The Nevada Traveler: The sweet surprise that is Wilson Canyon

View of the West Walker River as it flows through the spectacular rock walls of Wilson Canyon.

View of the West Walker River as it flows through the spectacular rock walls of Wilson Canyon.

Wilson Canyon is a narrow rock passageway in the Singatse Range, which separates Smith Valley from Mason Valley in Western Nevada. Stretching some three miles, the canyon is an unexpected scenic treasure that is also popular with off-road vehicle enthusiasts.
The canyon’s spectacular reddish-gray-colored volcanic rock walls were carved by the West Walker River, which runs through the canyon before intersecting with the East Walker River a few miles to the east.
Located 13 miles southwest of Yerington, Wilson Canyon was named for brothers David and William “Uncle Billy” Wilson, who settled in the area in 1863.
David Wilson who was born in Ohio in 1829 and raised in Missouri, headed to California in 1850 to seek his fortune as a gold placer miner on the Yuba River. Three years later, he returned to Missouri and, in 1855, married Abigail Butler of Ohio.
Following service in the union army during the Civil War, David Wilson and his wife and family returned to the west, this time heading to Nevada, where his brother, William Wilson was mining.
The brothers settled in the Wilson Canyon/Mason Valley area, where David became a successful rancher, while William who had previously worked as a miner in Virginia City, continued to seek his fortunes in the region’s mountains.
In 1866, William struck it rich in the Pine Grove area. While David would spend the rest of his life in the Mason Valley area, becoming a prominent rancher and community leader, William made and eventually spent a fortune developing mining properties in Pine Grove.
William died nearly penniless in Pine Grove in 1911 at the age of 80. His brother, David, died four years later in the Mason Valley home of his friend, John McGowen, at the age of 85.
An interesting side note is that in addition to his own sons, David Wilson took in and raised a young northern Paiute boy named Wovoka, who also took the name Jack Wilson. Wovoka would later become an important native American religious figure and leader, who started the Ghost Dance Movement in 1890.
From 1910 to the late 1940s, the Nevada Copper Belt Railroad line ran through the canyon.
In more recent decades, the Bureau of Land Management has maintained a recreation area for day-use and overnight camping, which is located at the western edge of the canyon. Camping is primitive with no utility hook-ups and on-site vault restrooms.
The recreation area is popular with all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts and dirt-bikers, who can travel on some three-and-a-half miles of trails in the area.
Additionally, the Wilson Canyon Nature Trail, developed in 2011 with assistance from the state of Nevada, Lyon County and local volunteers is a 3.5-mile loop that offers beautiful views of the area.
Lining the trail, which is rated moderate, are a handful of signs that help hikers identify various plants and animals (including mule deer, waterfowl and raptors, found in the area. You will also find petrified wood stumps and other fossils along the way.
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