though plenty of trails are free. Michael and I had a lovely day hiking around Vikingsholm, the castle built by Lora Knight in 1929 as a summer home. It’s now a historic place, and for a fee you can enjoy a tour of the home (I recommend it—the castle is incredible). Again, you are hiking in high altitude, so note that the walk down to the castle is about a mile, and then you have to hike back UP to leave. It’s challenging if you’re not used to being at that altitude. From the area around the castle, though, you can find lots of trails to wander, see the bottom of Eagle Falls, and even rent a boat (or use your own) to visit the island where Mrs. Knight built a tea house. The views in the bay are astonishingly beautiful, with fjord-like landscapes (which is why Knight was inspired to build a Scandinavian style home there), jewel-colored water, forests, and lots of animal life. Trees in the park around the historic home will amaze you in their mammoth size, as the cedars and ponderosa pines were left to grow when the home was built. It is one of our favorite places in this region, and I highly recommend this spot if you have limited time to sightsee.

Another of my favorite trail systems in the Carson Valley is the Jack’s Valley Conservancy. If you take Highway 395 to Jack’s Valley Road going West, on the right after the school zone is the conservancy parking area. A wide array of trails can be found in the desert here at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and has become one of my go-to hiking spots because of the variety of hikes one can enjoy. If you prefer a less strenuous hike, you can follow signs for the Clear Creek Trail, which winds through the desert and skirts the edges of the moraines at the base of the mountains, eventually heading into the trees after a couple of miles of desert hiking. This trail is frequented by mountain bikers at all times of the day, so be alert when on foot. You may also encounter people on horseback, and lots of people bring their dogs here. During warmer months, watch for rattlers. I have seen a lot of jackrabbits here, and also spotted a six point buck several times. Coyotes and other animals may be spotted in the conservancy, so it’s a good place for animal sightings. Do pay close attention if you decide to wander the unmarked trails, as it can be easy to get turned around in the desert, and only the Clear Creek Trail is marked with signs.

Within this trail system you may also give yourself a more challenging workout by following the trails up the mountains within the conservancy. I have hiked up the mountain which is at the center of the chain of peaks when facing the conservancy from the road, and if you follow the trail straight up and toward the mountain, you can locate the trail to the peak. Once you get partway up, you may have to hunt for the trail that takes you to the peak, as it gets tricky to find on the slope, but keep your eyes peeled for a barbed-wire fence near a small rock formation to the left of the trail (the first rock formation you should see close to the trail), at which point the trail takes a left. You should then discover the trail that takes you up through the rocks. This portion of the trail can be tricky due to the steep trail and loose sand, and will be a tough climb. Once you get to the top rock formation, the trail leads you into the few trees sprinkled on the peak, and eventually to a group of rocks at the summit, where you get a stunning view of the Carson Valley. The hike should take between 1 ½ and 2 hours total if you’re used to climbing. Be prepared to sweat!

Genoa is a quaint little town at the base of the Sierra Nevada Range, and claims to be the first settlement in Nevada, though I would add that it was the first European settlement of the region. If you take Highway 395 to Genoa Lane heading West (rt. 206), when you get to the town you can take a right on Main St. and a left on Centennial to the parking area for the Sierra Canyon Trailhead. This trail is a nice mix of trees and vista views of the Carson Valley at a mid-range level of work to hike up the side of the mountain on switch-back trails. After about ten or fifteen minutes you reach the creek crossing, and while you hike upward you get sporadic views of the valley below. After about 45 minutes you get high enough to really see the region. The trail is well-groomed, easy to follow, and pleasant for morning hikes before the sun falls behind the shadow of the mountains. In hot weather, the afternoon is a welcome relief from the heat when it gets shadier. This trail is also frequented by bikers and dog owners, and if you wish to hook into the Tahoe Rim Trail, it’s a ten-mile hike to the connection. You may also discover connections to summit trails and a canyon trail if you want to explore. After you hike, do yourself a favor and stop at the deli on Main Street. The sandwiches are divine, and in the morning you can get a cinnamon roll baked from scratch.

For a shorter hike, if you want a leg-burner workout that can be done in an hour, take 395 to Stephanie Way (heading East), then take a left on East Valley Rd. Where the road ends you will find the trailhead for Hot Springs Mountain, which is BLM land. The entire trail is loose sand, which is a workout all on its own, and this area is frequented by locals who enjoy ATVs. If hiking during the warmer months, watch for rattlesnakes, as they will be active in morning and evening. Also keep in mind that people go shooting here on occasion, so wear bright colors and keep your dogs leashed. The trails here go all over the mountain, but the best workout is to take the trail that leads you up the mountain to the right. If you follow the trail to the peak, you will find a bench there to sit down and enjoy the view of the valley and encircling mountain ranges. It’s a quick hike with a nice view.

