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The Ruby Mountains

With our original plans for the summer completely out the window due to COVID19, we decided to head for the hills--the Ruby Mountains in Nevada--to see a part of the country we've never seen before. And to see how well our aching tendons and arthritis would deal with a bit more hiking.

DAY ONE: It was an easy drive over the Sierra on I-80. We stopped in Reno to eat a sandwich by the Truckee River where it runs through town. It was quite a social scene, with kids and kids and adults swimming, sunbathing, and even a couple of people fishing. As left drove east listening to NPR, we got and Emergency Broadcast for Thunderstorms throughout northern Nevada, including Elko. Hmmm.

The plan was to take it easy this first day, and stop to explore a campground I'd read about near Winnemucca. By 3 o'clock we were off the freeway, and quickly found Water Canyon.  Perfect. We'd had Le Vin Blanc serviced just before we left, so it was with some concern that I heard by wife say that it would move in reverse. That's when I suggested she check the parking brake. Whew. Problem solved.

Water Canyon was a lovely area--a small creek with cottonwoods and aspens. There were plenty of open campsites at 3, so we picked the nicest one and settled in. There was lots of traffic on the road throughout the afternoon and evening--I think it must be a local hangout/makeout destination, but on the good side, it had one of the cleanest and least smelly outhouses we have even visited. Driving up, we also noticed a substantial invasion of large black crickets on the road. No idea about them, but it was a bit creepy-crawly.

In the evening we went for a walk past the end of this road, which apparently continues up into the mountains, dodging crickets and keeping a careful eye on nearby big black clouds. After eating dinner we bedded down for the night, and then the thunderstorm hit...but only for an hour. And the next morning, the van was cleaner...and the ground was almost completely dry.

DAY TWO. After the rain, it was a beautiful morning and an easy drive to Elko. Sadly the California Trail visitor center was closed.  We found the USFS office in Elko, and got both maps and advice. Then we drove over Harrison Pass to the South Ruby Campground. The road over the pass was a washboard mess, but perfectly passable for passenger cars. And the campground had some small trees and a little shade, but pretty limited. At least we didn't have to worry about bears or food storage on this trip!

After lunch in the campground it was hot too hot to rest, so we drove the auto tour of the refuge, and were quite amazed. It was wonderful. Pelicans, ibis, heron, egrets, more ducks and geese than we could count or identify, kites, yellow throats, cormorants, etc.  Plus marmots and muskrats.and to top it off, a pronghorn antelope in the grass...

That evening, after dinner, we took a short hike to Cave creek, and another drive through the refuge...what a treat.

DAY THREE.  Even though we had reservations for another night at South Ruby, we decided to head for the hills---and cooler temperatures. So we got an early start and drove to Wells for gas, ice and a few supplies. From there we got some very bad Google directions to Angel Lake...which meant a drive back to  Wells again. We finally arrived at the lake in time to find a family leaving--thanks to a very helpful campground host ...and got an open campsite for two nights.  Perfect.  Angel Lake is obviously very popular with the locals, and it was busy...but lovely.  We immediately to a hike up to the falls & back before lunch--the wildflowers were stunning. Then, after a nap we hiked to Smith Lake...1.5 miles, and up 1000 feet.  This one had even more fabulous wildflowers, and dramatic lighting from big clouds. Our little hiking guide from the USFS said only one mile...but it was quite a bit longer.

This was our first real hike in the Ruby Mountains, and we were sold. Really beautiful hike and lake...with big views of nearby peaks and out into the Great Basin. The trail was in pretty good shape, except for one extremely steep section of a couple hundred yards. Tons and tons of flowers.  And then a lovely hike back to camp to wash up and have dinner in the campground.

DAY FOUR: Since M's foot was bothering her from yesterday's hike, we wanted a relaxed start--just one day hike today, to Winchell Lake.  And it looked pretty level--just contouring along the ridge. But we had lots of conflicting informaton about this hike, ranging from 3-4 miles each way. Still, the best map was from USFS.  Or so we thought.  It was a perfect day. warm and sunny--and we were hiking at about 8,000 feet.  But the hike combined stretches of level trail with very steep ups and down to no real if it hadn't been engineered, just pieced together from game trails. And I was worried about M and her foot.   We hiked for 3 miles and got to what looked like the location of the lake on the USFS map.  Only there was no lake--only a wetland with tons of corn plants.  Oh well.  We figured it must have dried up. 

Later, back at camp, we consulted other sources..It turns out that the lake was further on, over the next ridge.  Damn.  The USFS map was in error--and we were wrong not to have kept hiking...although I'm not sure M would have liked that. So we took a lazy afternoon... washing up and rehydrating from sweaty hike to someplace short of Winchell Lake. Grrr. DAY FIVE: It was time to leave Angel Lake and drove to Elko to shop for a few supplies before heading up to Lamoille Canyon.  After trying at two different giant stores, I finally managed to get a three-day fishing license at Ace Hardware on the way to the canyon. You'd think they would make it easier.

