Henness Pass Road - Part 1 (HWY 89 to Verdi, Stampede Reservoir, Dog Valley)
Updated: Aug 28, 2022
Henness Pass Road was established in 1849 or 1850 and has served a few purposes since then. At times it was a major supply route for the mines in Nevada (over it travelled equipment coming off ships that landed in San Francisco), an immigration path for pioneers headed west, and was even a corridor for Native American travelers. It was originally established as an easier option over the Sierra than Donner Pass was at the time. Between the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad going through Truckee, and the California Legislature choosing what is today US HWY 50 as the preferred route over the Sierra at the time (1868), Henness Pass road became obsolete. What's left of it today is over 100 miles of mostly unpaved roads, ripe for getting out and exploring with the Jeep. It crosses the SIerra from Camptonville, CA to Verdi, NV. I hope to travel the whole road, but I'll be doing it one section at a time.
The section we traveled today brought us from HWY 89 just north of Truckee, CA to Verdi, NV. We passed through the Stampeded Reservoir area and took a quick trip down into Dog Valley to see of we could find our way to the top of Crystal Peak. We couldn't. One word. Snow.
There is some dispersed camping in the area, and the road itself is in very good shape compared to the roads up by Antelope Lake and Frenchman Lake (at least the gravel roads).
What did I learn?
The Verdi, NV area is a fantastic community. You can't see much from Interstate 80 and I bet the locals would love to keep it that way! The homes we saw are rural-residential on large wooded lots. The river passing through town (Truckee River) appears to provide ample fishing opportunity. I didn't know what to expect, but it's a very livable community if you like the outdoors, mountains, and space.
Just north of Truckee, CA off HWY 89 is the actual site the Donner Party attempted to weather the winter of 1846. We stopped here and walked the trail with interpretive signs before heading north to connect to with Henness Pass Road. They were stranded by the amount of snow that fell, and there are many rumors about things that occurred during that winter. We'll never know the details of that winter, but it was undoubtedly tragic.
Parked on the bottom of a lake, or at least a reservoir. In the background is the dam that makes it all happen. We could see cars passing over the top of the dam as we explored the area.
A shot of the terrain around the Stampede Reservoir, near our lunch spot. Camping is prohibited in some of the areas near the reservoir, but if you could find a legit spot, what a great place to spend the night!
Kind of a shore lunch, frozen veggies and hot dogs.
The route back to Henness Pass Road from Stampede Reservoir. The road was just wide enough to avoid adding scratches to the Jeep, and not as wide as it looked on the map and aerial photos. We made it!
The disappointing end to our attempt at driving up Crystal Peak. Maybe another day, say in August or September when the chance of remaining snow is down to about 0%.