Beautiful hike outside Carson City: Hot Springs Mountain

Explore the foothills of the rugged Pine Nut Mountains with this climb of Hot Springs Mountain. Enjoy majestic views of the Sierra Nevadas and a colorful canyon along the way.

The Pine Nut Mountains span for 30 miles in a north-south direction east of Carson City. These desert mountains are named for the dense piñon forests that grow on their upper slopes. The piñon nuts were an important food source for the Paiute, and locals still harvest the nuts today. Compared to the mountains west of Carson City, the Sierra Nevadas bordering Lake Tahoe, the Pine Nut Mountains receive almost no visitors. If solitude is what you are looking for, the Pine Nuts are for you.

Chris carefully making his way up the rock-strewn canyon
Photo by Elizabeth Barile

For desert peaks, the Pine Nuts are impressive in terms of their elevation and ruggedness. Several of the peaks top out above 9,000 feet, and the summits hold snow well into late spring. Because there are only a few scattered jeep roads in the area and no official hiking trails, most of the highest peaks of the Pine Nuts are only accessible through long arduous day hikes or backpacking trips.

To whet your appetite for the Pine Nuts, first hike Hot Springs Mountain, a small and an accessible summit in the western foothills of the range. The hike features spectacular views of the Sierra Nevadas and an adventurous climb through a canyon.

From the parking area, hike on the jeep road that heads north and to the left through the sage brush. In 0.3 miles, turn right on another sandy dirt road that climbs up the hillside and into the canyon. In another 0.3 miles, the road ends, and at this point, continue up the canyon by first entering the canyon wash.

As you climb up the canyon, the wash becomes increasingly narrow, and there are several areas where there you will have to take big steps to continue higher, but no rock scrambling is necessary. After trekking through the canyon for 0.5 miles and climbing about 400 feet, the canyon ends, and another jeep road is visible at the top of a ridge above a stand of piñon trees. Turn left on this jeep road and after 0.1 miles, turn right at a junction to continue climbing higher.

Large rock cairn marks the summit!
Photo by Elizabeth Barile

An additional 0.4 miles of hiking on this road takes you to the summit of Hot Springs Mountain. The road is steep, but the climbing is made easier by the beautiful views of the Carson Range of the Sierra Nevadas that develop behind you. From the summit, the entire Carson Valley is visible to the west as well as a huge swath of roadless terrain in the interior of the Pine Nuts to the east. Once you have enjoyed the views, retrace your steps to return to the trailhead.

Although there are no hot springs along the trail, Base Camp Reno describes many geothermal features along some of the 101 hikes in the Greater Reno area.

From Reno. Take Highway 395/Interstate 580 south for 34.4 miles. At this point, the interstate ends, and continue on Highway 395 (Carson Street) by turning left. Drive an additional 5.5 miles before turning left onto Stephanie Way. In 2.1 miles, turn left onto Vicky Lane. In 1.3 miles, park into a dirt shoulder on the side of the road at 39.0604, -119.7421. The end of Vicky Lane is a dirt road suitable for low-clearance two-wheel-drive vehicles.

The view of the trail from the dirt parking lot, get ready to start climbing!
Photo by Elizabeth Barile

Christopher and Elizabeth Barile

Christopher and Elizabeth Barile

Christopher and Elizabeth Barile have developed a passion for the natural world through hiking. They have hiked thousands of miles together while carrying their two young children on their backs. In addition to summiting over 150 peaks in the Greater Reno area, Christopher and Elizabeth have visited 40 U.S. national parks. Some of their other favorite outdoor activities include backpacking, camping, snowshoeing, and birding. Both Christopher and Elizabeth have advanced degrees in chemistry from Stanford University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Christopher is a chemistry professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and Elizabeth is an artist and educator. "Base Camp Reno: 101 Hikes From Sage to Snow" will be in bookstores and everywhere online April 5, 2022.

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