Virginia Peak is the highpoint of the Pah Rah Range, a mountain range that stretches north from Sparks, Nevada to Pyramid Lake. It is located about 25 miles northeast of downtown Reno. It isn't the most popular mountain in the area, but sees a lot of traffic because a road goes all the way up to the summit, making it a relatively easy outing.
Looking towards the summit.
As the highpoint of the Pah Rah Range, views from the summit are expansive. However slightly lower peaks to the north block the view of virtually all of Pyramid Lake. Fortunately, Pah Rah Mountain 8,247 feet, is 2 ¾ miles north up the summit ridge and offers tremendous views of Pyramid Lake.
Virginia Peak can be hiked all year round. However, the best time to hike is in between March and April and October through December. It is miserable to hike in the summer heat unless it is in the morning.
It is best approached from the west side, although east side routes are possible. The west side is closest to the Reno/Sparks area, and is the side with the summit road.
From Reno take I-80 east to exit 18 (Pyramid Highway – Highway 445). Follow Pyramid Highway north through Spanish Springs, and continue as the road becomes two-lanes. It is 18 miles from I-80 to the turn off onto Ironwood Road. The turn off is just before the Wild Horse Corral. At the turnoff, follow Ironwood Road, which is a well-graded dirt road, for 4.8 miles to a T junction with Amy Road. Take a right on Amy Road and follow it for about 0.4 miles where the road curves to the left and turns into Wilcox Ranch Road. Follow Wilcox Ranch Road for 2.3 miles and take a left on Quaking Aspen Road. Follow Quaking Aspen Road for 3.3 miles. The road is well-graded dirt, but gets narrow at points. 2WD can easily make it up the road. At 3.3 miles, the road forks left to Microwave Road. 2WD can make it up the road further, although I found a spot about 700 yards up to park on the side of the road. You can continue up the road further, if you want to shave distance, even up to the base of Virginia Peak (so you can explore other mountains). The road is only difficult when muddy. Rocky parts on spots of the road may give one pause to use low-clearance 2WD.
Virginia Peak from the valley below
These directions are from the start of Microwave Road whether you drive it or hike it. Take the road for almost two miles until the road cuts to the right and follows below a ridge (see photo below). Hikers can bushwhack up the ridge for fun and/or save some distance, which is steep, but not too difficult. The elevation gain to the top of the ridge is about 675 feet. Try to follow the brown boulder fields up the slope. At the top of the ridge, the Virginia Peak summit comes into view.
The base of the ridge
From the ridge, descend about 175 feet down to the road below. There are several options from here to reach the summit. The road heads up to the summit, but there are also options along the road to cut up the slope straight towards the summit. It is about 750 feet up to the summit from here.
Approaching the final summit
If hiking from the start of Microwave Road, it is about 4 3/4 miles to the summit with 2900 feet of total elevation gain. If the road is taken instead of the ridge, it is a little over 5 ½ miles to the summit. 2WD can, in dry conditions, make it to about 1 mile and 750' from the summit without too much trouble.
If you follow the summit ridge for about 2 ¾ miles to Pah Rah Mountain 8,247' to view Pyramid Lake. For this hike, it is recommended you start at the base of Virginia Peak.
View east to the desert from the summit. The green area is where the Truckee River runs through to Pyramid Lake.
Virginia Peak is mostly on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The summit has a Doppler Radar Station, but the summit is still open to the public. As long as Microwave Road is followed, there are no access issues. Quaking Aspen Road also goes up to Virginia Peak from the south, but private land between the road and the peak has a "No Trespassing" sign.