White Owl Canyon Rock Formations

Lake Mead’s Best Hike: White Owl Canyon

White Owl Canyon Hike – At a Glance

Round Trip Mileage~3.6 Miles
Elevation Gain~225′
Parking LotOwl Canyon Trailhead, Boulder City, NV 89005
Highest Elevation1425′
Average Time1.5 – 2 hours
Difficulty Moderate
Entrance Fees$25 Day pass or America the Beautiful Pass (Pricing subject to change)
Rating5 Mooses

Related: Watch the video of our experience at White Owl Canyon.

Know before you go

  • The trail is not well marked and it’s easy to get turned around. We recommend downloading a map you can use offline with GPS coordinates to ensure you don’t go off route. Alltrails.com has a great app you can use. Some features are free to use and others require an annual subscription. The free version worked for us on this trail about 50% of the time. The cell service was spotty and we needed that to see the map. It was still great to have as we did get turned around.
  • The parking lot was about 25% full when we arrived around 10 AM on a Saturday. We believe the distance from Vegas, the national park fee and the cooler weather kept the crowds down.
  • Dogs are allowed on the trail as long as they are kept on a leash (no more than 6 feet long). Keep in mind if you take your pup, they may struggle on a few areas of the trail that required a moderate scramble down a 8-10 foot rock wall.
  • There are no services nearby this trail, so be sure to bring your own food, water and the 10 hiking essentials.

How to get to the Trailhead

The White Owl Canyon Hike is located at: 33 Hole Overlook, Boulder City, NV 89005, inside the Lake Mead National Park.

The trailhead is approximately 29 miles from the Las Vegas strip and can be reached in about 35 minutes.

Map to White Owl Canyon trailhead via 33 hole road
Map of White Owl Canyon Area

You’ll need an America the Beautiful Pass to enter the park or pay the $25 entry fee for a day pass (good for 7 days).

White Owl Canyon Trail

The trail starts at the first parking lot to your left as you enter the 33 Hole Road. You’re first met with a picnic area and some warning signs about the trail (not to mention a fabulous view of the canyon).

Picnic Area Shelter at White Owl Canyon trailhead
Picnic Area
Owl Canyon trailhead warning signs
Warning Signs

Even though this trail is rated as moderate, there’s only a couple spots on the trail that give hikers a pause, and the first is the steep trail down to the Valley floor. It’s slick due to the loose gravel and steep incline. Watch your footing as you head down.

Overlook to white owl canyon
Overlook at start of White Owl Canyon

After making your way down the steep incline, the path widens out and takes you towards the first set of canyons this trail is known for.

Man walking on path at White Owl Canyon trail
The start of the White Owl Canyon trail

The first set of canyons you’ll come across is arguably the most impressive. Towering above you on all sides, the path slopes gently through the canyon

Slot canyon with walls 20 feet tall

Asian Clams at White Owl Canyon

You may be surprised to find hundreds of white shells dotting the landscape throughout your hike.

The shells are a type of Asian fresh water clam that were thought to have been accidentally introduced to Lake Mead back in the 1960s. The clams are believed to have been transported to the U.S. over 100 years ago and slowly spread across the country. They are considered an invasive species.

Seashell resting on dry parched cracking desert land
Seashells along the White Owl Canyon trail

At one point, much of the White Owl Canyon trail was underwater and as the lake receded the clam shells were left behind. You can read more about the clams arrival here.

Spotting the elusive Great Horned Owls

A huge draw to visiting the canyons is a chance to spot see some great horned owls (or barn owl), which make their home in the area.

Great Horned Owl
Jessie Eastland, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, no owls were out and about the day we were there, but you can see above what type of owls are located in the area. This particular owl was found in the nearby Mojave desert.

Culverts on the trail

Throughout the trail you’ll find several culverts that go underneath the main road in the area.

Culverts going beneath a bike pass
Culverts on the White Owl Canyon Loop

For anyone who has seen the classic horror movie “The Cube” that came out in the late 90s, you’ll know you’re finally going to make it out of the maze. Just walk into the light…

A women walking through a ribbed culvert

At least this tunnel has a happy ending, as it leads to a gorgeous canyon of red rocks!

Red rock hills along white owl canyon trail
Red rock hills on the trail

When you see the red rocks on your left, be on the look out for a nondescript rock arrow on the ground. When you see the arrow, follow it!

We saw a couple standing by the arrow (which leads uphill to towards a bike path), and they looked pretty tired. We found out instead of turning at the arrow, they kept going straight towards some hills. They ran into a dead-end and had to back-track.

A bike bath meandering through the desert
Bike Path that goes around Lake Mead

After heading up the hill, you’ll intersect with a very nice bike path (which traces Lake Mead). Be sure to turn left (North East), which is a little counterintuitive.

You’ll only be on the bike path about 0.25 miles before hanging a right to get back on the main trail.

Yellow wild flowers in a canyon
Flowers on White Owl Canyon Trail

Once you’re back on the trail, you get to enjoy the second set of canyons. This one includes some rocky terrain and an area where you have to climb down a 8-10 ft rock wall (this is the second area that makes this a moderate hike). It was pretty easy to navigate, but may give some less nimble hikers a bit of trouble (unfortunately I missed getting a picture of the area).

Rocks running through a canyon that sometimes fill with water
Canyon Rock Formations

On the back side of the trail, you’ll be met with an expansive view of the valley with Lake Mead in the background and large rock formations.

A receding Lake Mead
Lake Mead
A large rock formation with a wandering path through the desert.
Rock Formations on White Owl Canyon trail

The final stretch of the trail leads back to join the original path. In the distance is the final path that leads back to the parking lot.

Sage brush in a desert landscape
In the distance, the trail back to the parking lot

Is hiking the White Owl Canyon Trail worth it?

Rating: 5 Mooses

5 Mooses Rating

We were excited to check out this trail based on the pictures we could find online, but they really didn’t capture the splendor of this hike. The hike is a perfect blend of a short distance, an ever changing landscape and a variety of fun obstacles to keep you entertained along the way.

A beautiful valley at the start of the trail quickly transforms into the canyon walls the hike is famous for. There are multiple culverts to explore, some moderate scrambling on the trail and then a final payoff of beautiful stone structures towering off the desert floor where, if you’re lucky, you might spy a beautiful owl. The best part was that even on a Saturday morning the crowds were light.

Verdict: A must visit if you’re in the Lake Mead Area.

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