Northern Nevada Hillside Letters – Reno Dads Guide

Hillside Letters in Nevada

Hillside letters (or “mountain monograms” as some people know them) have emblazoned the sides of mountains for more than 100 years in the U.S. Typically used to mark schools or cities, they become a landmark that is a source of pride for the community. I’ve seen them around our northern Nevada community for my entire life, but had only ever made my way up to a couple. There are a number of hillside letters in our area (in fact, Nevada has the 5th most hillside letters in the nation), and my family and I made it our mission to hike up to each one of them. While we haven’t gotten every letter in rural Nevada quite yet, we’ve knocked out the letters in Reno, Sparks, and Carson City (well, the ones we’re aware of).

This is a guide to these letters (I’ll add more to this article as we add more to our personal ledger) and our experience in hiking up to them, should you want to do the same with your friends and family. Some are more challenging than others (especially for younger kids), and I’ll rank them here from least to most difficult.

I also put together a map of the area and the hillside letters so you can get a sense of where they are and how to get to them. Details of each are below.

The Reed “R”

Difficulty:
Easy. Appropriate for most ages.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Parking:
Park your vehicle at Shadow Mountain Park. You can get pretty close to the foot of the hill if you park on the north side of the softball fields.

Description:
This truly is more hillside than mountainside. Really not much of a challenge and it’s a quick walk to the top of this hill (we’re talking a few minutes). There are several pathways up – the face of the hill is a bit steeper but very doable for kids of almost any age (presuming they’re proficient walkers). If you want to check an easy one off your list, take a trip to the “R.”


The Damonte “D”

Difficulty:
Normal

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Parking:
You can park along the street at the trailhead (off of Claim Jumper Way, near Damonte Ranch High School) and walk up past the gate to the trail. It shows as a dirt road on Google Maps still, but here is the location.

Description:
This is one of my favorites. The mountain is populated with wild horses everywhere (keep your distance, just to be safe) – they’ll let you walk right past them without getting aggressive and your family can get a really great view of them. It really adds to the ambiance of the experience. Of course, you also need to watch where you step because the horses have “decorated” the trail a bit. The trail itself is pretty unchallenging – it’s a dirt path with some rocks scattered here and there. There are a few spots where the incline will give your calves a workout, but nothing overly strenuous. The hike from the trailhead to the D is about a 1/3 of a mile.

Damonte D horses

At the peak of the mountain in which the letter sits, you get a really nice view of the neighborhood below and Damonte Ranch High School. If you look to your left and your right, you’ll see some cool valleys. It’s quiet and serene, and overall a great family experience.


The Galena “G”

Difficulty:
Normal

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Parking:
You can access the trailhead through the neighborhood near Galena High School.

Description:
Tucked behind a neighborhood adjacent to Galena High School, this is another pretty straightforward letter hike. Most of it is a pretty modest walk up a pathway of fractured gravel stone. As you get to the foot of the hill with the G on it, it’s a little bit of a steep climb, but it’s also very short (about 500 feet). The total hike up from the trailhead is about 1/2 a mile. As you stand at the G, you’ll see the neighborhood below, and a ridge of open mountains to your left and right. Another pretty basic letter hike to check off your list.


The Sparks “S”

Difficulty:
Normal

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Parking:
The easiest place to access the trailhead is by parking near the medical offices next door to Northern Nevada Medical Center off of Vista.

Description:
Although it’s on the other side of a commercial area, as you face this path it feels like a true Nevada desert scene – dusty trails, sagebrush, and rocky red mountains stretched far and wide. Side note – there are a number of great geocaches in this area worth hunting for with the kids. This is another trail that is appropriate for almost all ages. The final stretch gets a bit steep, but nothing overly difficult (total hike is about 1/2 of a mile).


The Reno “R”

Difficulty:
Moderate

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Parking:
There’s a parking lot that makes it very easy to access this hiking trailhead. It’s called the West Keystone Trailhead.

Description:
I’ve lived in Reno nearly my entire life, and I ashamedly had no idea there was an R on the mountain in northwest Reno off of McCarran (near King’s Row). It’s not easy to spot from the McCarran loop, but once you get into the neighborhood on the hill, sure enough, there it is! The hike to the R isn’t necessarily picturesque – it’s pretty dusty and rocky with a covering of dry grass and weeds, but there is an established trail all the way up, so it’s not super difficult. That being said, the final 500 feet or so is relatively steep and a little slippery due to the loose rocky trail. It’s about a half mile to get to the R, and like all of these hikes, the feeling of accomplishment at the top is satisfying as you get a nice view of Reno from the northwest.


