The Rim to Reno Trail: An Exploration Deep in the Backcountry of Mount Rose Wilderness

Living in Reno, we have explored almost all of the trails in Mount Rose Wilderness, which is probably the most popular hiking destination for locals. We have also done a good deal of off-trail adventuring to visit peaks and lakes off the beaten path. Only recently though did we have the opportunity to hike the Rim to Reno Trail, a 18+ mile path that connects the popular Mount Rose Trailhead to the Thomas Creek Trailhead with 4,500 feet of elevation change in between.

What had been holding us back was the Rim to Reno Trail’s length. It is not feasible for us to log all of the 36 requisite miles with a one-year-old and a three-year-old on our backs in an out-and-back day hike. Although we love backpacking, the large elevation difference between the two trailheads makes this trail the perfect contender for a long one-way day hike with two cars. So we had been holding off on attempting the Rim to Reno Trail for an opportunity where we would have access to a second car.

Hiking through the field of lupines

Fortunately, our friend Brian visited last July and happily provided the second car. He was also willing to join us for the hike even though we did not warn of him of the 6 am departure time and long miles until the night before. It is hard to imagine an easier-going friend.

On our way up Mount Rose Highway in the early morning, we were greeting by a black bear grazing on vegetation near the road. This was an exciting start to the trip and an auspicious sign of more adventure to come!

The trail starts out at the Mount Rose Trailhead, the location of many popular hikes including those to the Galena Creek waterfalls, Mount Rose, Mount Houghton, and Relay Peak summits. All of these hikes are thoroughly described in our book, Base Camp Reno: 101 Hikes from Sage to Snow.

Out of the trailhead, we were immediately greeted with excellent views of Lake Tahoe as we climbed up a gentle ridge. The next two miles are flat as we traversed through lodgepole pine forest. Along the way, we made sure to point out to Brian scenic Tamarack Lake through the trees. Perennial Galena Creek waterfalls made for a nice short breaking spot. Although it was still early this Saturday morning, we were greeted by two other parties at the waterfalls. After all, it would be a hot July afternoon on the valley floor in Reno, and tourists and locals alike know to come to this high-elevation trailhead (~9,000 feet) for cool alpine respite.

Past the waterfalls, a trailhead junction points you to Mount Rose Summit and also the Thomas Creek Trailhead, signed as 19 miles away. (There are several parking areas along Thomas Creek, and we parked at the uppermost area suitable for low-clearance vehicles, which shaves off about 3 miles from the signed trailhead.) The trail here passes through several spring-fed tributaries of Galena Creek, and we walked in awe through a spectacular garden of wildflowers. With 16 miles left to go, we did not linger to identify all of the different species of wildflowers, but the giant bushes of large-leaved lupine that were over eight feet tall in some places sure caught our attention!

Boulder field on the lower slopes of Snowflower Mountain

A mile of climbing past the tributaries brought us to the trail junction with the remainder of the Mount Rose summit trail to the right. We exchanged pleasantries with several parties resting at this junction. All of them gave us strange looks when we continued straight through the junction to the Rim to Reno Trail. They thought were going the wrong way, and to be fair, we would have thought the same if we were in their shoes. In all of our times on this trail system, we have never seen anybody hike this way even as scores of hikers make their way to the top of Mount Rose.
It was exciting to be on a new trail. We had now entered the “back” eastern side of Mount Rose Wilderness. On a distant hillside, we briefly saw a four-legged brown creature bound up a hillside and disappear in the trees. We all agreed it did not run like a deer or a bear. Could it have been a bighorn sheep? Bighorn sheep were expatriated from the Northern Sierras long ago, but they were recently reintroduced to a few desert ranges east of Reno. Possibly it was a sheep lured by Mount Rose’s green summer grasses. As we continued hiking, we scanned the hillsides in vain for a second glimpse of the creature and could never confirm its identity.

We enjoyed passing through the headwaters of Bronco Creek in Davis Meadows in complete solitude. We would not see other hikers for the next 12 miles until we reached the lower portions of Thomas Creek. The trail was flat enough for the kids to walk by themselves, and it alternated between sun and shade several times. Even though the kids hiked slowly, we knew we had plenty of time to get to Brian’s car because the large stretch of downhill ahead of us would make for fast hiking.

As we passed a huge granite boulder field, it was fun looking to the northwest towards remote Snowflower Mountain, which we summited earlier in May on a backpacking trip. Back then, this whole trail was covered in several feet of snow, and we carefully made our way to Snowflower Mountain off trail. Now there was not a single patch of snow in sight, even on the highest slopes. Two hot months make quite the difference!

On the final ridge before our long descent to Thomas Creek, westward views of the reservoirs outside Truckee were grand and complemented those of downtown Reno and the Virginia Range to the east. Dozens of switchbacks took us to Thomas Creek, where we filtered water and rested. For the remaining few miles, our weary bodies were invigorated by the babbling creek and its banks lined with dense groves of aspen and alder. When we reached the car some twelve hours after we departed, we had completed eighteen miles filled with beautiful sights both near and far, fresh alpine air, and the melodies of running creeks, birds, and bees. What a wonderful way to spend time with family and friends.

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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