Just a little over an hour to the southeast of Carson City and 13 miles west of Yerington is Wilson Canyon. Simply driving along Nevada State Route 208 east of Smith Valley along the Walker River gives you a view of this beautiful gorge, but for those who are willing to get off the pavement and do some exploring, this area has much more to offer. The Wilson Canyon area has long been a popular destination for OHVs, but was generally considered too sandy for bicycle use. It wasn’t until I started riding fat bikes, mountain bikes equipped with 4-5″ wide low-pressure tires, that I decided to give this place another look.
Before leaving Carson City, we stopped at the Bike Habitat to borrow a demo bike. The Wolftrax from Framed Bikes is a quality entry-level fat bike. This bike has what you need to enjoy fat biking terrain, but the cost effective parts package keeps the price down. It would be the perfect bike to introduce my son to this style of riding.
I had an idea of where I wanted to go from looking at the Google Earth satellite imagery, but the day was going to be all about exploring. We chose to park at the trailhead parking on the south side of the road just before entering Wilson Canyon. There is a nice shade structure with picnic tables here, and as it turns out, it’s also a non-motorized recreation area.
The trailhead sign has a description and map of the hiking route. It looks like it would be a great hike. For now, though, we just used the trail to get over the small pass and into the next canyon. A steep but short climb got us to the ridge for a nice view of the area. Careful not to skid our tires on the steep trail, we slowly rode down the other side to the bottom of the wash. Once at the wash, there is a four-way intersection. The hiking trail continues east. To the north and down the wash is the Walker River. We turned south and made our way up the wash. It had rained just two days prior, and the sand was still wet. This made for some easy riding with our fat tires.
Riding up the gentle grade of the wash, we enjoyed the interesting geology. Many of the rock formations reminded us of scenes from the Utah canyon country. Eventually we came to our first slot canyon. It only went a little ways back before we reached a dry waterfall area. It would’ve been possible to climb up it, but there’s no way we’d get the bikes up too. We backtracked a bit and pushed our bikes up a sandy hill to get around this obstacle.
Once around the impassable cliff, we were back riding again. Before there was time to get discouraged about not riding the first slot canyon, we were into another one. But this time, it was fully rideable from start to finish. I had to laugh, because our family has spent days driving to Utah to explore slot canyons, and here was one just a little over an hour from the house! We took our time in the canyon, riding back and forth several times to get photos. It was definitely one of the coolest places I’ve ever ridden.
After leaving the slot canyon, the wash narrowed to a tight squeeze. We were barely able to fit the bikes through. Once through the gap, we decided to break for lunch on a small hill above the wash. Totally quiet at the moment, you could imagine how this place transforms during heavy rain. Not only can you see how the water carved out the canyon, you can also see where the water cascades in from side canyons. It’s definitely not a place you’d want to be when it’s raining.
After lunch we played on big berm, taking turns to see how high we could get. This is one of the great things about exploring this place. There’s plenty to do along the way with no particular destination to get to. There were multiple ways to branch off at this location, but we decided to continue up the wash. We followed it a ways, but then decided to climb out of the wash to try to find a shortcut to a return road. When we got to the top, we realized we were still pretty far from any road, finding just more hills and washes. From here we chose a fun singletrack that followed the ridgeline all the way back down to the wash we came in on.
After a fun downhill we rejoined our tracks and retraced our way out. We enjoyed the slot canyon again, then rode all the way down to the Walker River. We thought there may be a way to cross, but either deep water or thick foliage prevented any easy crossing. Instead we pedaled back up the wash and exited the same way we came in by pushing our bikes up to the top of the pass.
My son and I both agreed that this one of the best rides we’ve had together. The fat bikes got us out into the backcountry with ease. Without a lot of miles and big climbs, we were able to have a lot of fun exploring the unique terrain of the Wilson Canyon area. I was also pleased to see that the big footprint of our tires was easy on the environment, leaving very little evidence of our passage. We can’t wait to go back to explore the other canyons in the area, both on bike and on foot.
If you decide to go see Wilson Canyon for yourself, remember to stay out of any wash and especially any slot canyon when it’s raining or there is a threat of rain. Flash floods can come without warning, and you could get caught in the rushing water and debris. Also be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions and limited daylight this time of year.
A big thank you to Bike Habitat for use of the demo bike for the day. Go check out the new Framed Wolftrax we used for this ride and several other fat bikes at the shop!
More photos from this ride HERE.