Northwestern Nevada

High Rock Canyon

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Take in the same panoramic view that 19th-century explorer John C. Fremont did. Discover fish left over from prehistoric times in the cool depths of Mahogany Canyon. Look out over the windswept remnants of ancient lava flows that shaped this area. Here in the High Rock Canyon Wilderness, history exists on a whole other scale.

Wilderness Reference Map

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About High Rock Canyon Wilderness

The High Rock Canyon Wilderness extends over 46,464 acres, and is bordered on the northeast by High Rock Canyon, which lies just outside the Wilderness Area.

White, gray, orange, and brown rock formations combine with the bright green of the canyon floors in vivid contrast to the grey green of sagebrush. With a 360-degree panorama of valleys, terraces, and mountain ranges that opens up into 60-mile vistas, walking through this wilderness can feel like you’re walking in a painting.

One of the must-see features of this area is the Mahogany Creek side canyon that comes off High Rock Canyon. Here, you’ll find places where the sheer, dark basalt walls narrow into slot canyons where you can touch both sides.

Beneath your feet is highly sculpted, water-eroded, smooth bedrock, punctuated by the occasional pool of water. Amazingly, these pools contain desert fish left over from the days when prehistoric Lake Lahontan filled the Great Basin.

The walls of the Mahogany Creek side canyon are also alive with nesting birds. Swarming swallows are highlighted against the narrow slice of blue sky hundreds of feet above you.

If you continue climbing above the headwaters of Mahogany Creek, you come out onto the windswept, rolling basalt plateaus, very different from much of the Great Basin landscape.

These are the remnants of the massive black lava flows that shaped the area some 17 million years ago. From this plateau, you can also see deep gashes in the rock left by the tectonic forces that formed the northern Calico Mountains and North Black Rock range 9 million years ago.

“It was a singular place to travel through shut up in the earth, a sort of chasm, the little strip of grass under our feet, the rough walls of bare rock on either hand, and the narrow strip of sky above.” John C. Fremont’s description of High Rock Canyon, 1843

High Rock Canyon Wilderness remains unaltered from the days when John C. Fremont first mapped the adjacent High Rock Canyon, and thousands of emigrant wagon trains followed on the Applegate-Lassen Trail.

You can explore the historic Applegate Lassen Emigrant Trail by visiting High Rock Canyon, which is outside the High Rock Canyon Wilderness, and contains a rough jeep trail that is open to vehicles (see seasonal closure information below).

In addition to Mahogany Canyon, other side canyons in the area make excellent choices for day hiking and backpacking. Hunting for deer, antelope, bighorn, and chukar is also popular in the area.

Four-wheel driving and mountain biking enthusiasts will find many opportunities on the rugged dirt routes that form the boundaries of this Wilderness.

High Rock Canyon Wildlife

  • Golden Eagles
  • Prairie Falcons
  • Long-nosed Leopard Lizard
  • Zebra-tailed Lizard
  • Great Basin Rattlesnake
  • Gopher Snake
  • Mule Deer
  • Mountain Lion
  • Pronghorn Antelope
  • Bobcat
  • Desert Cottontail
  • Chukar
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Greater Sage-grouse
  • Wild Horses
  • Bighorn Sheep

How to Get to High Rock Canyon

The High Rock Canyon Wilderness is located in western Humboldt and northern Washoe Counties about 40 miles southeast of Cedarville, CA.

High Rock Canyon Road (high clearance 4-wheel drive recommended) can be accessed from Washoe County 8A and Stevens Camp Road from the north, or from Washoe County Road 34 and High Rock Lake Road (high clearance 4-wheel drive recommended) from the south.

High Rock Canyon Road is closed each year between the end of chukar hunting season (around February 1st) until the second weekend in May to minimize human disturbance on nesting raptors and lambing bighorn sheep.