McTarnahan Hill is a brushy mountain located east of Carson City, approximately 2.75 miles east of the Carson River. It rises over 2,000’ above the river. It is situated on the northwestern edge of the Pine Nut Mountains.
McTarnahan Hill is relatively accessible, although the road system leading up to the peak itself is complex. From the west, you can take a road that leads to within ¾ miles of the summit. Then you have to figure your way through trails to get to the summit itself. Fortunately, it really isn’t too difficult. There is also access from the south via jeep roads.
McTarnahan Hill has a rocky summit that offers excellent views of the surrounding peaks. On a clear day, northern Yosemite is even in view. This is due in part to its prominence of approximately 776’.
McTarnahan Hill is best hiked in dry conditions. Spring and fall are the best times to hike here. Winter is a possibility, but best to avoid hiking in snow. Summer is generally too hot.
The primary routes to McTarnahan Hill start from the Carson River on the west side. To get there, take Fairview Drive in the southern part of Carson City. Head east to Carson River Road. The road eventually crosses the Carson River.
Once it does, head south on Sierra Vista Lane. Right after you turn, there is Carson River Park on your left. This is not a good starting point. There are two better and closer starting points. The most direct starting point is to continue all the way to Rio Vista Lane, about 2 1/4 miles down the road. Park past the last house. Another option is about 1 ½ miles down Sierra Vista Lane, by the Mexican Dam. There is a dirt road on the east side of the road at 39.1191, -119.7055.
It is possible to approach from jeep roads from the south in Johnson Lane. But this is really for ATVs or dirt bikes, since it is a much longer route.
From the end of Rio Vista Lane, find your way to the road leading up the hillside. After about 1 1/4 miles take a smaller side road heading left. That will go up to a ridge. When the road starts to descend, bushwhack up the ridge and head east. A faint use trail comes and goes at the top of the ridge. Stay on the top of the ridge and eventually you will see the summit. Once you get closer you will need to head to the right to avoid any significant descent. You can get back on a road leading up to the summit. The total distance to the summit is about 3 miles, gaining about 2,500'.
From the Mexican Dam area starting point, take the road straight up for about 1.8 miles. It is steep and sandy, gaining 1,200’. There is a right turn that takes you around the hillside. Continue on this road for another 1.4 miles or so. At the same point where the road descends (as described for the Rio Vista route), head up the ridge. The total distance to the summit is about 4 1/4 miles, gaining about 2,350'.
There isn’t really any red tape to take either of the road. At the Mexican Dam starting point, an old sign noting private land was mostly destroyed when we visited on November 12, 2016. There are no buildings or obstructions to taking this road, which is a BLM access road.