When I was searching for family friendly trails for myself and my travel companions, I started seeing the rumblings of White Owl Canyon at Lake Mead Recreational Area. A slot canyon, located just off Hole 33 at Lakeshore Road, the roundtrip 2 mile course seemed to be one that would be pretty simplistic to conquer.
When we arrived there was a little confusion as to where the start of the trail actually was since there was no trail marker. We had looked as to where the GPS had initially located, only to find a Kiosk with numerous trails marked, but not White Owl Canyon.
After we could not find the trailhead, we doubled back to the entrance to ask for assistance thinking clearly we couldn’t be the only ones missing this. The ranger on duty was more than happy to help, immediately letting me know that this was a very popular question as the website of nps.gov displays the name and description of the trail, but because it has been underwater and not open to the public it has not been marked.
I no longer felt like I was asking dumb questions…lol.
Back to Hole 33 we went to the first of three scenic turnouts. When reaching the parking area there were 4 picnic tables from the left you must go to the second picnic table to locate the trailhead.
Unfortunately, we misunderstood and took the second on the right, which also appears to have a trailhead through thick brush and debris. This is actually the path which water drains down the mountain… DO NOT TAKE THIS ONE!!
So since we made this wrong decision, I will say it made for an interesting hike downward. I was very confused as to how a trail used by so many could be so overgrown, but I think I validated the thought with knowing that many might not know of the trail since it was not marked. Wrong again!!
By the time we meandered downward into the wash area we finally caught glimpse of the actual trail, a very clear path making its way down the hillside at a much less harsh angle. We joined this trail and began a slight climb over a second rise.
The path is narrow but clear in places with scattered rocks and debris. If you have children with you there are a few places where you might need to give them a little assistance as they are a bit more slick.
By the time we reached the slot canyon entrance, the sun was masked a bit by the height of the canyon creating around a 15 degree drop in temperatures. It was a bit on the warm side on the day of our hike to White Owl so the drop was welcomed.
The canyon is named for its owl population which can be seen at various points. While we did not happen to see any on the day of our hike, the appearance of nests on the highest peaks was apparent. Owls are not reported to approach hikers regularly. As we travel with music on several hikes, the likelihood of encountering an animal which typically avoids sound was slim to none.
As you make your way through the canyon there are numerous points which can be used for rock scrambling, however the path itself only has a couple of large steps and slick surfaces after rains. Nevada rain can come unexpectedly and create for hazardous conditions in areas like these so being aware of your surroundings is a must.
The canyon has a total of 3 under road tunnels to pass through, the first of which is the longest. Must say this was a personal favorite for me, it was so unique to pass through nature into something so industrial and then emerge back into nature. As my eyes were adjusting from dark back to light the world itself just opened up with so much vivid color and it was amazing!!
The first tunnel stands alone while the other two are together at the very end of the trail. While both are the same length, because of their placement only a few feet from one another the sunlight enters each so differently making for varied perspectives from each.
After we had emerged from the canyon and were heading back toward the car on the correct course I noticed that the final hike up the mountain, while a lot less brush covered and steep, was slick in a few areas because of loose gravel and debris. I recommend taking this part a bit slower and take a break if you struggle with hills and easily get winded.
Tips For This Hike:
Pack A Light Jacket - If it is warm outside still have a light jacket in tow for the canyon, especially for windy days the winds can sweep through the canyon quickly and not only add a gust of cold to your hike but also carry silt.
Hiking Stick - On any hike, especially those with loose ground or potential mud a hiking stick can be a helpful tool to combating slipping or strain.
Watch For Animals - This area is known for owls which can fly low at times. While they typically are not known to attack, they can be scary to encounter.
Headlamp or Flashlight - For the tunnel you might want to consider bringing a light to illuminate your path and animals in hiding.