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Hiking Reno/Lake Tahoe: The Lower Creek Trails

Updated on January 11, 2014
Early autumn aspens on the Lower Whites Creek trail.
Early autumn aspens on the Lower Whites Creek trail. | Source

Introduction

Whether you’re short on time or seeking to avoid the deep snow of higher elevations in the heart of winter, the lowest reaches of the Thomas Creek, Whites Creek, and Galena Creek trails provide ample recreational opportunities close to Reno’s urban center.

While these hikes won’t leave you with feelings of utter desolation--each one skirts a different residential development--they provide plentiful access to fresh air. And as a plus, each one harbors a decent variety of plant and animal life indicative of our high desert surroundings. Feeling ready to hit the trails? Read on to discover what the lowest reaches of some of Reno’s best known trails have to offer.

Fall aspens along the Lower Thomas Creek trail.
Fall aspens along the Lower Thomas Creek trail. | Source

Lower Thomas Creek Trail

Trail Nuts and Bolts

Length: 2.5-3.5 miles one way
Trailhead elevation: 4950 or 5200
Elevation gain: 800-1050
Best time/season: fall, winter, spring; summers can be quite hot, so hike early.
Shade availability: generally low; patchy shade alongside Thomas Creek.
Trail users: walkers (with dogs off leash), runners, and a few mountain bikers


Trailhead Directions/Options

There are two trailhead options for the Lower Thomas Creek trail. The official trailhead is found at the top of Arrowcreek Parkway and is the last available left turn before entering the gated Arrowcreek community. The trailhead itself consists of four parking spaces that rarely fill up and no other facilities, but the nearby community park provides both additional parking and picnic opportunities (no restrooms). If starting from the official trailhead, one way distance to the Middle Thomas Creek Trailhead on Timberline Road is around 2.5 miles with 800 feet of vertical gain.


The second trailhead option starts in the undeveloped cul-de-sac at the northern terminus of Welcome Way. To get here, follow Zolezzi Lane approximately 1.5 miles west from its intersection with Arrowecreek Parkway and turn left onto Thomas Creek Road. Take the first right onto Rockhaven Drive and continue for 0.5 miles. Turn right onto Welcome Way and park in the available space at the end of the street. The trail is accessed off the South side of the western emergency access road. Follow the road for about 150 feet before reaching the trail; if you cross the creek, you’ve gone too far. If starting from Welcome Way, one way distance to the Middle Thomas Creek Trailhead on Timberline Road is around 3.5 miles with 1050 feet of vertical gain.

Lower Thomas Creek Trailhead Options

show route and directions
A markerOfficial Lower Thomas Creek Trailhead -
2580 Arrowcreek Parkway, Reno, NV 89511, USA
get directions

B markerTrailhead Option Two (End of Welcome Way) -
13488 Welcome Way, Reno, NV 89511, USA
get directions

The start of the Lower Thomas Creek trail at the official trailhead.
The start of the Lower Thomas Creek trail at the official trailhead. | Source

The Route

Starting from Welcome Way, the trail parallels the eastern edge of Thomas Creek for one mile to its crossing of Arrowcreek Parkway at the location of the official trailhead. At various points along this stretch the trail meanders up and down the walls of the “canyon” housing the creek. Despite these ups and downs, a moderate hiking pace--or whatever pace suits your interests--is readily achieved as the trail maintains a predominantly gradual and even gradient for the entirety of its 3.5 miles.

After crossing Arrowcreek Parkway and picking up the “official” trail, the route continues to parallel the creek for another 0.6 miles before leaving the creek and crossing a water tank access road. After another 0.5 miles of hiking through sagebrush steppe the trail returns to Thomas Creek and follows a small plank bridge to the creek’s north side. Enjoy a brief respite in the shade, as the next 1.2 miles will be marked by a sun-drenched desert landscape remedied by great views of the Truckee Meadows and the surrounding mountains. If conditions have been wet (e.g. springtime following a moist winter) these 1.2 miles can prove particularly muddy. The last 0.2 miles of trail before reaching Timberline Road skirt the northern boundary of a mixed aspen-pine forest that surrounds Thomas Creek.

What You'll See Along the Way

While the Lower Thomas Creek trail does provide reasonable opportunities for wildlife watching--with conspicuous species including black-tailed jackrabbit, western fence lizard, and various butterflies--it really shines in the diversity of its plant life. Close to the creek, groves of quaking aspen and willow shade a diverse assemblage of riparian flora. Amongst the steppe, big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentate, the Nevada state flower) dominates a landscape that turns colorful every spring with one of the region’s more widespread blooms of the purple beckwith violet. The violets typically peak during the last week of March or the first week of April and are complimented by the yellow-white Nevada lomatium and pink long-leaf phlox. Come fall, the aspens along Thomas Creek put on a display of yellow, orange, and occasionally red foliage that typically peaks between the latter portions of October and the first week of November.