Last, but certainly not least, I will add that Job’s Peak might be a fun excursion for those who want the challenge of even higher heights. If you feel like making this a day-long hike, you could be ambitious enough to hit three peaks strung together, and go for Job’s Sister and Freel Peak, too, though I did not know before our planned hike that this would be an option. If I had known this was possible, I would have gone for it. Still, the hike up Job’s Peak is really achievable in a few hours. Depending on where you start to get to the trail head, the drive to where we began our hike took at least half an hour from the paved road. You will need a high-profile vehicle like a heavy-duty truck or jeep to drive on these dirt roads, as they are not graded like roads in residential areas. Expect lots of potholes, washboarding, water in the roadway, mud, and large stones. We accessed this road from Rt. 88 in California, but I will post a link below with instructions to navigate, as it was not easy. You might be wise to find a local who knows how to access the road and can guide you.

Either way, once you find the trail, you only have to hike about 2,000 feet to the summit, and the trail is surprisingly less demanding than I expected. I have a tendency to get dehydrated while hiking, so I was careful to bring lots of water and electrolytes, but this altitude did not bother me after spending months hiking at 5,000-7,500 feet. In all honesty, I found hiking Mt. Haystack in the Adirondacks more difficult than Job, but this may be relative to my own personal experiences and abilities. In any case, the trail is easy to follow, even on the portions of the peak bare of most vegetation. When you get to this part of the trail, make certain to bear off to the right to face an Easterly direction to get to Job, rather than the other peaks (to do the three peaks at once, I would look this up and research the trail). Even in summer, you will most likely see snow up there.

From the summit you can see the edge of Lake Tahoe, the gorgeous range of the Sierra Nevadas, and the Carson Valley. Totally worth the climb, and as long as you can find the trail, the hike is not terribly demanding if you can manage the hikes mentioned above. I would certainly try at least a few hikes at lower elevations to make certain your body can handle the demand, but being able to say I conquered a mountain over 12,000 feet feels pretty darn good. Again, if you hike from about 10,000 feet, it should take less than four hours up and back to your vehicle, even if you pack food and stop to snack (which we did). This hike should only be attempted in warm summer months between July and August, unless you are an expert hiker. Please check weather before heading up the mountain, as storms can pop up and make your hike not only miserable, but dangerous. In months when snow flies, be even more cautious. It’s easy to get lost in the wilderness when you have low visibility from snow. Be safe while you have fun.

I know the Carson Valley and Lake Tahoe region is loaded with hiking trails beyond what I mention here, but these trails are probably the easiest to find, the most accessible, and are well marked or frequently traveled. Depending on the type of hiking you want to do and the time of year, the region offers a wide variety of hiking options. Anyone who has been in the Carson-Tahoe region and wants to share more hiking spots, links to maps, or can share more info on the trails I mention here, please feel free to post in the comment section. I also welcome any corrections or additions to what I share about the trails. As always, I welcome your thoughts about any of my posts, and request that you be thoughtful and considerate in your responses to me and to my guests. With that, I hope you will be inspired to get outside on a trail. Go see what’s beautiful around you, and if you discover something, share a picture or a comment. Happy Trails!

As promised, a link to directions for Job’s Peak (you will need to sign up to view directions for free): https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/nevada/jobs-peak

Sierra Canyon Trail info (description talks about upper portion, but the map shows the whole trail): https://www.mtbproject.com/trail/7002637/sierra-canyon-trail

Jack’s Valley Conservancy (this page talks about the Clear Creek Trail from a biker’s perspective, but you will see lots of detail about the trail): https://bikecarson.com/2014/03/26/clear-creek-trail/

Hot Springs Mountain (this describes a different access than mine, but gives more info if you are interested): http://www.summitpost.org/hot-springs-mountain-nv/882072

Tahoe Rim Trail (description of trail section between Spooner Summit and Kingsbury Grade): https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/nevada/tahoe-rim-trail-trt-spooner-summit-to-kingsbury-grade


2 thoughts on “Hiking in the Carson-Tahoe Region

  1. Hi Elaine…it was nice seeing you again at A to Zen for the concert last night. I have been going through your website this morning and have really enjoyed everything I’ve read so far. I enjoy your writing very much, and you are an inspiration reading and sharing you and your husbands “life and times”. Much of the content in boxes I moved with me are books. and as I mentioned to you at the end of the evening; I’m running out of room in my new smaller habitat to keep everything I brought with me. I’ll have to keep eliminating “things”, but hopefully I can hang on to my books. Some I haven’t finished reading yet, but knowing they’re there is comforting. I will continue to enjoy jumping around your website…and hope to see you at A to Zen again soon. Thanks for sharing your beautiful life. Mike White.


    1. Mike, thank you for your generous and kind comments. It was an absolute pleasure to chat with you, and I know that when you are ready to free yourself from the extra “stuff” in your home, you will do so with gladness. What matters most is whether or not you are happy! I am glad you are enjoying the stories here, and I look forward to continuing to share. It’s been a wonderful adventure, and I know we will have lots more adventure to come. So glad you offered a comment, and please always feel free to keep sharing your thoughts. I love hearing from readers! I hope to get in at least one more open mic at A to Zen, so maybe we will meet once more before we hit the road. 🙂


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