Every winter, many newcomers arrive in Elko County, Nev., and many are from warmer climates such as the southeastern United States, where snow rarely falls. One of their first questions is often, “What can I do outdoors with my family to get some exercise and enjoy the snow?”
The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and other public lands in this area provide a huge variety of terrain for recreation of many kinds and for all abilities and ages. The Ruby and East Humboldt mountain ranges have several access points for people to hike, snowshoe, cross-country ski and take the kids sledding.
In the Rubies, Lamoille Canyon, sometimes called “The Other Yosemite,” is a beautiful recreation area with access for all of these winter sports. Lamoille Canyon is 20 miles from Elko, Nev. While the road is not maintained or plowed in the winter, it is possible to park at various locations depending on the snow conditions. There are good areas to hike, snowshoe and sled in the Powerhouse and Lamoille-Talbot Trailhead area if the road is too snowy to drive up higher.
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The East Humboldts have good access via the Angel Lake Road (located around nine miles above Wells), which occasionally has snowdrifts here and there, but when clear, it is drivable to the Angel Creek Campground turnoff to begin hiking, snowshoeing or skiing. There are also gentle hills near the parking area that provide good sledding areas for the family.
When the snow is packed hard or roads are clear, winter hiking is just as much fun as summer trips, and there is very little specialized gear required. On some trails and roads, especially in Lamoille Canyon, there is enough foot and snowmobile traffic to pack the snow hard enough to walk on without snowshoes.
While it is important to watch for icy spots, hiking with a pair of ski poles for balance is not only a great workout but can help get you up the slick areas. In the early mornings, when the snow is still frozen, hiking on the hard snow can be great fun. When the weather is warm midday and into the afternoon, the snow gets soft and can be a bit of a slog, but early mornings are a great time for winter hiking.
Snowshoeing is excellent exercise and if you can walk, you can snowshoe. The wonderful thing about snowshoes is that they allow one to travel comfortably across the snow without sinking in as deep as you would with just your boots. Snowshoes can be purchased at just about any outdoor store and come in a variety of colors, sizes and shapes, with different binding systems depending on the brand. They are sized based on body weight, and there are many brands that offer snowshoes sized for kids. They can be worn with any warm, well-fitting winter boot that is comfortable for walking. A pair of ski poles will help with balance and provide an even better workout, but are not required.
Want to try snowshoeing? Borrow some gear and join us for the second of our “Snowshoe by Moonlight” winter series, presented by the U.S. Forest Service, BLM and Cedar Creek Clothing. The first moonlight event of the winter was on Jan. 26 at the California Trails Center, eight miles west of Elko at Hunter Exit 292, and the second will be on Feb. 23 at the Angel Creek Campground above Wells, just off the Angel Lake Road.
The third and final snowshoe event of the season will be March 23, location to be decided. Nevada State Parks has also joined the series and started off the winter with a Jan. 6 snowshoe at South Meadows in South Fork State Park, around 20 miles south of Elko.
Cross-country skiing is one of the best aerobic exercises. While it does require more practice, skill, and specialized gear, it is lots of fun and adds variety to your winter-outdoor activities. To set yourself up for cross-country, or Nordic, skiing, you will need skis (a wax-less base is best if you are just starting out), poles, and specialized ski boots that fit in the bindings mounted on the skis. Local outdoor shops will provide you with exact fittings and the expertise for the right gear for you to either rent or purchase.
While there are no set tracks on the local National Forest, the packed snow in Lamoille Canyon or the road around the Angel Creek Campground are great places to ski. The hills are relatively gentle and allow even beginners to test their gear and skills in a beautiful winter mountain setting.
On a final note, before heading out, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return, bring extra food, water and dry clothes. A good daypack is a must for any winter adventure, so that you can carry the essentials. Try not to travel alone.
For questions about where to go, road conditions, winter sports gear or anything else about winter recreation, call the Ruby Mountains-Jarbidge Ranger District at 775-752-3357, or visit our website at www.fs.usda.gov/htnf.
Matt Boisseau is a Ruby Mountains-Jarbidge deputy district ranger for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.