Burt Canyon in the Hoover Wilderness offers visitors spectacular scenery as well as solitude. Located in the Eastern Sierras, this trail follows the Little Walker River through a variety of distinct ecosystems, including desert sagebrush, aspen groves, pine forests, grassy meadows, and tops out at a desolate alpine lake. We did this hike over three days to keep the daily mileage down and allow extra time for exploration.
To get to this trailhead, turn onto the Little Walker River dirt road less than a mile south of the 395 / 108 intersection (Sonora Pass cutoff). This well graded dirt road heads south up into the mountains above the Little Walker River, and eventually comes to an intersection where one can turn into the Obsidian Campground (also the start of the Molybdenite Canyon hike). Just past the campground turnoff and around the corner, a road climbs up and to the south. If you have a high clearance vehicle you can follow this road up about a mile to the end and park at the gate. There is room for just half a dozen cars. If you don’t think your vehicle will make it up the hill, there is parking available at the bottom on the other side of the road that will even accommodate horse trailers. Continuing past this parking area and across the bridge will eventually lead you to the trailhead for Emma Lake and Mount Emma, another recommended hike in the area.
Once we were packed up and ready to hike, we walked around the gate and into the mouth of Burt Canyon. The dirt road passes a few private cabins as it gently makes its way up the canyon through the sagebrush. Seldom do you get such a nice warm-up on a hike into the Sierras! As the family hike planner, rarely do I get to say, “See! I told you it wasn’t going to be very hard!”.
After some easy hiking, the road ends at a gate. Since this trail doesn’t see heavy traffic, it’s almost hard to see the singletrack leading off into the woods. From here the scenery alternates between pine forest, aspen grove, and stretches of sagebrush as the gentle climb continues with plenty opportunities to rest in the shade.
As we gained altitude we started to encounter the wildflowers. One of the predominant flowers on our hike was the Indian Paintbrush, more than I have ever seen in one location. They were growing everywhere among the brush.
Up until this point, we had been on the east and south of the Little Walker River. The canyon is big, and the gradual change in direction is barely perceptible as it curves to the west around Mount Emma. Using a map, compass, and the direction of the canyon, it was pretty easy to track our progress. Eventually we came to where the trail crosses the Little Walker River. The river was still flowing pretty good in July, even after a light winter. It would’ve been easy enough to wade across, but we attempted to cross on the stepping stones instead to save some time. I ended up being the only one who slipped off and got a foot wet. I imagine this crossing can be more challenging in early spring and after a big winter!
Once across the river, we were heading almost west with the smaller Piute Canyon joining Burt Canyon up ahead in the distance. The trail is steeper through here when compared to the beginning of the hike, but still quite pleasant. We planned to find somewhere to camp up around the next bend.
After crossing the small creek flowing out of Piute Canyon, we began scouting for a campsite. Just past some wet meadows, we found a nice spot in the trees next the river. Even up this high, the river had a good flow and was a great supply of pristine water. It would’ve been a perfect camp spot if not for the bugs. The mosquitoes weren’t too bad on their own, but there were biting flies as well. It was a good opportunity to try out our new head nets! I think we must have timed our visit perfect for the bugs. A few weeks later, and I don’t think we would’ve had a problem.
The plan for the second day was to do a day hike up to Anna Lake and back. After breakfast, we packed up a few items in our small packs, and headed south up the trail from camp. We soon came out of our wooded area into an open meadow along the Little Walker River. We could now see the end of the canyon with great views of Flatiron Butte, a big rock formation apparently named for it wedge-like appearance.
Along the way, we found what would’ve probably been a better campsite overlooking the river and canyon below. It still had shelter in the trees, but was a little more open, and probably would be less buggy. We’ll know better for next time!
Eventually we came to the turnoff for Anna Lake, marked by a weathered old sign that was laying on its side when we got to it. We did our best to prop it back up before pressing on. The trail this far had been obviously lightly used, but the trail up to Anna Lake even less so. Although easy to follow overall, there were times when we had to scout around to see where the trail went. It also gets pretty steep at times, and I was glad we weren’t carrying our heavy packs up the hill. To help take your mind off the steep climb, there are lots of wild flowers, cascading streams, and high elevation views. (Note: It’s been reported that the sign to Anna Lake is now gone, so keep an eye out for a large cairn. A GPS, map, and compass will definitely be helpful in the upper canyon!)
As we neared the top of the climb, dark clouds began to build. We were so close, and I could feel the disappointment welling inside of me at the thought of having to turn around. We kept going, though, and the weather held. The overcast conditions definitely cooled it off, so when we finally arrived at Anna Lake, nobody was ready to jump into the icy snow-fed water.
Anna Lake is small, but quite beautiful. The trees and bushes are stunted at 10,500 feet, and the peaks above the lake are rocky and barren. Snow was still melting into the crystal clear water. We picked a spot near the outlet for lunch and enjoyed the scenery. Later we explored the shoreline to the north, and even found a little campsite hidden in the trees. It was only big enough for a one or two person tent, but it would provide a camper some much needed cover.
It was time to descend back the way we came. We made much better time with gravity on our side! I took the time to photograph a lot of flowers on the way down. Once back on the Burt Canyon trail, it was easy hiking back to camp, where upon arrival, the dinner festivities immediately commenced.
We awoke on the 3rd day ready to pack up and get hiking. Although it’s a little sad to leave the wilderness, it always seems like people keep a brisk pace when they know they are headed out. On this day it was probably the thought of getting away from the bugs. A hot shower. And definitely a cheeseburger and a milkshake at Walker Burger near the end of the trail.
Had it not been for the bugs, this backpacking trip may have been almost perfect. We really enjoyed the diversity of the ecosystems we passed through and all the wildflowers along the way. We encountered very few people on the trail, and felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. With exception of the climb to Anna Lake, the grade is fairly gentle and great for family hiking. For a future hike, I’d like to bypass Anna Lake and make a 3 day loop out of Burt Canyon and Molybdenite Canyon (connecting the two canyons by climbing over the ridge at the top).
- Permits: Another thing that made this trip easy for us is that we got our wilderness permit right in Carson City at the U.S. Forestry building on South Carson Street, since this area is in the Toiyabe-Humboldt National Forest. I was able to conveniently acquire the permit earlier in the week, saving us time to drive straight to the trailhead. There were no permits available at the trailhead at hike time (no self-serve station).
- Recommended map: Hoover Wilderness from Tom Harrison
- Recommended Guide Book: Exploring Eastern Sierra Canyons – Sonora Pass to Pine Creek
- Approximate Mileage: 13.5 miles from the trailhead (gate) to Anna Lake and back.
- Elevation: 7,800 feet at the trailhead, 10,500 at Anna Lake
- The full photo set of this trip can be found on Flickr HERE.