McClellan Peak is a prominent mountain located about 17 miles south of downtown Reno, Nevada. It is located in the southern part of the Virginia Range, just 4.3 miles southwest of Mount Davidson, the highest mountain in the range. McClellan Peak is not well known to hikers. Most people who visit the summit use off-road vehicles or motor bikes. The reason the off-road appeal is due to the mountain being cut by numerous dirt roads. The roads are generally too steep and narrow for jeeps. This is not only ideal for motor bikes to use for off-roading, it makes it easier to hike.
The mountain rises about 2400 feet above Washoe Lake. The standard route starts about 500 feet above the lake, so there is certainly a decent elevation gain. Like its neighbor, Mount Davidson, the lower slopes of McClellan Peak are very steep. The first half mile of the standard route gains over 900 feet.
The summit area is full of cell towers which certainly removes much of its charm. With all the electrical equipment on the summit, wind developers have determined it might be an ideal site for a wind farm. It is not certain that such a project will happen or what that will do to accessibility. For now, however, the mountain is open to the public.
Views from the summit are quite grand. There are excellent views to the Sierra Nevada Range to the west, Como Peaks and Rawe Peak to the south, and Reno and the Virginia Range to the north. On a clear day, you can see for many miles all around. Even on a partly-cloudy day, looking east, I could see snow-capped mountains in North-Central Nevada, which are between 80 and 100 miles away.
It is best to hike McClellan Peak during the winter months. It gets very muddy during spring and fall. During the summer, there are plenty of snakes to go along with the heat. Due to the steep grade, it is better to hike when there is snow on the mountain.
Besides snakes in summer, there is wildlife on the mountain. I did not see any wild horses in February when I was there, but they do graze on the mountain. I saw bobcat tracks on the snow while descending the mountain.
Getting ThereThere are two primary routes up the mountain that are open to the public. One is short and steep, while the other is long and gradual. The longer route is Goni Road, which can be accessed in Carson City. To get to Goni Road, take 395 South, follow the main highway. Do not take the main exit to Carson City. From the highway exit Arrowhead Road. Take Arrowhead Road heading east for about 1.5 miles where is crosses Goni Road. After about 1¼ miles north from Arrowhead Road, the main road leaves residential areas and hits the lower slopes of McClellan Peak. The elevation here is 5,000 feet, but most cars can continue up further. You basically take Goni Road up as far as your car will take you or as far as you feel like going, and find a place to park. From its base just past the residential area, it is over six miles to the summit.
The shorter, clearer route is up the Jumbo Grade Way. This should be considered the “standard” route to the summit. This route is only 2.5 miles to the summit, and is really steep. The start of the route is about 5550 feet. To get there, take 395 South from Reno, towards Carson City. Just past Pleasant Valley, get on Route 428 (East Lake Blvd), and head south towards Washoe Lake. Once on East Lake Blvd it is approximately 3.8 miles to Jumbo Grade Way. Take a left on Jumbo Grade Way and continue up the road for a mile. At this point the road turns into dirt. The dirt road quickly becomes rough, and although a small car can make it up the road, it is recommended to take a 4WD with high clearance. The reason a smaller car can make it, is that it is only about ½ mile up the dirt road until the start of the route. That 1/2 mile would be considered a "3" or "4" rating in terms of difficulty. Be careful for off-road vehicles since the road is narrow.
The start of the hiking route is obvious. It is a dirt road up a hill with a very steep grade. It climbs 450 feet in about ¼ mile up to a cairn at just under 6,000 feet.
Once at the cairn, follow a narrower road which continues for another ¼ mile, climbing another 490 feet to a plateau. The plateau continues for about ½ mile to a large dirt road. Take a left at the large dirt road, and head up another steeply graded road. This road climbs 350 feet in ¼ mile until it crests another hill at about 7025'. At the top of this hill follow the road as it descends slighty and hike up another 250 feet in ¼ mile. From here the summit is only ½ mile away. The cell towers are visible at the top of this hill. There are two hills that look the highest. The one on the right has a cell tower, and the one on the left is bald. Head towards the bald summit. This is not the true summit, but it leads to the true summit, about 200 yards further.
In total, the elevation gain of this hike is about 1950 feet with a round-trip hiking distance of just over 5 miles.