Lower Whites Creek Trail

Trail Nuts and Bolts

Length: 2.9 or 3.4 miles one way
Trailhead elevation: 5025 or 5175
Elevation gain: 775-925
Best time/season: fall, winter, spring; summers can be quite hot, so hike early.
Shade availability: generally low; infrequent to frequent shade near the creek.
Trail users: walkers (with dogs off leash), runners, mountain bikers.

More autumn aspens, these ones along the Lower Whites Creek trail.
More autumn aspens, these ones along the Lower Whites Creek trail. | Source

Trailhead Directions/Options

Similar to the Lower Thomas Creek trail, there are two starting points for the Lower Whites Creek trail. The official trailhead starts at Whites Creek Park, a community park in the Galena Country Estates development. To access the trailhead, drive 0.6 miles west on Mount Rose Highway (Nevada 431) from its intersection with Wedge Parkway and turn right onto Telluride Drive. Proceed 0.3 miles and take the second left onto Killington Drive. The park/trailhead is found at the terminus of Killington and offers plentiful parking and picnic opportunities. The trail starts at the northwest edge of the park. Starting from the official trailhead, 3.4 miles and 925 feet of vertical gain takes you to Timberline Drive and the Upper Whites Creek Trailhead, though there is clearly no reason one could not turn around earlier and still have a wonderful, rejuvenating hike.

Trailhead option two shortens the one-way distance to Timberline Drive by approximately 0.5 miles and starts at Saddlehorn Community Park. The park is located off of Thomas Creek Road, approximately 0.5 miles north of its intersection with Mount Rose Highway. Saddlehorn Park offers tennis, volleyball, and basketball opportunities as well as restroom facilities (summer only) and parking. The Lower Whites Creek trail crosses Thomas Creek Road 0.25 miles south of Saddlehorn Park. A short walk along Thomas Creek Road will take you to the trail’s signed continuation on the northern bank of Whites Creek. Setting out from Saddlehorn Park, one way distance to Timberline Road and the Upper Whites Creek Trailhead is just over 2.9 miles with 775 feet of vertical gain.

Lower Whites Creek Trailhead Options

show route and directions
A markerOfficial Lower Whites Creek Trailhead (Whites Creek Park) -
2497 Killington Drive, Reno, NV 89511, USA
get directions

B markerTrailhead Option Two (Saddlehorn Park) -
13816 Thomas Creek Road, Reno, NV 89511, USA
get directions

The Route

From the official trailhead at Whites Creek Park the trail follows the sandy southern bank of Whites Creek for 0.2 miles before crossing to the creek’s northern edge. From here, the trail parallels Whites Creek along the sunny desert slope to the creek’s north for 0.3 miles before crossing Thomas Creek Road, the point at which trailhead option two begins. West of the road, the trail maintains its sunny, slope-hugging character to the creek’s north for 0.4 miles before departing from the creek and wandering through the sagebrush desert (and for a short distance along a dirt road) bordering the Saddlehorn development for 0.6 miles. At mile 1.5 the trail returns to Whites Creek and soon crosses to the creek’s southern bank. Another 0.2 miles further the trail crosses a dirt road, Mountain Ranch Road, which could serve as a third starting point depending on your interests.

After crossing the road, the trail follows the sandy southern bank of Whites Creek for one mile--occasionally passing through small aspen groves that provide much-appreciated shade in the summer--before returning to the creek’s northern bank. One more dirt road crossing and a return to the southern bank of Whites Creek mark the last 0.7 miles of trail to Timberline Road.

Woods' rose
Woods' rose | Source

What You'll See Along the Way

Many of the species of flora and fauna found on the Lower Thomas Creek trail are also found on the Lower Whites Creek trail, however, the Whites Creek trail allows for more ready observation of riparian plant assemblages given the trail’s more predominant association with the creek. The lower stretches of trail harbor a spattering of Fremont cottonwoods, but aspen and willow still prove the dominant sources of shade for much of the trail’s duration. Amongst the moist shade along the creek, spring and early summer temperatures bring strong blooms of the pink, bush like Woods’ rose and the purple-pink, low-growing Sierra onion. Mile 2.6 sees particularly strong blooms of Sierra onion within the grasses of the aspens beginning in May. Autumn sees the quaking aspen and cottonwoods along the trail end the year in a fiery blaze, with color peeking at times similar to the Lower Thomas Creek Trail (late October to early November), yet the trees along Lower Whites Creek seem to hold onto their leaves for a short while longer than those along Thomas Creek given the White's Creek trail’s less windy profile.