But Lamoille Canyon is stunningly beautiful. The drive in was marvelous. We checked into our campsite and then drove up to Road's End. to get the lay of the land. We were hooked. Stopped on the way back to look at Terraces CG and hike the little the nature trail. 

One thing we loved was all the beaver dams here!  They were everywhere. We went back to camp for lunch and nap, then hiked up the Thomas Creek Trail ...fabulous exuberant creek with towering peaks around.  I made a rookie mistake in taking a fisherman's use trail off the end of a switchback, so we got off trail and ended up bushwhacking and climbing up 1000 feet into the canyon. It was really beautiful. Back to camp for dinner in a spectacular setting.

That's the view from our campsite below:

And sunset that night. My goodness!

DAY SIX: We got hit by a big rain shower last night...but the ground was mainly dry by 7 am.  After yesterday's bushwhack, the plan is to hike and fish at Island Lake--only three miles, round trip, from road's end. Because the water system was out at our campground, we also stopped at Terraces again to fill up a few big jugs. .

This was a beautifully graded trail up to the lake...really lovely.  The lake itself is less dramatic, but still perfectly situated in a hanging valley--and there are backpacking sites here for those who might be interested. As we enjoyed the view, big black clouds appeared and we got a light sprinkle of rain. The panorama here is from our campsite.

The clouds became darker, there was thunder in the distance, so we descended and ate lunch in the van overlooking beaver ponds.  That's Island Lake below.

After lunch a nap, we drove down the road to the mouth of the canyon to send birthday wishes and check with in with our family. While we were there, we also checked out the Right Fork Trailhead, which looks like another nice hike, and saw a few marmots near the Powerstation picnic area. The clouds were still menacing, but we managed to just finish our dinner at camp before they let loose with a cloudburst. By sunset it was more or less clear again.

DAY SEVEN: We have tried to baby M's foot over the last couple of days, but today is going to be a bit of test. We're off on an early start to hike up and out of Lamoille Canyon.  We left the trailhead by 8:10, a good start for us, and followed a really beautiful trail with huge views down canyon and up to the peaks.  This route takes you up past Dollar and Lamoille Lakes, and hopefully over Liberty Pass...

By 9:15 we were at Lamoille Lake, and kept hiking up to the pass.  The sign suggested this would be about 15 minutes, but it took us far longer. The Pass is really halfway between Lamoille and Liberty Lakes, or more.  The views were stunning, the trail was in great shape, and from the top we were only a few hundred yards from a view of Liberty Lake...gorgeous. 

We hiked down past the only group camped there...I fished for less than an hour and caught five nice brook trout between 8-11 inches. Lovey fish. From here you can see both Favre and Castle Lakes, as well. We ate lunch and then decided to start the climb back up and over the pass, amid gathering clouds and distant thunder.  But by the time we got back to the trailhead we'd met five groups who planned on camping at Liberty. That would seem crowded to us.

This was a great hike, and we can see why the Ruby Mountains have the reputation they do.

On the way down, we followed Hispanic family hiking with boom box on full blast--more on that in a future post. But we loved this hike, and M's foot did just fine. We were only sorry that we were out of time...

Once again, by nightfall this campground was full. The host here said it was fully just about every night. DAY EIGHT: Sad to be leaving, but we're off for home...

We thought we'd take a slightly scenic route, driving first to Austin to check out the small Bob Scoot campground east of there and then see the petroglyphs at Hickison Pass. Our first route (278) ran into serious road work, so we changed routes and took (305) down to Austin...stopping at a hot but breezy roadside rest area to eat lunch.

The Bob Scott Campground looked fine--very hot and dry, but later in the day the trees would provide more shade. And the petroglyphs were really cool. By 3 p.m. we were ready to keep driving west and see what we might find. We did know of a good BBQ restaurant (SUzieQ) in Fallon, so that may have influenced us...

We picked up our dinner in Fallon and then drove on into the Sierra. I remembered the campground at Turtle Rock, which was open and had a few sites still available. Perfect. This is the home base for the Markleeville Death Ride, for the cyclist in the crowd. It was clean, lots of space between sites, and lovely trees for shade. Alpine County should be proud of this one.

We were surprised to note that the Eastern Sierra seemed almost humid compared to eastern Nevada.  One day in Wells the humidity was 12%...

DAY NINE: We were up and on the road before the rest of the campground, driving by 7:30.  We went over Monitor Pass and down onto 395---and hit the fourth or fifth road work delay of the trip once we were over Sonora Pass on 108. The cabin meant warm showers and cold drinks!

The whole photo log is here:

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