Finding freedom on Prison Hill in Carson City

An old abondoned truck gives Dead Truck Canyon Trail its name.

An old abondoned truck gives Dead Truck Canyon Trail its name.

While the name is not very inviting, Prison Hill should be one of the top destinations for easy recreational activity nearby.

The 2,500-acre area allows several options of access. This includes hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, equestrian use and motorized vehicle use (in designated area). The hiking trails range from short and easy to long and difficult.

It’s one of the best places to get a view of Carson City. Once things start to cool off, it is a wonderful place close to the city to exercise and enjoy nature. Geology hobbyists will appreciate the rock types. Birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts have plenty of wildlife to explore as well.

Many people frequent the easier, flat trails along the Carson River. Near Carson River Park, there are a few easy options that don’t change much in elevation. The River Trail is 0.7 miles. Another longer trail that follows the river to the Mexican Dam is the Mexican Ditch Trail at 1.6 miles. A short distance away from the river is the Valley View Loop. This 1.3-mile trail takes you around the agricultural fields and by the Silver Saddle Ranch.

These shorter trails are easily accessible and can be enjoyed by everyone. There is a restroom and a picnic area at the parking area.

Climbing the hill is when the hikes start to get difficult, but have no fear; all of the trails going up are gradual. Although they will take your breath away and tire you out, there shouldn’t be anything too strenuous for your average hiker.

A scenic route that has much to offer is the Dead Truck Canyon Trail. Named after an abandoned vehicle along the trail, this 1.7-mile trail starts near Silver Saddle Ranch and ends at a beautiful lookout on top of the hill. This trail cuts through the middle of Prison Hill in a canyon. You can see the dazzling rock formations jutting out of the top of the hill and possibly some birds of prey flying around.

For an easier, quick trail that gains elevation, park at the parking area at the corner of East 5th Street and Carson River Road. The North Loop Connector Trail is 2.1 miles and goes up the hill gradually.

There are two trails on the west entrance to the area. There is a parking by near the water tank near Koontz Lane. There is also a parking spot on Duarte Drive. The North Loop is a 3.8-mile trail that takes you up the hill and goes around for a loop around the top. This trail meets up with the Dead Truck trail.

The other trail from the west entrance is the West Loop. This is a 2.5-mile loop that doesn’t go to the top of the hill, placing the difficulty in about the middle compared to the other trails.

One last trail, named after the area and one that will take you across the entire landscape: the Escape From Prison Hill Route. This 12.7-mile trail follows the Dead Truck trail, hits the North Loop, a small part of the West Loop, and then it loops around and runs along the Mexican Ditch Trail and Valley View Loop. This trail is for the adventurous, and it is used for a half-marathon every year in April.

The area is very popular with off-road enthusiasts. A large chunk of Prison Hill is designated for motorized use. The trails here are made for motorcycles, ATVs and Jeeps. The highest point is located here at 5,724 feet. The Escape From Prison Hill Route also takes you to the highest point.

Some safety precautions: Bring water. There are no water sources, so bring plenty of water. Watch out for rattlesnakes – stay on the trail and know basic rattlesnake precautions. The trails are made possible through the Nevada Recreational Trails Program. They put together some great maps and trail information as well and they are available online.

Kyler Klix is a designer and contributor at the Nevada Appeal. If you’d like to talk about nature or upcoming concerts, email him at


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