As of October 2016, construction is underway on numerous homes at the base of the Damonte Ranch Canyon. Primary access points have recently had fences put up to discourage people from entering the construction area. There are many of us living the neighborhood who go up there anyway. But eventually this will become more difficult, and access to these mountains may be in legal limbo until the first neighborhood is actually completed. The only legal access point is at the end of Desert Way, which generally adds about 3/4 of a mile each way.
Situated just east of Reno in the Virginia Range is Peak 6305. Locals call it Camel Back Peak based on its twin summits appearing similar to camel's humps. Camel Back Peak is made up of two rocky-topped buttes with spectacular features. The highlight of the hike is a steep-walled canyon at the beginning of the primary route.
Camel Back Peak is located only one mile north of the loftier Louse Benchmark 6862'. Camel Back Peak is visible from the east in parts of the Reno skyline. It stands out in particular because it has two rocky bumps rising over 200 feet from their base. Camel Back Peak is the higher of the two buttes - located southeast of the lower butte which is about 6297'.
Hiking Peak Camel Back Peak takes about 2 to 3 hours, particularly due to the long time it takes to get through the canyon. The canyon involves some easy class 3 climbing, and a lot of scrambling. There is only minor scrambling to the top of Camel Back Peak.
The best time to hike Camel Back Peak is late fall and early spring. During summer months, rattlesnakes like to make a home in the canyon and elsewhere on the mountain. Winter creates ice in the canyon. It is recommended to hike here in the early afternoon because the sun shines brightly on the rocky features of the canyon and the peak during these hours, making views far more interesting.
Looking back at Camel Back Peak
Getting to Camel Back Peak is easy. Take 395 from Reno to exit 59 – Damonte Ranch Parkway. Once off the highway, head east towards the mountains and turn left on Steamboat Parkway. At the end of Steamboat Parkway, take a right on Rio Wrangler Drive. The canyon comes into view to the east. Take the first left before you reach Damonte Ranch High School, just to the north of the entrance to the parking lot next to the high school track. There is a circle at the end of the main pavement, where construction is also taking place and there is restricted access. You can also take Yee Haw Way to the end of Trailrider Drive or the top of Barrel Racer Drive. Both have similar access issues. Start at the end of Desert Way and park on the street.
The canyon route is the most straight-forward way up, but not necessarily the quickest. There is a road that approaches from the north that is an easy walk.
If taking the canyon route, get as close as you can from the road, and then start making your way towards the canyon. Stay on the left side, where there is an open meadow. The right side is far more rocky. The canyon starts at about 4900 feet and climbs up to 5570 feet in about ¾ of a mile. However, this will take most hikers at least 40-45 minutes due to the difficult terrain. There is no trail, and there is lots of rock scrambling, including a few class 3 moves. Watch for falling rock, and ice during winter.
Entering the canyon
At the top of the canyon head left until you get to a road. As you continue moving left (north), Camel Back Peak comes into view. Continue up the road until another road cuts to the left. Do not follow the road as it curves right towards Louse Mountain.
Continue up the road as it heads directly towards Camel Back Peak. A side road cuts off the main road directly towards the saddle between Camel Back Peak and its lower south summit. The road ends about 1/10th of a mile from the saddle. Head up to the saddle and turn right and scramble up to Camel Back Peak. From the saddle it is about 100 yards and 100 feet to the top.
Heading to the final summit block
In total, the elevation gain for this hike is approximately 1800 feet, and a little under 3 miles one-way. If starting from the end of Desert Way, add 100' and 0.75 miles each way.
To descend, head west down the ridge below the two rocky summits and look for the road on the north side of the ridge heading to the right. This will gently descend back to the parking area, without having to climb back down the canyon. It adds 1/4 mile in distance, but that is more than made up for in time saved. Total distance this way is about 6 1/2 miles.
If hiking the road up, head north away from the canyon and follow the road when it swings back to the south near some power lines. This heads up to the side of the canyon. Continue up the road until you see a road on the right heading steeply up to the ridge to the south. This will lead to the base of the Buttes. Heading up and down this way is much faster than taking the canyon. You can also take the first road on the right once you get up the steep part of the hike, and then scramble up briefly to the ridge top. That probably saves you no more than 1/10th of a mile.
Besides the issues noted above, there are no issues or permits needed to hike up the canyon itself. Once at the top of the canyon, it is not clear what is public land and what is private. There is a house located to the south of Louse Benchmark and there is a “No Trespassing” sign along the road between Louse Benchmark and Camel Back Peak to the south, but no fence to designate private land. Just be careful and watch for any signs that you might be on private land since it is not clearly marked.