Jumbo Grade: The Hard Way to Virginia City, NV

Nevada Overlanding in a gen 3 Toyota 4RunnerSo I recently got my dream car: a 1999 Toyota 4Runner SR5 4-Wheel-Drive thanks to a texting driver who pulled out in front of me while I was driving my 2003 Subaru. Long story short: I got back into the 4×4 business! I’ve wanted one of these since I was in high school. Now I have it, and IT’S TIME TO EXPLORE! This is the first in a new series of videos where we explore the back roads of Nevada and California looking for rocks to climb, trails to ride, great places to camp and ghost towns. Check out video #1!

We live off NV341 in Reno on the way to Virginia City. Virginia City, NV is a cheesy little tourist trap town with old-timey cowboy bars, old-timey candy shops where you can buy candy cigarettes, old-timey hotels where you can take a mine tour from the town drunk, who is authentically drunk, and see an old-timey wild west gunfighter show and take old-timey photos. It’s certainly worth a trip if you’re in the area. The Virginia and Truckee Railroad is pretty cool and a pretty long steam locomotive ride if you take it up from Carson City.

You can get to Virginia City via NV 341 from Reno or Carson City in less than 30 minutes of windy road. But that’s the easy way. And I didn’t buy a 4×4 to go the easy way.

Virginia City and Toll Roads

If it was the late 1800’s and you were on your way to Virginia city to strike it rich, or open a store selling square nails, you’d have to get there via one of the Toll Roads. The toll roads were built with private investment and operated for profit by collecting a toll for passage. If you live on the east coast or Texas this won’t be a new thing to you, but out west here we don’t cotton to paying to drive no road.

But in 1860, there was work to be done in Virginia City, ore to get down and timber to get up and steep, loose rocky terrain between the surrounding cities and there. If you were a miner on horse back it was bad enough, but you can’t bring 10 tons of rock down without a road.

The Jumbo Grade Toll Road

  • Length: 8 Miles
  • Time Required: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Class 3 (rocky, steep in places, 4×4 necessary)

Build in the early 1860’s this toll road linked Virginia City with Washoe Valley where the town of Ophir sprang up with ore processing facilities. You can see remnants of that today where stone foundations are still visible at the north end of the Valley just off I-580 (US395). By 1869, the Virginia & Truckee railroad was built and began hauling ore out to Carson City and the Jumbo road and Ophir fell into disrepair until a resurgence in mining activity in the area in 1907 that played out by 1921.

Jumbo Grade Trailhead

Today, the road still exists and is easily passable by a 4×4 truck or SUV. I’d say you can do it with anything that has real 4×4 and decent ground clearance. There is one spot that is a little washed out and rocky that would give you trouble in a Subaru, but you could probably still do it. You might not have much clutch left and your catalytic converter might fall off…

There is a trailhead and staging area for OHVs and horses which use this area frequently.

Jumbo Grade Route-finding

Finding your way up the Jumbo Grade to Virginia City is pretty easy. There are many side roads, but the main route is fairly obvious.

To get to the road take East Lake Blvd from the north or south end of Washoe Valley to New Washoe City. The turnoff is signed and labeled on Google Maps. The trailhead is up the road less than a mile.

A Fun way to get to Virginia City

Virginia City lives in both the old world and the new. It makes its living off being authentic enough that families in minivans can take a short break from their Game Of Thrones DVDs to stop for lunch and a gunfight. Getting to Virginia City behind a line of mini vans doesn’t feel very authentic OR challenging. Given what the original inhabitants of Virginia City had to go through to get there, I recommend you take the back way and bump down Jumbo Grade road from the summit and pretend, until you get close enough to see the cell phone towers, you can pretend that you’re┬ábumping into town on horseback, dry and parched from the trail with hope in your heart to strike it rich, or just score some candy cigarettes and square nails…

-Mike

Jumbo Grade Road References and Guides