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Lower Galena Creek Trail

Trail Nuts and Bolts

Length: 1.6 miles to Joy Lake Road; 2 miles to Mount Rose Highway.
Trailhead elevation: 5450
Elevation gain: 800
Best time/season: fall, spring; shade yields more winter snow/less summer heat.
Shade availability: excellent
Trail users: families, walkers (with dogs off leash), runners, mountain bikers.

Trailhead Directions

Unlike the variety of starting points available for the Lower Thomas Creek and Lower Whites Creek trails, the Lower Galena Creek trail has one main starting point and few opportunities for extension or abbreviation. To get to the trailhead, follow Mount Rose Highway for 2.7 miles west from its intersection with Wedge Parkway and turn left onto Callahan Drive. Follow Callahan Drive for 1.5 miles to a large gravel parking area on the right side of the road. The trailhead itself consists strictly of parking, but Phillip and Annie Callahan Park located 0.1 miles further down Callahan Road provides picnic and restroom facilities. The trail sets out through the fence opening on the southwest side of the gravel parking area and continues 2 miles to Mount Rose Highway, 800 feet higher.

Lower Galena Creek Trailhead Map

A markerLower Galena Creek Trailhead -
15987 Callahan Road, Reno, NV 89511, USA
get directions

The Route

The first 0.3 miles of trail follow the northern edge of Galena Creek through a Jeffrey pine forest before crossing a well-constructed bridge to the creek’s southern edge. The trail proceeds just under 0.1 miles before returning to Galena Creek’s northern bank and crossing under a golf cart path. 0.1 miles further, the trail parallels the creek underneath the main thoroughfare of the Montreux development, Bordeaux Drive. Following the road crossing, the trail continues to parallel Galena Creek for another 0.2 miles before departing from the creek for a 0.4 mile jaunt through the forest, all the while fenced in by the private property of Montreux. The trail then returns to the creek, crossing to its southern bank after another 0.1 miles. At this point, numerous trails seem to diverge to the west.

Following the most trodden trail--the one maintaining a southwestern trajectory--will take you to a crossing beneath Joy Lake Road alongside Galena Creek’s southern bank in 0.4 miles. The trails leading west-northwest will take you to Mount Rose Highway and the northern entrance to Galena Creek Recreation Area in approximately 0.5-0.8 miles depending on route choice. Despite crossing underneath it, the official trail terminates at Joy Lake Road. The trail that continues southwest from the road crosses to the northern bank of Galena Creek and then steadily degrades in quality before reaching an improvised log bridge to the creek’s southern bank after a further 0.6 miles. Following the now rough-hewn trail another 0.1 miles south of the creek leads to Douglas Fir Drive. Going right at Douglas Fir Drive will take you to Mount Rose Highway in 0.1 miles.

Douglas squirrel
Douglas squirrel | Source

What You'll See Along the Way

In contrast to the Lower Thomas Creek Trail and Lower Whites Creek Trail, the Lower Galena Creek Trail is shaded for the majority of its length. This results in not only a more pleasant hike during the heat of summer, but more opportunities for daytime observation of various species of animal life. Among the many Jeffrey pine and quaking aspen can be found several species of chipmunk and the ever-entertaining Douglas squirrel, or chickaree. The blue and black Stellar’s jay is a frequent sight along the trail as are the “yank” calls of red-breasted, white-breasted, and pygmy nuthatches. The “hey sweetie, hey sweetie” song of mountain chickadees makes for another delightful addition to the experience of the Lower Galena Creek trail and is made all the more memorable when experienced amidst the golden glory of an autumnal aspen grove or the simple beauty of a springtime Woods’ rose.

The Best Guide to Hiking in the Reno Area

Reno-Tahoe: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide
Reno-Tahoe: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide

One of the most thorough resources available for the area, this book provides in-depth accounts for over 100 local hikes. It provides not only directions to each trailhead and available trailhead facilities, but also extensive descriptions of each route.

 

© 2014 Jonathan Heywood

What Do You Think of Reno's Lower Creek Trails?

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    • Sierra Hiker profile image
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      Jonathan Heywood 3 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      Thank you, CyberShelley. It is always a pleasure to share my passion for the trails of the Reno/Tahoe area with others.

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 3 years ago

      Absolutely beautiful and informative article - thank you. Voted up, interesting, useful and beautiful.