The Calico Mountains Wilderness is a 64,969-acre wilderness area that is part of the Black Rock Desert - High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area, located in the Calico Hills, and managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The High Rock Lake Wilderness borders the wilderness area in the State of Nevada.
The area was designated as a preservation wilderness area in 2000. It is known for its colorful mountain range from which the name “Calico,” or many-colored, is derived. Multi-layered rock formations with brilliant displays of different hued sediments, and rock exposed by erosion, provide spectacular scenery, especially in the Mormon Dan and Petrified Canyons. These areas offer pristine, remote, natural beauty you won't want to miss while visiting the area.
The wilderness area is about 17 miles long and seven miles long and has elevations ranging from 3950 to 800 feet above sea level. Vegetation such as sagebrush, saltbush, and greasewood can be found at the lower elevations, with willows, cottonwoods, and aspens growing along streams and creeks on the canyon floors. Water supplies in the region are not constant year-round, and should not be relied upon when hiking and backcountry camping in the region
Recreational activities in the Calico Mountains Wilderness include wildlife watching, including spotting wild horses that roam the area, desert photography, rockhounding, hiking, and backcountry camping. The climate in the Calico Mountains Wilderness is extreme, with summer temperatures reaching over 100 F and cold winters that can see sub-freezing temperatures of -20 F. The peak seasons are spring and fall, when temperatures are less extreme and permit activities in the wilderness areas.
Those interested in primitive RV camping in the region can check out Nevada RV Rentals to access a great unit and get started on their Nevada Desert adventure.
The Calico Mountains Wilderness is located in the county of Humboldt, Nevada. Access to the area is via the Soldier Meadows Road, on the east side of the wilderness area.
Travelers in the area should be aware that the region has poor cell phone coverage, and those needing reliable communications in the wilderness area require satellite phones. Ensure you have a good map of the region, or satellite navigational tools before venturing into the wilderness areas, as GPS information may not be accessible on cellular devices.
Vehicles in the area will be subject to extreme temperatures with temperatures routinely soaring over 100 F in summer and sub-freezing winter temperatures. Ensure your vehicle is in good condition, fluid levels are topped up, and take extra water in case it is required. Also, never leave passengers, children, or pets in a parked vehicle in the region during hot summer months when temperatures can quickly reach lethal levels.
Many of the access roads in and around the Calico Mountains Wilderness are rough and naturally surfaced, and not appropriate for RVs and trailers. Four-wheel drive vehicles with high clearances are required to access many of the backcountry trails and wilderness sites.
RVs and tow vehicles can access camping in some Black Rock Desert sites such as at the Playa location where Black Rock City is set up annually for the “Burning Man” event.
The nearest RV campgrounds are several hours' drive away from this remote wilderness area. However, overnight primitive camping in the Calico Mountains Wilderness and larger Black Rock Desert - High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation area is permitted in the Bureau of Land Management public lands.
Camping opportunities consists of vehicle camping opportunities on the Black Rock Playa and within 50 yards of designated routes, and off-trail backpack camping in the wilderness areas. Designated, restricted camping areas are available at Soldier Meadows ACEC, Stevens Camp, Massacre Ranch, and High Rock Canyon areas, and unrestricted camping is available in other BLM wilderness backcountry. Campsites at the Black Rock Playa should be set up separate from the fenced-off Coyote Springs Dunes. Previous camping locations have been established at the end of the Cherry Stem Routes and near hot springs, including Trego, Black Rock, and Double Hot. Primitive campsites are also established at Casiday Mine, Flowing Wells, and between the playa at Soldier Meadows Road.
Fires are subject to rules and regulations and should be contained in rings, elevated, and completely extinguished before leaving unattended. Primitive camping in the backcountry of the desert comes with challenges and hazards. Check out How to Camp in the Desert for helpful tips on successful camping trips in desert wilderness areas.
While backcountry camping, remember to use previously used sites with hard ground to minimize disruption to the landscape and choose sites at least 300 feet away from water sources. Utilize “Leave No Trace” principles, including proper waste disposal and respect for wildlife and other visitors. Bring your own firewood as deadfall gathering in the wilderness areas is not permitted.
Admire the colorful geological formations that give the area its name. Millennia of erosion by wind and water have revealed multi-color sediment layers on rock formations and canyon walls, giving the desert wilderness a “painted” feel.
In the spring, the limited rainfall in this season results in a further riot of color, as desert wildflowers take advantage of the moisture. There are amazing views of the wilderness region from the summits of Donnelly and South Donnelly Peaks for the adventurous who are willing to brave the steep treks.
The Emigrant Trail is a feature of the larger Black Rock Desert - High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation area. This hiking trail is situated on the eastern side of the range.
Hiking all over the national conservation area and in the BLM lands at Calico Mountains Wilderness is a popular activity during the peak seasons of spring and fall when temperatures are less extreme. There are few designated trails, but hiking along the canyon floors and informal paths on the lower reaches of the canyon walls will provide beautiful wilderness terrain for day hikes or overnight backpackers.
Elevation changes and extreme temperatures are challenging, and hikers should be prepared with plenty of water, even during the spring and fall, and have adequate footwear for the harsh conditions.
Each year in late August-early September, the unique Burning Man event is held in the Black Rock Desert’s dry lake bed. Thousands of visitors flock to the area to create Black Rock City, a temporary camp on the Black Rock Desert Playa.
The events create a community dedicated to art, creativity, and self expression. This inclusive global community provides a week-long event with on-site camping. The “burning man” is the focal point of the event, located 1⁄4 mile north of the camp, and is burned on the last full night of the event. Details of the event can be found at Burning Man.
This remote wilderness area may be harsh for visitors, but it is just right for the native species that make the area their home. Mountainous terrain, lowlands with water sources and vegetation, and unique desert habitat support a variety of animal species.
While exploring the Calico Mountains Wilderness, you may spot bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, mountain lions, deer, eagles, hawks, pygmy short-horned lizards, and western fence lizards. The area has more recreational activity in the spring and fall, so the offseason may provide better wildlife watching opportunities when local critters are less disrupted by human activities.
Hunting is permitted during the appropriate game seasons in public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Species available for harvest in the area include game birds such as the Chukar, and mule deer or antelope.
All hunters must have valid permits and licenses for the State of Nevada. Check local regulations on BLM lands specific to the Calico Mountains Wilderness before proceeding as discharging firearms at certain sites and near recreational areas may be prohibited.
Calico Mountains Wilderness is the site of the Calico Mountains Herd Management Area which consists of 158,086 acres of BLM lands as well as other public and private lands contributing an additional 2745 acres.
In this area, desert scrub, vegetation in riparian areas, and mountain browse at higher elevations, support a population of wild horses. The horses are the descendants of ranch horses that either escaped or were abandoned into the area. The horses come in a variety of colors, much like the colorful region, including paint, palomino, buckskin, sorrel, bay, and brown and live in “family” groups.
You will have to be canny to get a glimpse of these cagey equines, but the sight of these feral horses in the pristine desert wilderness is a once in a lifetime experience reminiscent of the old west! During the winter months, these animals are more likely to be found on the canyon floors.