Horse Thief Canyon Loop | Mt Wilson, Black Mountains | Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Arizona
Overview – Horse Thief Canyon Loop | Mt. Wilson, Black Mountains, Arizona, Adjacent to Lake Mead National Recreation Area
This adventure has got to win an award for variety of terrain including 6 miles of unpaved roads, traversing a few miles up the entire length of a rugged mountain canyon with beautiful springs, an 800 foot scramble up the avalanche slope side of the canyon, a short class 3 rock climb and a descent down a 2-mile ridge with incredible views of Lake Mead, Potosi Mountain, the Rainbow Mountains, La Madre Mountains Wilderness, Mt Charleston Wilderness, Gass Peak, the Sheep Range, Frenchman Mountain, Fortification Hill, the Hoover Dam area, and additional points to the South and to the East. This third adventure in the Mt. Wilson area stops just 2-300 hundred feet in elevation short of Mt. Wilson summit. Next time!! View the Mt. Wilson page on this site for that adventure when it occurs.
Trailhead Directions – Horse Thief Canyon Loop | Mt. Wilson, Black Mountains Adjacent to Lake Mead National Recreation Area
The adventure begins at the Arizona Hot Springs trailhead on Arizona Highway 93, 4 miles South of the Nevada/Arizona border. Instead of crossing under the highway as you would if headed toward Arizona Hot Springs and Liberty Bell Arch, travel in the opposite direction up Horse Thief Canyon Road, the unpaved road that branches off from the trailhead parking area.
Route Description – Horse Thief Canyon Loop | Mt. Wilson, Black Mountains, Arizona, Adjacent to Lake Mead National Recreation Area
From Highway 93 to Upper Horse Thief Canyon (about 3 miles)
From it’s starting point at the trailhead parking area on Highway 93, head East up Horse Thief Canyon Road for about 3 miles until that road ends at a pretty substantial dry waterfall cliff. About 1/4th mile from the end of Horse Thief Canyon Road you’ll notice a ridge on your left. Ascend that ridge at an early point and continue to rise above Horse Thief Canyon Road. The ridge parallels Horse Thief Canyon Road (which will be below you and to the right). You’ll eventually arrive at a pass above and to the left (North) of the dry waterfall. Continue to skirt above the Northern edge of the dry waterfall, then descend into upper Horse Thief Canyon beyond the dry waterfall. There is a faint trail to guide you around and above the dry waterfall.
Upper Horse Thief Canyon to the Two Horse Thief Canyon Springs
Once you’ve descended into upper Horse Thief Canyon, continue and within about 1/4th to 1/2th mile you will reach the first of two beautiful, lush springs. The second is only about 1000 feet further up the canyon. At this point if you were going for the Western Summit Approach Ridge you’d take a right up a neighboring canyon for about 1/8th mile, then ascend the ridge and continue upward to Mt. Wilson summit.
Continuing Beyond the Springs to the Second Dry Waterfall Barrier in Horse Thief Canyon
However, for the loop adventure continue along the base of Horse Thief Canyon as it winds along toward Mt. Wilson. Stay to the left to find a way through the abundant brush of the second spring. As you continue up Horse Thief Canyon there will be a few more blocked areas you will bypass by circling above and to the left as you did at the original dry waterfall. Eventually there will be a second huge dry waterfall cliff. Again, circle above and to the left in a much wider circle. You’ll ascend a small wash to the left, the head up it’s ridge to the right of the wash, then descend to the South and cross another large intervening wash before arriving above that second larger dry waterfall. Here you can resume your advance up Horse Thief Canyon.
Beyond the Second Huge Dry Waterfall, to the Base of Mt. Wilson, Then Up the Avalanche Slope and Headwall to the Mt. Wilson Western Summit Approach Ridge
Continue to ascend Horse Thief Canyon above that second dry waterfall. There will be a lot of brush, but not horribly difficult to weave in, around and through. You’re now closing in on the very upper end of Horse Thief Canyon at the base of Mt. Wilson. At this point I took a hard right and ascended a ridge which turned into a pretty steep avalanche slope up the South wall of Horse Thief Canyon not far from Mt. Wilson’s summit. This wall landed me on the upper Western Summit Approach Ridge. There is a chest-high head wall just below the ridge that requires pulling yourself over some vertical rocks, but with little to no exposure. The rocks are solid this high on the ridge and therefore fairly secure. Looking back down that avalanche slope you just ascended and down to the base of Horse Thief Canyon makes this stretch pretty impressive.
Descending the Mt. Wilson Western Summit Approach Ridge and Return to Highway 93
On this day, once on the upper Western Summit Approach Ridge, I took a left and headed back down the ridge to its base and then circled around back into Horse Thief Canyon, passed the two springs, and then retraced my way back to Horse Thief Canyon Road. So ended a pretty huge and interesting loop on the West side of Mt. Wilson! During the adventure I was treated to a few beautiful springs in Horse Thief Canyon, a wild ascent up a steep avalanche slope and finally a descent down a a major ridge with spectacular views of the surrounding canyons, Lake Mead, the Hoover Dam area, Las Vegas Strip and beyond all the way to the Mt. Charleston Wilderness and its surrounding mountains!
Horse Thief Canyon Loop Distance and Time Estimate
A wild guess has the total distance covered at about 20 miles. It took me between 9 and 10 hours due to the time navigating washes, ridges and avalanche slopes.