Trail: Gold Strike Canyon Hot Springs
Location: Lake Mead Recreation Area
Distance: 4 miles round trip
Difficulty: Moderate, some third-class scrambling in sections
Descent: 600 ft
While Gold Strike Canyon is not in southern Utah, it is within driving distance from southern Utah to complete it as a day hike. It is also a great desert winter hike. What makes this such a wonderful winter hike is that there are hot springs at the bottom. This hike has three different sets of pools and does go all the way to the Colorado River, but for the purposes of this article, the first set of pools will mark the end of the trail.
Roughly two hours south of us, just outside of Las Vegas and literally in the shadow of Hoover Dam, is Gold Strike Canyon. From Las Vegas, head to the Lake Mead Recreation Area/Hoover Dam. Exit right at the first off-ramp on the new highway (Exit 2 to Hoover Dam). At the end of the off-ramp, turn right, then left and then down the graded dirt road to the end as far as you can go. Park here; this is the trailhead.
Like all hikes along the Colorado River, this hike takes you down first, and the conclusion of the hike is the pools and river at the bottom rather than a peak and a view at the top.
The canyon starts underneath the freeway, which is somewhat loud and annoying in the beginning but fades the further down you go. It is a beautiful rocky canyon that contracts and expands as you make your way down. Some sections are rather open, but the further down you get, the steeper and more vertical the walls become. The trail follows a drainage as you make your way down and is fairly easy and sandy in most spots, but as you get further along, you will reach locations that are rocky and require scrambling and down-climbing. Most of these spots have ropes to aid you in getting down. Also, if you get confused about which way to go, someone has spray-painted arrows, which while ugly and obnoxious will lead you the right way.
While these sections can be a bit tricky and you should come prepared for them and take your time, they are very doable. We took our three boys (ages 10, 8, and 7) with us, and they all did it (with a little help of course).
The day we did the hike, we went to Hoover Dam first and didn’t start the hike until around noon. We came out at dusk. In hindsight, I would recommend leaving earlier so that you have time to enjoy the hot springs before it gets dark, especially if you plan to go to the Colorado River (which is roughly 45 minutes past the pools). But it’s not a bad time to take advantage of seeing the dam if you never have, and since you will be there anyway, why not? It’s pretty incredible.
While hiking down the canyon, keep your eyes peeled for car wreckage from vehicles that crashed and fell over the edge of the canyon. Locals say that some of the wreckage dates to the making of the dam. Also, keep your eyes open for wildlife. If you are lucky, you will get to see bighorn sheep, which we did on our way out. The hike is a mile and a half to two miles to the first set of springs. You cannot miss them as you will see the pools and running water. Also, you will see ferns and other lush vegetation growing that doesn’t grow anywhere else in the canyon.
The pools are not very large, but they are nice to sit in (apparently the larger and better pools are the Nevada hot springs, located further down the canyon near the Colorado River). Pack a lunch and bring plenty of water. The temperatures are about as perfect as they can be right now, so you will definitely want to soak in the springs and stay a while.