The Spanish Springs “SS”

Difficulty:
Moderate

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Parking:
Parking for this letter is probably the most difficult of any of the letters we’ve hiked. I found an area on the side of the road to pull over, but Eagle Canyon Dr. is a busy street so be careful with your family. There are a few areas you can pull in a little further, but the dirt is pretty well trenched from water so the terrain makes it pretty challenging to navigate without a truck. I recommend you use the map to find an area you can pull over and park that’s relatively close and find your way up.

Description:
The SS is off the beaten path a bit, and while the hike is a little less than half a mile, there isn’t a well-established trail that drops you right at the foot of the letter. The trails run north and south around the foot of the hill and seem to be mixed-use – hiking, cycling, and ATV – so keep your eyes and ears open as you hike them. As you come to the base of the mountain, the trail is hard to follow. I recommend using a mapping app on your phone to keep your bearings, as it’s difficult to see the SS and your relationship to it as you move toward it. You can turn upward and head straight up to it once you see that you’re lined up below. There’s not a hard route and an easy route, from what I could tell.

It’s a fairly classic Nevada desert scene – sagebrush, rocks, blue-bellied lizards, desert flowers, and small dry trees. I recommend that once you get up to the letters, you push up just another 100 feet or so to the top of the mountain that houses the “SS.” There, you’ll see a few large rocks that serve as a perch so you can look down at the valley that houses Spanish Springs and get an unencumbered view of the vastness of that area. There are stretches of neighborhoods in the distance below, but you get a sense of the width of the valley and it’s impressive.


The Nevada “N”

Difficulty:
Moderate

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Parking:
You can gain easy access to the trailhead by parking in the lot for the Reno Softball Complex (you’ve likely seen it at the corner of McCarran and Virginia near the University) which also serves as access to the trail.

Description:
The Nevada “N” may be the most well-known hillside letter in Reno. It’s easily visible to anyone driving in northern Reno, or anyone who’s been on the University of Nevada, Reno campus. If you haven’t made this hike with your family before, I highly recommend it. It may be the most interesting of the hillside letter hikes – nearly a mile in total from trailhead to letter. Along the way, you’ll find a disc golf course, a surprisingly lush area with trees and a creek, a Basque monument, and a great view of Reno.

Once you get through the first half of the trail, the hill becomes more of a mountain, and does increase in difficulty. There are several pathways up to the N – if you’d like to have an easier path, albeit a little longer, hang to the left. The path straight up the middle is significantly steeper, but shorter. Pick whatever’s right for you based on your family’s ability, of course. You’re going to feel a great sense of accomplishment at the top of this one.


The Carson City “C”

Difficulty:
Challenging

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Parking:
There is limited parking at the trailhead that will take you up to the “C.” Pretty easy access and tucked within a nice neighborhood at the base of the mountain.

Description:
This is the most challenging hike of all of the letters we made our way up to in this area. I mean, it’s not exactly Mount Everest, but it’s a challenge nonetheless. There are two ways up to the “C” from the trailhead. Take the path up to the left, and you’ll find yourself at the base of a steep mountain face. This was the route we chose to take because I operate on the impression that a straight and direct line is always the best way to go (I’m often wrong about that, too). It was difficult, undebatably. It wore us out, but it also gave me the opportunity to shower the family in pithy dad phrases such as, “the only way to fail is to give up,” and “anything you think is possible is possible.” Load up on the motivational one-liners along with plenty of water and snacks. The option straight up the mountainside benefits from a switchback approach and I’m not entirely sure it’s faster. But, it’s about a quarter-mile shorter.

If you choose the path to the right, you’ll wrap around the ridge of the mountain and it will lead you straight to the C. It’s longer, but it isn’t consistently as steep as the route straight up the face. As the elevation gains, the footing gets a bit loose (sand and rock), so kids may need some hand-holding to stay steady.

The view from the “C” is fantastic. The valley that Carson City blankets is really beautiful. It’s fairly lush and green, and there’s an undeniable peace about it. Situated on the mountain above the letter “C” is a very sizable United States flag made of various industrial materials (metals, strong plastics, etc). It’s a powerful perch and if you check this one off your list I genuinely think you’ve conquered the toughest hillside letter we have in our community.


I hope you choose to get outdoors, explore our area, and make your way up to the hillside letters. Please let us know which hikes you like, and if there are any other letters you’d like us to check out. Have fun and be safe.

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