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White Owl Canyon Route
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Lake Mead National Recreation Area
White Owl Canyon
White Owl Canyon
Trailhead (Wpt. 01)

Overview

White Owl Canyon is a short slot canyon near the edge of Lake Mead where flowing water cut down through conglomerate rock. The walls are sinuous and sculpted for about 1/2-mile, but the narrowest section is fairly short. Even so, this hike is well worth the effort required to walk 2 miles out and back.

The canyon was named for the white owls (Barn Owls) that live in the canyon. Keep an eye out for "white wash" (owl poop) on the rock walls for an indication of where they live, and watch the ground for pellets, oblong clumps of bone and fur (owl barf), to learn about what the owls have been eating.

Unfortunately, hikers flush the Barn Owls off their roost, so it might be best to stay out of this area during early spring when owls might be nesting.

White Owl Canyon
Starting down erosion gully (Wpt. 01)

Link to map or elevation profile.

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this is a fairly safe hike. There are some places where a hiker could strike his head on overhanging rocks in narrow parts of the canyon, but there are no unusual hazards. Stay out of narrow canyons if flash floods threaten.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, this hike is fairly short, so just bring what you need of the 10 Essentials.

White Owl Canyon
Contouring into the canyon

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located along Lakeshore Drive in Lake Mead National Recreation Area, about 30 minutes southeast of Las Vegas.

From Las Vegas, drive out to Lake Mead NRA. From the Las Vegas Wash entrance station (Table 1, Site 1020), continue east and then south for 3.8 miles to 33 Hole Road (Site 1017). Turn left and drive east on the access road towards the lake and picnic areas.

Alternatively, from Boulder City, drive out to the Boulder Beach entrance station (Site 1233), then continue north for 7.3 miles to 33 Hole Road (Site 1017). Turn right and drive east on the access road towards the lake and picnic areas.

White Owl Canyon
Mouth of White Owl Canyon (Wpt. 04)

33 Hole Road leads to three scenic overlooks, each with a different name. Turn left towards Three-Island Overlook and drive into the parking lot at the end of the road (Site 01). Park here, this is the trailhead.

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 2, Waypoint 01), the route runs past the west-most picnic table and heads down over the side of the steep hill following an erosion gully to the flats below (Wpt. 02).

White Owl Canyon
Inside lower narrows

On the flats (Wpt. 02), which are the now-dry lake bed, the route continues west through saltcedar thickets following use-trails that lead onto north-facing hillsides. Following the contour around, the route passes a bit of a point (Wpt. 03) and turns southwest into White Owl Canyon (Wpt. 04).

At a fork near the mouth of the canyon (Wpt. 05), the route stays in the left fork (more to the south) and ascends the canyon. Shortly, the walls steepen and become deep as the route enters the first narrows area, which are about 1/4-mile long.

The narrows were cut into solid bedrock by flowing water. The bedrock here is a type of conglomerate rock formed from ancient alluvial fan deposits. When alluvial fan deposits consolidate to become conglomerate rock, geologist call it "fanglomerate" rock, combining the terms "alluvial fan" and "conglomerate."

White Owl Canyon
Sculpted fanglomerate rock wall

Winding through the narrows, watch for big splashes of "white wash" high on the rock walls. The white wash is Barn Owl poop. Lower in the canyon, small patches of bird poop reveal the presence of smaller birds, probably Rock Wrens and Say's Phoebes, but these spots of bird poop (even when they build up in little piles under rock overhangs) are quite small compared to the spray of white wash produced by Barn Owls.

White Owl Canyon
Lower narrows

Beneath the white wash produced by the owls, look for owl pellets. These are oblong clumps of bone and fir that were regurgitated by the owls. The pellets usually are 2- 3 inches long by about 1-inch in diameter.

Barn owls eat their prey entire without ripping it apart, so they consume everything, including the indigestible parts. They can't pass these parts, so they cough them back up and spit them out in pellets (that resemble dog poop).

White Owl Canyon
Culvert under Lakeshore Drive (Wpt. 06)

Just beyond the last of the white wash on the rock walls, the narrow canyon opens abruptly just below Lakeshore Road. A culvert runs under the road (Wpt. 06), which provides easy access to the other side of the road.

Continuing upstream, the canyon narrows again just above Lakeshore Road. It is deep and narrow, but not as deep nor as narrow as the canyon below Lakeshore Road. The narrow section here is about 1/4-miles long.

White Owl Canyon
Inside the culvert under Lakeshore Drive

The canyon runs up against the old Lakeshore Road, now the River Mountains Loop Trail, and hikers can cross under the road in either of two culverts. Shortly beyond the far side of the culverts, the canyon opens into a broad, gravel wash. This is a good place to stop and relax, sitting in the sun or the shade depending on season.

When ready to return to the trailhead, turn around, follow your footprints back down the wash, and enjoy another hike through the narrows.

White Owl Canyon Upper narrows. The upper narrows are deep and narrow, but not as deep nor as narrow as the canyon below Lakeshore Road.
White Owl Canyon Dual culverts under the old Lakeshore Road (Wpt. 07), which has been converted to the River Mountain Loop Trail.
White Owl Canyon Above the narrows (view towards Wpt. 08), the narrow canyon opens into a broad, gravel wash full of cheesebush, brittlebush, and other species typical of the Creosote-Bursage habitat type.
White Owl Canyon One of several Barn Owl roost sites. Watch the rock walls for white wash, and look beneath the roost sites for owl pellets. Pellets are coughed up, not pooped out, so they are relatively clean and safe to pick up and examine. Often large leg and arm bones are evident on the surface, and skulls and jaws are easy to see. In January 2011, it looked like the owls had been eating lots of desert woodrats, but in this area, they probably eat plenty of kangaroo rats too.

Table 1. Highway Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Latitude (N) Longitude (W) Elevation (ft) Verified
1017 Lakeshore Rd at 33 Hole Rd 694006 3997679 36.10621 114.84474 1,316 Yes
1020 Las Vegas Wash Entrance Stn 689000 3997470 36.10531 114.90037 1,602 Yes
1233 Lakeshore Rd at Boulder Entrance Stn 698668 3988316 36.02092 114.79535 1,440 GPS
1234 Three-Island Overlook 694130 3998261 36.11143 114.84322 1,234 GPS

Table 2. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27, UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi) Verified
01 Trailhead 694116 3998273 1,234 0.00 0.00 GPS
02 Lakebed Flats 694057 3998341 1,145 0.06 0.06 GPS
03 Turning into Canyon 693874 3998350 1,154 0.12 0.18 GPS
04 Canyon Narrows 693662 3998208 1,163 0.17 0.35 GPS
05 Fork in Canyon 693645 3998166 1,175 0.04 0.39 GPS
06 First Culvert 693337 3997936 1,264 0.27 0.66 GPS
07 Second Culvert 693074 3997595 1,355 0.28 0.94 GPS
08 End of My Trail 692897 3997438 1,407 0.16 1.10 GPS
01 Trailhead 694116 3998273 1,234 1.10 2.20 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 120426

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