High Rock Canyon Wilderness is located in the northwest corner of the State of Nevada and managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The area comprises 46,365 acres and is bordered by the East Fork High Rock Canyon Wilderness to the north and Little High Rock Canyon Wilderness on the south.
High Rock Canyon Wilderness is a volcanic upland situated at 4900 to 5800 feet above sea level. The canyon areas display white, gray, orange, and brown rock formations which give the canyon walls a colorful “painted” feel. The area is threaded through with the deep drainages of High Rock Canyon, Yellow Rock Canyon, Grassy Canyon, and picturesque Mahogany Canyon. These canyons receive precipitation and have water sources creating vegetation such as sagebrush and willows in riparian areas that in turn support local wildlife. The contrasting sagebrush, green vegetation on the canyon floors, and colorful rocks, along with the 60 mile wide, 360-degree panoramic views from elevated areas of the surrounding valleys and canyon floors, terraces, and mountainous terrain create spectacular scenery for visitors to enjoy.
Large mammals that can be spotted in the area include bighorn sheep, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, mountain lions, and coyotes. The area also contains avian wildlife such as sage grouse and provides nesting sites along canyon walls for raptors. Wildlife watching, backcountry camping, and hiking are all popular recreational activities in the wilderness. The historic Applegate-Lassen Emigrant Trail is located in the High Rock Canyon on the eastern boundary of the wilderness area. More information on the wilderness region can be found at Black Rock Desert- High Rock Canyon- Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area.
High Rock Canyon Wilderness is located entirely within Nevada, in the west section of Humboldt and the north section of Washoe County, about 40 miles southeast of Cedarville, California. To access the wilderness area you will require a high clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle. The area is not appropriate for RVs and tow vehicles which can remain at BLM campgrounds in the region.
To reach the High Rock Canyon Wilderness use Washoe County Road 8A and the Stevens Camp Road from the north side or if approaching from the south, Washoe County Road 34 and High Rock Lake Road, also called High Rock Canyon Road. High Rock Canyon Road is the most commonly used access, and it is a 4x4 jeep trail. The trail is closed between January 31 and May 14 annually to protect sensitive nesting sites used by raptors and the lambing grounds of California Bighorn Sheep.
Services are widely dispersed in this remote area. It is recommended when you are traveling in the Nevada backcountry that you are prepared and that your vehicle is well maintained with topped up fluid levels. Cellular service is spotty and a spare tire and patch kit, extra fuel, food, and water are recommended when exploring the area in high clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Camping for RVers in the High Rock Canyon Wilderness area at BLM managed sites can be found at Divine Springs Campground about a two-hour drive west. There are five sites with metal fire rings/barbeque pit sites and picnic tables at the campground. Sites accommodate tents and RVs under 24 feet in length. A small stream that is fenced off from livestock runs through the campground.
Stevens Camp is about a two-hour drive south and is located in the High Rock Canyon. This campground has four sites and is a secluded location that accommodates RVs up to 27 feet in length. Amenities at this site include a public cabin with running water and vault toilets. Sites have picnic tables and fire rings with grills.
Soldier Meadows is about 90 minutes east of the High Rock wilderness area. This campground has seven camping pads that accommodate RVs, and a public cabin. There are no amenities here and you will need to bring your own firewood, water, and other supplies for your stay.
Backcountry primitive camping is permitted on Bureau of Land Management public lands at High Rock Canyon Wilderness. This is a desert environment and backpackers and campers should be aware of desert camping techniques, see How To Camp In The Desert for more information. Backcountry campers should adhere to “Leave No Trace Principles”. See High Rock Canyon Guide for details.
Sites on hard ground should be reused to minimize disruption to the environment, and campers can only stay for a maximum of 14 days at one site. All trash must be packed out and there are restrictions on gathering firewood and open fire sites. Check local regulations, road conditions and weather advisories prior to your stay.
The High Rock Canyon Road is a high clearance, 4 x 4 trail that provides access to the High Rock Canyon Wilderness, but lies just outside the wilderness boundaries. This rough jeep trail is a great way to recreate in the area in the offseason or when summer temperatures are too high to comfortably accommodate foot travel.
Admire the pristine wilderness and colorful canyon walls from the jeep trail, and keep an eye out for area wildlife. The trail is closed from the end of Chukar hunting season until mid-May to protect nesting and lambing sites used by local raptors and bighorn sheep.
The Applegate-Lassen Trail is a historic trail passing through the High Rock Canyon on the western boundary of the High Rock Canyon Wilderness area. This trail is a 130 miles section of the longer Applegate and Lassen Trails. It was an important migratory trail for settlers passing through the area starting in 1842 to reach Oregon.
The High Rock Canyon area is an important site on the trail as it passes through 15 miles of tablelands that are recorded in the journal of many historic travelers passing through the region. Emigrants painted their names on canyon walls and in caves which can still be seen. There are 19 historic sites on the 130-mile stretch, and traces of the historic trail are still visible. Hiking the trail in this area is best conducted in the fall when temperatures are cooler.
The Soldier Meadow Hot Springs are located about a 90-minute drive to the east of High Rock Canyon Wilderness. The hot springs have a main pool with a parking lot where you can jump right in, or hike down the creek to the six other hot spring pools.
This is a BLM area and there is a campground and private cabin available for use by visitors in the area. During the cooler months of the offseason, the hot springs are an excellent way to warm up in a unique natural environment.
High Rock Canyon Wilderness’s Mahogany Creek Canyon is a side canyon coming off the High Rock Canyon. This area has sheer cliff faces with dark basalt walls and narrow slot canyons. Explore the narrow side canyons, where you can almost touch both sides, while exploring the area and check out the bird activity above that fills the visible slices of blue sky.
Discover water pools filled with desert fish, holdovers from an ancient lake, on the canyon surfaces which are frequently carpeted with smooth bedrock. This is a geological wonderland that creates an otherworldly environment wilderness enthusiasts will love.
The sheltered canyons contain water sources that support local flora and fauna. Pools on canyon floors are sheltered from the harsh sun and provide habitat for desert fish. A variety of avian species nest on the cliff walls including golden eagles, prairie falcons, hawks and owls. Quail, grouse, and chukar make their home on the canyon floors.
Large mammals include pronghorn, bighorn sheep, mule deer, cougars, coyotes, bobcats, and even the occasional wild horse. Long-nosed leopard lizards, zebra-tailed lizards, great basin rattlesnake, and gopher snakes are common in the area. Hunting in season is permitted. Access to the area is restricted during the spring when nesting and lambing activities take place.
The Burning Man festival takes place on the playa to the south in the Black Rock Desert, where annually the Black Rock City forms in the late summer for the week-long festival. This is a one of a kind event celebrating community and art with 70 000 visitors annually. Safety and rules are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Detailed information can be found at Burning Man Event.
If you are planning on attending this event, it is held about a two and a half-hour drive south of the High Rock Canyon Wilderness, so you can explore the pristine wilderness area before or after attending Burning Man. Check out What to Expect so you can be prepared for this once in a lifetime experience!