WHAT TO EXPECT The Carson River Ranches extension of Fort Churchill Historic State Park is a riparian area on the lower Carson River between Fort Churchill and the Lahontan State Recreation Area. This portion of the Carson River includes one of the lushest gallery cottonwood forests in Nevada. The area may be viewed by access roads and trails along both sides of the river or via a canoe trip down a cottonwood-lined stretch of river. This trip may be linked to Area #5 - Fort Churchill Road. Carson River Ranches is part of the Carson River Delta Important Bird Area.
Best time of year: Late March through early July for canoe access; year-round for high desert species.
Notable species: Raptors to watch for include Bald and Golden Eagles and Peregrine and Prairie Falcons. The adjacent desert habitat can produce species such as Black-throated, Sage, Brewer's, and Lark Sparrows, Rock and Bewick's Wrens, and Sage Thrasher. Along the river, Western Bluebird, House Wren, and Yellow Warbler can be found during the breeding season. In the wetlands, species such as Lincoln's Sparrow, Yellow-headed and Red-winged Blackbirds, and Marsh Wren may be found. Water birds are present. Check for songbirds during migration. Yellow-billed Cuckoos were sighted from 1988 to 1998, but since then there has been only one instance of heard-only (2002).
Precautions: Drive only on designated roads to avoid areas of loose or wet sand. Canoe access will depend on water levels. Contact Fort Churchill State Historic Park Ranger (775-577-2345) for current conditions. Most of the canoe trip is flat; be alert for sudden afternoon winds.
HOW TO GET THERE From the I-80 & US 395 interchange, drive south on US 395 approximately 27 miles to Carson City. As you approach Carson City, bear left to stay on US 395 south for another 3 miles to Exit 39 US 50. Exit onto US 50 eastbound to Dayton/Fallon. Travel approximately 35 miles to Silver Springs. At Silver Springs, turn right (south) on Alternate US 95 and continue 8.6 miles to historic Buckland Station, built in 1859.
POPULAR BIRDING ROUTE Vehicle and Hiking Route: Park behind Buckland Station near Carson River Bridge and bird the surrounding area. The trailhead for the south shore hiking trail is across the bridge on the left. Hike one mile east to the first vehicle access point (see below). By vehicle, continue south on Alternate US 95 across the Carson River 0.9 mile to dirt Simpson Road/Old Pony Express Road, marked only by a campground sign along the highway.
Turn left (east) and travel 0.2 mile to a sign indicating parking for the first river access point, a loop trail to river's edge (day use fee, restrooms). Scout Camp at 0.3 mile offers river access, trails, and good birding (day use fee, restrooms). Return to Simpson Road/Old Pony Express Road, turn left (east), and go 1.7 miles to a Y intersection. Take the left branch of the Y, signed "Overlook, Hercules Access, Horse Camp." Continue 1.4 miles to parking for the overlook on a bluff above a bend in the river.
To access the north bank of the river, backtrack via Simpson Road/Old Pony Express Road to Alternate US 95. Turn right (north) and travel 3.6 miles to 9th Street in Silver Springs. Turn right (east) and go 3.9 miles to the Lahontan State Recreation Area (day use fee); the last 1.3 miles is dirt. Once you enter the Recreation Area, most of the dirt roads heading down to the river on the right offer good access points from which to bird this extensive riparian area.
After birding the north shore of the river, backtrack to Alternate US 95. Turn right (north) to Silver Springs (5.9 miles). Return to Reno either via Carson City by turning left (west) onto US 50 (a 65-mile trip) or via Fernley straight ahead to the north and then I-80 to the west (a 45-mile total trip).
Canoe Route: A trip from the put-in at 0.2 mile down Simpson Road/Old Pony Express Road to the take-out at 9th Street Beach (approximately 6.5 miles) should take about 3.5 to 4 hours, with normal flow. An alternate put-in spot is located near the picnic area in Fort Churchill State Historic Park (see Area # 5). Use of this put-in will add two miles, or about one hour, to the trip.
The take-out at 9th Street Beach on the north bank of the river is inside the Lahontan State Recreation Area (day use fee). Parking for the canoe take-out point is 0.7 mile from the Recreation Area boundary, accessed from Alternate US 95 and 9th Street. (See details in Vehicle Route above.) Avoid traveling farther downstream because of the shallows and sandbars in the southwestern portion of Lahontan Reservoir.