About a 56 mile drive southeast of Carson City is the scenic Wilson Canyon. Near the west end of the canyon, and just before the bridge on SR 208, is the Wilson Canyon Trailhead. This well-marked trail leads the hiker through a portion of Wilson Canyon, but also the washes and side canyons that drain into the main canyon. The desert scenery is spectacular, with extraordinary geological features unique to the area. Add to this the wildflowers and desert wildlife, and you have one of the best springtime hikes in the area!
The trail is about 3.5 miles long, with around 1,100 feet of climbing. It’s a lollipop style loop, with the “stick” being a short hill climb from the trailhead to get over into the next canyon. I logged a little more mileage to get photos and video, as there is so much to look at. Although the trailhead map shows the loop in a clockwise direction, I did the hike counterclockwise. I thought the scenery laid out nicely in this direction with the steeper technical terrain on the climb, and a gentler descent leading down to the West Walker River for a grand finale.
Here’s some video of my hike. I was happy to have the video camera along this time, as it’s hard to capture the scenery with still shots alone. You really have to look in all directions to see all the amazing scenery surrounding you.
The trail is well marked, and there are interpretative signs along the whole route that describe the geology and wide variety of plants and flowers. The hiking is fairly easy, but there are frequent rock steps that need to be climbed or descended. It’s definitely a hike for sturdy shoes. I saw lizards everywhere, and even a couple deer. Although I didn’t see any snakes on my hike, I’m sure there are plenty in the area. Keep a good eye on the trail ahead of you, and watch where you put your hands and feet.
Part of what makes this hike so spectacular are all the hoodoos and other strange rock formations. A hoodoo is a tall, thin spire of rock that protrudes from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland. Hoodoos typically consist of relatively soft rock topped by harder, less easily eroded stone that protects each column from the elements. Hiking through these formations reminded me of ancient statues, the bizarre landscape making it hard to believe I was just an hour from home.
At the top of the hike is a nice overlook of Smith Valley and the snow-capped mountains beyond. A sign describes many of the land features you can see from here. There are also plenty of good rocks to sit on here, making it a good stop for lunch.
As I walked counterclockwise, I finished the loop with hiking along the West Walker River. It was spectacular to see the full river flowing fast down the desert canyon! But as we are currently having a big Spring runoff, I stayed clear of the water. The water is high, and running fast and cold. It wouldn’t take much to get swept away if you fell in. The trail stays back and away from the river, but there is one short section where a slip might send you tumbling down to the water’s edge. I stuck my camera in my pocket for that part, so the trail had my full attention.
After a nice walk along the river, I hiked back up the big wash. From there, it was just another short climb up and over the hill back to the trailhead. Although I had just gotten some pretty good exercise, this wonderful hike left me feeling energized and happy!
If You Go
- There is some shade in the canyons and trees along the route, but most of this hike is in the full sun. Bring sun protection and carry a couple liters of water.
- The full loop is a little over 3.5 miles with about 1,100 feet of elevation gained and lost.
- Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes. Look ahead down the trail, and watch where you put your hands and feet.
- As of Spring 2017, the West Walker River is flowing really high and strong from the snow melt-off. Stay clear of the water, as it wouldn’t take much to be swept away.
- Check out Rosie’s Place in Wellington for post-hike Mexican food and beers.
- More photos of this hike HERE.
- Although the trail described here is for hiking only, there is great mountain biking in the area for for bicycles with fat tires (3-5″ wide for flotation in the sand washes). Read more about mountain biking in this area here on BikeCarson.com.