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Guest Blog: Take a Washoe Lake State Park!

This week's blog post is another guest spotlight as part of our Community Partners Series. It is written by Kim Zuch, Park Interpreter for Washoe Lake State Park. She highlights all the best hikes and sights that the park has to offer and also touches on some park safety that everyone who visits should practice to ensure a safe and fun visit!

My name is Kim and I’m the Park Interpreter at Washoe Lake State Park. I’ve been at Washoe Lake for six years now, since May of 2014. Before I came here, I worked as a Park Ranger at Fort Churchill State Historic Park. My office was in Buckland Station, a three-story ranch house built in 1870 on the banks of the Carson River. One of my favorite parts of this job is leading guided hikes.

At Fort Churchill, I led hikes around the fort ruins and along the Nature Trail next to the Carson River. Some of the wildlife species we saw on these hikes included coyote, porcupine, Great Basin rattlesnake, Great Basin gopher snake, and more. We also went out on hot summer nights with ultraviolet flashlights looking for scorpions. The Fremont cottonwood galleries along the Carson River are great for birdwatching and wildlife viewing in general, and the tall trees provide shade so it’s a nice place to walk during the summer. Many desert wildlife species are nocturnal (active at night) or crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) to avoid the heat of the day. Look for animal signs like owl pellets, footprints in the mud near the river, or scat (droppings) to see what animals have been in the area.

At Washoe Lake State Park, we have a variety of guided hikes. This year, I haven’t done a guided hike since March 13, and the last hike I did get to lead was for a group from the Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation! One of the more strenuous hikes we have led was from Washoe Lake to Virginia City, a thirteen-mile, one-way hike with an elevation gain of around 2,500 feet. Other guided hikes include the Dune Trek Trail, a 2.5 mile loop through the sand dunes and the Deadman’s Creek Trail, a 1.5 mile loop leading to a gazebo overlooking Washoe Valley.


The lower part of the Deadman’s Creek Trail follows a riparian area along a spring-fed creek. Willows, wild rose, aspen trees, and stinging nettles line the creek. So far I’ve only seen one person get into the nettles—a teenager who, when I warned the group about it, said “fake news.” He then proceeded to run his leg through them and said, “Oh, I feel it now. That does hurt.” As the oldest boy in the group, he had to finish the rest of the hike pretending it didn’t burn like crazy.

My favorite trail in the park is the Dune Trek Trail. The sand dunes line the east side of Washoe Lake and were formed during dry years when the lake dried up. Wind from the west carried sediment from the lakebed and deposited it on the east side of the lake, where it built up over thousands of years. The lake was almost completely dry from March 2015 until the fall and winter of 2016. We started to see a new set of sand dunes forming in front of the large dunes as the wind blew more sediment against the eastern side of the lakebed

All of the hiking trails at Washoe Lake State Park are open for non-motorized use. Many hiking trails are also equestrian trails, so it’s important to keep in mind that hikers yield the right-of-way to equestrians. There are several miles of trails and Washoe Lake State Park consists of 8,053 acres of open space, so crowding is rarely an issue. If one trail or one particular area of the park is busy and/or crowded, there are many other places to explore!

To learn more about the Walk with Washoe program, and to see their interpretive guide schedule, follow THIS link!

When hiking at Washoe Lake, Fort Churchill, or any natural area, there are a few safety measures to remember. This area is home to Great Basin rattlesnakes, which are venomous. They generally avoid people and won’t bite unless harassed, so it’s best to view them from a distance and give them space. Coyotes, mountain lions, and bobcats can be present, so pets should be leashed and children should be supervised at all times.

Many trails cross unique historic or natural areas, so hikers should stay on established trails to minimize impact to the environment. Cutting across switchbacks increases erosion, which can worsen over time. Hiking trails are often located in remote environments where there is no trash collection, so please plan to “pack it in, pack it out” to keep these areas clean and beautiful for everyone. Carry water and snacks, and know your limits. Hiking in the morning or late afternoon is better than hiking in the heat of the day, as heat exhaustion can happen quickly. It’s also a good idea to let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return, just in case something happens.

Don’t forget a camera and a pair of binoculars! One of my favorite activities while I’m out hiking is to slow down and really look around. Look for turkey vultures soaring in the thermals. Do you see bees or butterflies around the wildflowers? Listen for a few minutes and you’ll hear insects buzzing, the wind, and birds singing. Look on the ground for owl pellets, animal footprints, or even large, black darkling beetles. What will you see the next time you go for a hike?

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