Backyard Rediscovery – Overnight Ride to Pyramid Lake, Nevada

By Patrick Walsh –

Sometimes a place needs to be watched, the light and color evolving to show you what you missed on prior visits. I had been to Pyramid Lake before by car and by bicycle but had not connected with it like other places in the region. I thought it was pretty but washed out by mid-day sun; I had in fact simply missed it. On this trip, with perfect fall weather we saw the lake turn from blue to bright pink to purple and finally black as the sun slowly set. The cold water reflected abundant clouds and nearby rock formations. Fisherman, first on ladders and eventually near shore tried to land one of the famous Lahontan trout, largest of the cutthroat subspecies and found only in Great Basin lakes and tributaries. The fish are a holdover from the ice age when Lake Lahontan covered 8,500 square miles. You can even see old Lake Lahontan shorelines high above dry lakebeds left behind in valley floors. The fishermen used tall ladders to extend their cast to reach a shelf, below which the trout feed. I did not see them catch any, but I am certain they were enjoying the sunset as much as we were.

Pyramid Lake on a tandem rewards with beautiful views. Photo by Patrick Walsh

There are several options for overnight rides from Reno. For pavement, Pyramid Lake is the perfect distance and is least hilly. More importantly it has nice distributed camping with great views of the lake and a nearby store for water and supplies. It was perfect for our first tandem overnight with camping gear (on tandem tours we usually opt for paid accommodations.) The 40-mile ride is mostly on Pyramid Highway (Nevada 445), a low-traffic approach with rolling hills that hide the lake until you are within about mile. A dramatic overlook provides the first view of the lake as well as the triangular tufa formation for which it is named. Camping and day use are allowed with a permit that can be obtained at the Pyramid Marina. The lake and the last part of the ride are within the Pyramid Piute Reservation, who restrict access to certain parts of the lake. There is an alternatively-routed Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway in the works, with mostly dedicated bike paths. Unfortunately, that route is stalled between Sparks and Wadsworth. For now, Pyramid Highway is the best option for riding to the lake and taking in the scenery and recreational activities.

This trip was a good reminder for us to slow down, sit still, and watch scenery unfold as opposed to riding or even walking through it at a glance. Since then, we have (occasionally) heeded that advice and looked for other opportunities to focus on landscape transformation during diurnal cycles and even seasonal cycles in our local parks. Every year we enjoy Nevada’s pink and orange fall sunsets, snowy winter peaks, the return of wildflowers and red wing blackbirds in the spring, and high-country vistas in the summer. Photography encourages me to look more closely sometimes, but there are many days when I forego it in favor of taking it all in. In any case, we are planning many more bike overnights.

Notes on Pyramid Lake (From Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyramid_Lake_(Nevada)):

Pyramid Lake is located in southeastern Washoe County in western Nevada. It is in an elongated intermontane basin between the Lake Range on the east, the Virginia Mountains on the west and the Pah Rah Range on the southwest. The Fox Range and the Smoke Creek Desert lie to the north.

A remnant of the Pleistocene Lake Lahontan (~890 feet deep), the lake area was inhabited by the 19th-century Paiute, who fished the Tui chub and Lahontan cutthroat trout from the lake. The former is now endangered and the latter is threatened. The lake was first mapped in 1844 by John C. Frémont, the American discoverer of the lake who also gave it its English title.

Information on visiting:

Pyramid Lake:

Tahoe-Pyramid Trail:

  • tahoepyramidtrail.org (Several sections are not completed, and the route currently requires riding on I-80 for at least 20 miles).
Enjoying the sunrise from a lakeside camp on Pyramid Lake, Nevada. Photo by Patrick Walsh
Pyramid Lake on a tandem rewards with beautiful views. Photo by Patrick Walsh
Enjoying the sunset on the shores of Pyramid Lake, Nevada on a bicycle overnight tour. Photo by Patrick Walsh
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