Break the activity barrier: Advice from the pros on how and where to take up a new outdoor sport

Thinking about taking up a new outdoor sport? You’re in the right place for it: The Truckee Meadows and the Sierra offer a motherlode of trails, courses and fishing holes. 

For those interested in birding, fly fishing, mountain biking and disc golf, the barriers to entry aren’t too high, but there are still a few things you should know. We turned to the experts to help you connect to with local sporting communities, build skills and camaraderie, and find events. 


“I think people tend to think of birdwatching as something you would do in the wilderness, but the city is actually a really good place to birdwatch,” said Alan de Queiroz, an evolutionary biologist and avid local birder. (He also penned our March print-edition cover story.) “In fact, some of the best places are right in town.” 

He recommends Virginia Lake for beginners. This urban lake attracts waterfowl that are not bothered by human presence. “So they’re not going to immediately fly away. … You can get really close to a lot of the water birds,” De Queiroz said. During summer, look for breeding cormorants, California gulls and snowy egrets, particularly on the lake’s island. “You could go there for a couple of hours, and you might see 40 or 50 species,” he said. 

Rancho San Rafael Regional Park and Oxbow Nature Study Area are also good places, because they both feature water and lush growth. 

De Queiroz also recommends the Merlin Bird ID app by Cornell Lab. “It’s almost like having an expert birder along with you,” he said.  

There’s also the Birding Nevada Facebook group (, and the Lahontan Audubon Society offers a free Area Birding Guide and public field trips every other Friday. Upcoming trips include a Carson River and Silver Saddle Ranch Field Trip from 7 to 11 a.m. on July 19, and a Tahoe Meadows Nature Trail Field Trip from 7 to 11 a.m. on Aug. 2; learn more at 

Fly fishing 

According to Jim Litchfield, owner of Reno Fly Shop, the best place to start your fishing education is actually not near water.  

“For a beginner to go out in an open field and cast their fly rod is really the best way to develop a good foundation of understanding of what the fly rod can do,” he said. “You don’t have the distraction of water.” Any open, grassy area works well. 

Often, Litchfield said, people fish because they want to spend time in a beautiful locale, and catching fish is a secondary goal. 

“I mean, who doesn’t like to step into a cold river on a hot summer day?” he said. Litchfield’s top local suggestion is the Truckee River, with access points in Verdi, Reno and Sparks. 

No matter where you’re fly fishing, ensure there is a minimum of about 50 to 60 feet behind and in front of you for safe and proper aerial extension of the line. But before waving a rod around anywhere, Litchfield suggests getting formal instruction.  

“It’s like any new sport that you’re starting––it’s great to get professional instructions so you don’t develop bad habits,” he said. 

His shop offers beginner classes every month on the second and fourth Saturdays. The next couple of events are on July 13 and 27 at 8 a.m. Classes are $25, and participants receive a $25 gift certificate to the shop once class is completed. Find more information at 

Mountain biking 

There is no shortage of mountain biking trails in the area, but Randy Collins, owner of College Cyclery, noted the importance of finding the trail that’s right for you. “It’s really, really critical to get a good, positive experience on the first, second, third ride,” Collins said. “That way, they’ll come back the fourth, fifth and sixth time to do it again.” 

He recommends double tracks—think forest service/fire road width—as well as trails with clear, rock-free tread, and a grade of less than 5%. Look for trails that have no steep drop-offs. And remember that mountain biking is all about mastering the techniques behind the ride, with the rider’s breath being one of the most important skills: Overexerting yourself will result in an uncomfortable, frustrating ride. (Take it from me, who threw up three times because I tried to keep up with an advanced rider in a hilly section of trail—and subsequently swore off all bipedal sports.) 

Collins suggests Sierra Vista Park (1985 Beaumont Parkway, in Reno) for beginners. “The whole park is set up for anybody from kids up to adults, from beginner to expert,” he said. “Somebody can progress in their riding in that area as they take different trails.” Visit the Biggest Little Trail Stewardship website at for a trail map.  

Try the Sierra Vista DG Path in northwest Reno or South Perimeter Trail in Truckee first, then progress to routes like the Intermediate Flow Trail in Sierra Vista Park. As you progress and get more comfortable, try the non-motorized trails on Peavine Mountain, in Hidden Valley, at the Sierra Front Trail or at the Verdi-Floriston section of the Tahoe-Pyramid Trail. 

“I also would encourage people as beginners to take some formal skill-development lessons. … With a few basic skill sets, you can have a really good experience,” Collins said.  

Sky Tavern has several options for skill building classes; visit to find the one that suits your needs. The next open skills clinic is Wednesday, July 17, from 5 to 8 p.m. 

If you have any questions about mountain biking or generally feel overwhelmed, reach out to Collins and his crew at College Cyclery, at 622 S. Virginia St.; 775-323-1809. 

Disc golf 

Eric Wonhof, treasurer of the Reno Disc Golf Association and administrator of the Reno Disc Golfers Facebook group, explained that beginners should avoid windy days—possibly one of the most difficult aspects of the sport here—and look for courses that have distances of 200 feet or less between the tee box and hole. 

Beginner courses Wonhof recommends include the Pitch ’n’ Putt at the Lizard Peak Disc Golf Complex at Sun Valley Regional Park, The Wedge at South Valleys Regional Sports Complex, and the North Tahoe Lions Club Disc Golf course in Incline Village.  

However, a beginner does not have to visit a formal course to practice. Wonhof suggests going to a local park and “just pick a tree, and see if you can get there.” This technique is called object golf, and it’s a great option; players can go anywhere, Wonhof explained, mentioning that “especially this time of year … a lot of people go camping and bring their disks.” 

Wonhof recommends joining the Reno Disc Golfers Facebook Group, where weekly meetup events are posted, as is information about periodic lessons or seminars. He also advises using the free UDisc app for finding courses and recording scores. And don’t forget YouTube.  

“You’d be shocked how many people want to teach,” he said.