The ski season is melting away, but not fast enough for many mountain bikers and hikers who are chomping at the bit to get out on the trails around Lake Tahoe. But snows will still be covering our favorite trails Tahoe trails for awhile longer, so what’s a biker to do? Drive just an hour to Carson City, where a plethora of riding options await.

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Courtesy of Carson City Visitors Bureau 

With 6 inches of snow just the day before here at Tahoe, I headed over the hill and found a sweet snow-free ride on the Clear Creek Trail just outside of Carson City. Even though it was in the 30s at the Lake, by the time I started pedaling in Carson around 10:30 a.m. the temperatures were in the mid 40s, and it didn’t take too much climbing in the sunshine before it was time for me to stop and start dropping layers.

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“Views quickly open up of the wide expanse of Jack’s Valley
with the imposing visage of the Carson Range’s highest
peaks rising above the level green valley.”

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Climb through sagebrush on Clear Creek Trail for sweeping
views of Jacks Valley in Carson City. | Tim Hauserman

The Clear Creek Trail begins on Jacks Valley Road, which heads west from Highway 395 about a mile south of its intersection with Highway 50. Tahoe folks who visit Carson City regularly will know it as the next road south of the one where you find Trader Joe’s and In and Out, both of which make good after-riding destinations.

There are two trailhead options for the trail along Jacks Valley Road. The first is on the left side in a large dirt parking lot, just past the Jacks Valley Elementary School. The second is about a half mile further along Jacks Valley alongside the road. The first trailhead gives an additional half mile of easy riding through the sagebrush to a road crossing and a meeting with the second trailhead. Either way, from here the climbing begins.

The first 3 miles of the Clear Creek Trail is a steady, winding ascent through the sagebrush. Views quickly open up of the wide expanse of Jack’s Valley with the imposing visage of the Carson Range’s highest peaks rising above the level green valley. The route is over decomposed granite that is soft in spots, but usually in the spring remaining firm and smooth. It’s a gentle to moderate grade, but doesn’t let up much so most riders will feel the burn.

Eventually the trail reaches a scattered forest of pines, winding in and out of little gullies. Now the ground is harder packed, and is often bordered by grassy areas, but the climbing doesn’t abate. At 7 miles from the trailhead, you reach the Knob Point viewpoint, where most riders will turn around. Another 3.5 miles, brings you to trails end. This trail is an out and back, so if you do the whole thing prepare for 21 miles of dirt. The ride down is a blast, especially the last few miles of twisting fun turns through the sagebrush, which allow most riders to let loose and fly.

 

Trail conditions
The trail begins at just under 5,000 feet with a high point of around 6,200 feet. The route includes a ton of switchbacks, some quite tight, but the packed surface with almost no rocks makes them doable for most riders. The only concern for this rider, who has a fear of heights, is that in a number of places the trail is narrow and exposed to the edge of the steep slope. While well designed for mountain bikers, the trail gets a lot of use by runners, hikers and neighborhood dog walkers, so riders keep your speed under check, especially on blind turns. Apparently rattlesnakes are not uncommon in the area, so keep your eyes out, and if you have a dog, keep them under control. Speaking of dogs, don’t plan on finding any water sources for Rex.

 

Carson City trails
A series of popular trails known as the Ash Canyon Trail network can be found just to the west of downtown Carson City, heading into the mountains toward Lake Tahoe. The best known is the Ash Creek/Kings Canyon Trail, which climbs 1,700 feet in 7 miles. The first mile and half of this intermediate trail is fairly easy and smooth riding. Then the route gets more technical with some rocky sections, before reaching the trees where the trail smoothes out again. As you might expect, the views get better and varied as you climb, including views of Washoe Lake, Reno and the mountains in the distance above Fallon.

Muscle Powered is a group helping to build and maintain Carson City trails. Visit musclepowered.org for information on how you can help keep these great trails great.

 

The nonprofit Carson Valley Trail’s Association has detailed information and maps on all the major trails in the Carson Valley at carsonvalleytrails.org

 

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Tim Hauserman
Tim Hauserman wrote the official guidebook to the Tahoe Rim Trail, as well as “Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children” and the children’s book “Gertrude’s Tahoe Adventures in Time.” Most of the year he writes on a variety of topics, but you will find him in the winter teaching cross-country skiing and running the Strider Gliders program at Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area. He has lived in Tahoe since he was a wee lad and loves to be outdoors road and mountain biking, hiking, paddleboarding, kayaking and cross-country skiing.