Hiking in the mountains surrounding Virginia City is the ultimate Wild West experience. The area is replete with stories of miners striking it rich, vigilantism, and even ghosts. Hidden caves dot the hillsides, wild horses roam free, and rattlesnakes buzz in the summer sun.
With its sheer volcanic cliffs, Sugarloaf Mountain is the most iconic rock formation in Virginia City. To get there, we drove down curvy Six Mile Canyon Road and parked underneath the huge cottonwood trees that line Virginia Creek. Somewhere in this canyon, Big Jack Davis is said to have buried a treasure of gold he and his accomplices stole during the West’s first major train robbery. His ghost (the wind) rustles the leaves of the cottonwoods, guarding his hidden treasure.
At the base of the mountain, the ruins of Butters Mill were easy to spot. The mill operated at the turn of the twentieth century to process gold-rich tailings around Virginia City left over by nineteenth century placer miners. Although all that remains today are remnants of its concrete foundation, Butters Mills was once the largest cyanide mill in the country.
Past the ruins, we hiked through sagebrush scrub and piñon pines towards a saddle on the backside of the mountain. The nearly-vertical rock walls are far too steep to climb on the southwest side, but we knew from analyzing the topographic map that the opposite side of the mountain offered a viable approach. Soon, we reached the saddle and were treated to the site of seven wild horses on the opposing ridgeline. A black stallion with a blonde mane was particularly striking. We cajoled the kids to climb into their carriers and to keep an eye on the horses as we ascended the steep basaltic slopes of the mountains with them on our backs. With plenty of loose rocks and a few spots where we needed to get down on our hands and knees, the ascent to the top was certainly exhilarating!
Given the sharp angle of its slopes, the summit was surprisingly flat, and there was ample room for us to have lunch and let the kids explore a bit without fearing they would fall down a cliff. We had 360° views of farther mountains including the Carson Range and the Pine Nut Mountains. Although the hike was steeper than most, at only about a 1 mile round-trip distance, we had plenty of energy left for more exploration. As described in Base Camp Reno, Virginia City certainly has many additional hiking adventures to offer.