Wilson Canyon Adventure

At the beginning of April, we headed back down to the Wilson Canyon area in Lyon County for further exploration. When we rode there back in November, we had barely scratched the surface on interesting places to ride. This time we decided to build on what we learned last time, starting at the same trailhead at the top of Wilson Canyon on State Route 208.

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Leaving the trailhead

As before, we began our ride on the official non-motorized trail to get over the first hill and down into the next wash. We hopped off the trail and into the wash at the bottom, heading south up the canyon. We had a leisurely pace, enjoying the blue sky contrasting with the rock formations that look like they could be from Utah if not for the color.

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Dropping down to the wash on the steep trail

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Heading up the wash

Soon we arrived at the first dry waterfall. It’s interesting to look at, but impassable on bike. Backing up just a short ways, we followed the bypass trail around the feature, and then back down into the wash.

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Approaching the first dry waterfall

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Up and over the bypass

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area

Just around the corner is the slot canyon. Before entering, we explored a rocky side canyon on foot just to see where it went. Back on the bikes, we rode the slot canyon. The narrows aren’t very long, but it’s such a fun spot that we rode it back and forth a couple times.

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Back to the wash

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
A little exploration off the bike

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Into the narrows of the slot canyon

After exiting the narrows, we broke for lunch and came up with a plan for what to do next. Previously, we had continued south, but I wanted to see where the incoming canyon from the east went. Since none of us had been that way before, it was easy to reach an agreement. The canyon to the east joins the main wash with a tall ledge, so we just followed the bypass trail over the hill and back into the wash.

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Dropping down into the next canyon

The wash in the section to follow was hit and miss, sometimes becoming too rocky to ride. Through one particularly rocky section, we made our own route around through a maze of mud hills. It’s some of the strangest terrain you’ll ever see, changing drastically in texture and color from one moment to the next.

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
A route around the rocks

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Hike-a-bike

Higher up, we followed a nice singletrack. As we gained elevation, it started to green up. Lots of green plants, flowers, and cacti suddenly covered the hillsides.

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Some nice singletrack

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Indian Paintbrush

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Cacti

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Greening up

Eventually the trail topped out at the top of a big canyon descending to the north, with great views in all directions. It made the perfect spot to regroup, refresh, and plan what to do next. There looked to be a fun trail entering the canyon, but none of us really knew what was down there or where or if it came out. I should rephrase that…I knew that water flowing into this canyon eventually emptied into the Walker River, but I didn’t know if man and bike could make the same journey.

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Top of the canyon

In spite of the unknown, we elected to explore the canyon. One rider decided to go first and made the plunge down the canyon’s sandy, slippery headwall. The trail is very steep, but I thought the deep sand might provide some traction. We all watched our friend go over the edge. His back wheel locked up instantly, but he continued to accelerate faster and faster. The three of us watching from the top were like novice bowlers using exaggerated body movements to influence an errant bowling ball headed for the gutter.

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
He’s ok! I think. The rest of us will walk down.

He made the bottom and we cheered, but he had too much momentum to stay on the trail and flew off through the bushes. Again we tried to guide his path from afar. Like a crashing plane, he finally dove into the bottom of the wash, terminating his flight abruptly in a pile of rocks. A few long seconds later he raised a fist, “I’m O.K.!”. “Well this isn’t starting off well…”, we thought.

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Well, that didn’t go as planned

The rest of us walked our bikes down the hill in a more controlled manner. Our friend had some sore ribs, and his knee had sprung a leak. Other than that, though, he was ready for some more riding. We followed a fun swooping singletrack leading down the canyon. Soon, the trail dropped down into the wash and made for some fun sandy riding with the fat tires. The colors in the canyon were changing continuously as we descended. I remember thinking that this was a trail I was going to start highly recommending to other riders.

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
This singletrack must go somewhere

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Spectators

Somewhere near the middle, we entered a wide spot in the canyon. Red dirt and rock were everywhere, and it looked like we could’ve been on Mars. Tall and steep mountains with scenic rocky cliffs surrounded us. The trail continued deeper into the canyon, so we kept following it.

Wilson Canyon Area

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
A way out maybe?

The canyon started to get narrow again, and we noticed that the motorcycle tracks had stopped. Soon we were in another slot canyon, with steep rocky sides. I felt that we must be near the bottom.

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Starting to get pretty narrow

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area

We were amazed at where we were riding and having a blast, but then we came to the end of the line. A dry waterfall cliff stopped us dead in our tracks. It looked possible we could hand the bikes down with some effort, so we sent a scout down to see what was around the corner. He came back a while later, and said that there was an even worse drop not far down the canyon and that it would take rappelling gear to get down it. We were done.

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
The end of the line

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Walled up

We knew we were close to the bottom, but there was nothing we could do. A post-ride analysis of the map showed that we were only 300 yards from the Walker River and highway! The only thing to do, though, was turn around and go back. This changed everyone’s mood pretty quickly. Water bottles were running low, and there was a long climb out of the canyon behind us. And that awful hill at the end! We started making our way back, a mix of riding and walking. We searched for a shortcut out of the canyon, but any exit we could find was really steep. We also didn’t know what we’d run into if we tried to climb out of the canyon a different way. It was better to stick with what we knew, even if we weren’t excited about it.

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
And then a chain breaks

Not far up the canyon, my son said his bike was making weird noises. I inspected the wheels, but found nothing. About a minute later, he announced that his chain had broke. The dark clouds literally gathered above our heads, and I felt a couple rain drops. I thought about the rain jackets that we had left back at the car. We thought about our friend that had skipped the ride in favor of some relaxing beach time in California, and wondered if maybe we shouldn’t have given him such a hard time. Could it be karma?

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Climbing back up

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Red dirt

We got the chain repaired without too much difficulty, though, and the rain never amounted to more than a few drops. It wasn’t long before we were at the top of the canyon, and at the bottom of the steep hill. This was the final push, and then it would be fairly easy getting back to the trailhead. We doubled up on the bikes at times, helping each other push them up the hill. I imagine even the motorized bikes have difficulty getting up this thing. We had a good rest at the top, happy that it was now time for a long downhill.

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Climbing back up the canyon headwall

Wilson Canyon
Push!

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
And now we rest

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
Mostly downhill back

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area

Mountain Biking the Wilson Canyon Area
End of a good ride

We arrived back at the trailhead without further incident, happy to be back and find more water in the vehicles. It had been a great adventure. Our canyon adventure had me wondering, though. Would we have gone down it if we knew it didn’t come out at the bottom? Probably not. I’m actually kind of thankful we didn’t know, because we would’ve missed all the rugged scenic beauty. Will I go back down there? I don’t know. We drove back into Smith Valley, not too hopeful that anything would be open this late on a Sunday evening. Much to our surprise, a Mexican restaurant named Rosie’s Place was open well into the night. In fact, it looked like this was the big night to go out in Smith Valley, as the place was packed. They seated us, bloody knees and all. Pitchers of cold water, Mexican beer, and huge plates of food made for the perfect end of an amazing day!

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7 thoughts on “Wilson Canyon Adventure

  1. Thanks for the great trip report. We rode out there today, but only a little over 4 miles into the canyon from the trailhead. Next time, we will have to try the longer route you describe.
    By the way, did any one in your party lose a Samsung cell phone battery. We found it on the slope at the bypass, and I have it if you know who lost it.
    Todd

      1. Nice area. The geology is very interesting, and the “Narrows”, albeit short, are a blast to ride through.
        Do you have a map with GPS layover of the other canyon your crew went into? I have been trying to figure out which canyon from the pictures, but having a difficult time on Google Earth.
        Thanks.

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