As the weather cools, it’s the perfect time to get out and enjoy the beautiful desert landscape around Reno. There is no shortage of trails to explore, but getting away from the crowds can be challenging on nice weekend afternoons. One of my favorite local hikes off the beaten track, where crowds are never a concern, is a scenic out-and-back just east of town, south of Lockwood: Lagomarsino Canyon.
By using a free app like AllTrails, you can download a trail map and plug in directions before you leave home. (Be sure to do so in advance, as cell service is not available in Lagomarsino Canyon.) Getting to the trailhead is quick and easy: Heading east on Interstate 80 out of Reno, Lockwood is one of the first exits you’ll come across, about 5 miles past Sparks. After driving through this small community, Canyon Way becomes a gravel road. It’s well-maintained, though, as Waste Management trucks access the Lockwood Landfill nearby. A little more than three miles from I-80 is a gravel area where you can pull off and park to explore Lagomarsino Canyon.
The trail, located on the east side of the Virginia Range that borders Reno’s Hidden Valley, heads southeast up the canyon at a gentle climb. Since it’s not a particularly trafficked route, the trail frequently splits into multiple footpaths that crisscross the drainage. Plan on spending a little extra time wayfinding and choosing your footing carefully, as this meandering route crosses loose rocks and sometimes even seems to peter out in the vegetation; it’s often ravaged and changed by rain storms, wildlife and other adventurers. At times, it can feel as though you’ve lost the trail completely—and then you’ll spot it emerging on the other side of the gully, always heading gradually up the back of the canyon.
The Lagomarsino Canyon trail is not a loop, but you can turn back at any time and easily follow the canyon back down to your car. Depending on recent weather conditions, there can be little pools of water, small wetland oases and even, at times, a full stream (Long Valley Creek) that provide homes for frogs, snails and aquatic insects. Classic northern Nevada desert-dwellers like fence lizards and rattlesnakes can occasionally be spotted sunning themselves on rocks. Near dusk, bats wake up nearby and take flight to catch their insect dinners. Mule deer, coyotes and wild horses also periodically inhabit the canyon, so keep your eyes open for them, or signs that they’ve been there.
Remnants of former human occupation can be spotted along the route as well, with crumbling stone structures tucked against the sides of the canyon and nearly hidden under trees. Let your imagination run wild as you spy fragments of daily life, like rusted cans and old bottles. Just remember your Leave No Trace principles—leave what you find—as human refuse older than 50 years is now considered historical artifacts and should remain in place. Large, sprawling trees offer spots of scattered shade, and thick stands of willows cluster around water, sometimes obscuring the trail.
If you manage to make your way nearly 5 miles up Lagomarsino Canyon, a short scramble up the side of the gully puts you in front of a 12,000-year-old petroglyph site. This impressive area holds thousands of recorded pieces of rock art and is registered with the National Register of Historic Places.
From the parking lot to the petroglyph site and back is about 10 miles round trip. Regardless of how far you decide to sightsee up the trail before turning back, you’re likely to have the space to yourself—or close to it. Though it’s so close to Reno, this remote canyon is infrequently visited and feels farther from civilization than it is, due to its lack of cell service and amenities.
For those looking for more things to check out in the area—and maybe even an added challenge—there is a mosaic of trails crisscrossing this area of the Virginia Range. Though many of these trails are little maintained, with some intensive planning, honed navigation skills and the right gear for the journey, you can go from Damonte Ranch or Hidden Valley in eastern Reno to the Lagomarsino Canyon or the south end of Lockwood. Any of these demanding routes range from about 10 to more than 20 miles, often winding thousands of feet up, through and over the Virginia Range. A more approachable, family-friendly adventure nearby is viewing the Stone House ruins just down the road from the Lagomarsino Canyon trailhead.
When planning your trip, keep in mind that Lagomarsino Canyon is subject to a wide fluctuation in conditions based on recent rainfall. Don’t go if rain has fallen recently (within the last few days) or may fall while you’ll be in the canyon, as precipitation can cause extremely treacherous and frequently dangerous conditions.
A dry fall day at the end of a sunny week is the ideal time to explore this hidden gem. Happy hiking!