Anniversary Narrows (Lake Mead National Recreation Area, NV)

Anniversary Narrows, Muddy Mountains Wilderness, February 2023

Anniversary Narrows is Nevada’s best answer to the challenge laid down by neighboring Utah: give us your best, most picturesque slot canyon. Better yet, extend the slot for more than 1/3 mile, place the trailhead less than an hour’s drive from the state’s largest metropolis (Las Vegas), and offer options for different approach routes for some variety. Up to the challenge? Sure enough, the beautifully-twisting Anniversary Narrows—highly textured and gleaming with color—more than fits the bill. The slot is an approximately 2.5-mile walk from Lakeshore Road in the northern half of Lake Mead National Recreation Area, park typically better-known for its boating than hiking. The hike passes out of the park, skirting an active mine, and enters Muddy Mountain Wilderness, itself a scenic but relatively sparsely-visited, 48,000-acre tract of wildlands. The approach features colorful cliffs and open vistas, but it is all about the destination on this hike: a rewarding, 1/3-mile narrows that thins to as small as 4-5 feet. (Note: This hike is sometimes called Lovell Wash, named for the drainage in which the narrows sit.)

Map of Anniversary Narrows, Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Muddy Wilderness Recreation Area; created using

The hike

The area north of Lake Mead is perhaps known best for two things: its vibrant, colorful valleys and canyons…and borax mining. The latter has seemingly posed an access problem in the past, as the route to Anniversary Narrows cuts through a thin section of private property. As of early 2023, however, this did not appear to be an issue, with no visible signage or fencing hindering movement from the trailhead to the narrows.

Although the narrows are outside the park, the Anniversary Narrows Trailhead is situated well within the boundaries of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The main trailhead is less than an hour’s drive from Las Vegas and is situated just off Northshore Road (Route 167), about 12.7 miles east of the junction with E. Lake Mead Road (location here). Look for a brown sign marked “Calville Wash North,” on the north side of the road, just as the highway crosses over the namesake drainage. Follow the wide track as it turns to dirt, and park in the small lot just above the banks of the (usually) dry wash.

Now, for the adventurous off-road type, there is an option to cut off much of the hike by continuing on the 4×4 track down into the wash and up and out the other side. In fact, one could, in theory, follow the rugged Anniversary Mine Road for nearly two miles, right to the descent into Lovell Wash. But this is really only an option for jeep owners; as attractive as shaving off all but two miles of the nearly six-mile hike may sound, you don’t want to be that guy who gets stuck. Tows are expensive, and cell service is fleeting to nonexistent in this part of the desert. Fortunately, there is a deterrent right at the start to help you make the choice: just past the parking lot along Calville Wash, the sandy track drops precipitously at such an incline that it wards away most without four-wheel drive from trying their luck. Most of you will probably feel the same: as a consolation, the approach route isn’t so bad as a walk, and the extended loop offers the option of taking an alternative route (via Lovell Wash) on the way back (considerably more scenic than Anniversary Mine Road anyway).

And so, after parking at the 2WD lot and packing your daypack, prepare yourself for nearly six miles of relatively easy—though almost entirely sun-exposed—hiking. (Note: Like most hikes in the Las Vegas, doing this hike in summer is not at all recommended.) Begin by descending the road down to the wash bottom, at this point quite wide. The narrows are situated in nearby Lovell Wash, not this one, and there is not much to write home about Calville Wash.

Your time in the wash, however, will be short: after treading up the drainage (northeast) for 1/10 mile, head left on the rocky track heading left (northwest). Though unmarked, this is Anniversary Mine Road, the primary access route to the narrows and vicinity.

Minor drainage along the Anniversary Mine Road

Follow the road as it traces a sandy tributary, which courses through shallow hills. Cross the wash at 3/10 mile, then climb up and out into the open, now along a partly-asphalted track with views to the Muddy Mountains. The base layer here is the Lovell Wash Member, mostly a mix of orange- or chalk-colored limestone and sandstone, but there are streaks in the area of other types, including basalt, volcanic tuff, and plutonic rock. The Gale Hills give way to the higher Muddy Mountains, with the highest peaks out of view to the north.

Looking ahead to the Muddy Mountains

From here Anniversary Mine Road descends mildly to cross the wash again at ¾ mile. Stay right at the wash, then cut left on the better-asphalted track that mounts the bank. Ascending a modest ridgeline, the route comes to a sign for the Ore Car Mine: perhaps surprisingly, rock collecting is allowed—even encouraged—in this area, as long as it is not at commercial scale.

There is a junction here, and hikers should stay left; although this track appears less well-established, it is undoubtedly the shorter option. The ridgeline here offers views westward to Lovell Wash, notable for its multi-colored hues and streaks of basalt. Stay on the northwesterly course to another unmarked junction at 1.5 miles; stay left and begin a descent into Lovell Wash. Drop about 50-75 feet in elevation, coming to a point where the gravel road crosses the wash. (Note: This is roughly where visitors with four-wheel-drive vehicles can park to begin the hike.) By now, you have travelled around 1.8 miles.

Heading up Lovell Wash

From here, the scenery improves considerably. Bearing right, the drainage cuts through a narrower section with cream, peach, and orange-colored walls. The sides of the canyon exhibit considerable uplift, while chalky, striated terraces protrude at one point through the sandy wash bottom.

Protruding slickrock in Lovell Wash

With the walls rising more than a hundred feet high, the canyon rounds a sharp, left-hand bend, with a small, human-made hole ahead—a clear old ore tunnel. Here the pastel colors are on full display, with streaks of gold becoming more prominent.

Rounding a corner with an old borax mine tunnel
Another colorful bend

Round the bend and enter another, this one treading right, below a beautifully-streaked wall with a sharp peak. Now bending northeast, the canyon suddenly straightens out: more than a quarter-mile ahead, in the distance, the wide watercourse appears to narrow suddenly, with the onward route not entirely clear from this vantage point. This is Anniversary Narrows ahead.

Approaching the narrows of Lovell Wash

Follow the wash, staying straight as an arrow, for ¼ mile, looking back at the rainbow colors of the north-facing wall. Soon the route comes to Anniversary Narrows, where the drainage thins suddenly and beautifully into a stunning, striated passage.

Entering Anniversary Narrows

After an initial twist, the route through the narrows comes to a set of a potholes and a picturesque bowl, a particularly scenic feature and perhaps the most iconic spot in Anniversary Narrows. This feels like the elaborate entry, or atrium, to the narrows.

Approaching the bowl-shaped feature

Initially, the canyon walls are narrow but still more than eight feet apart, but soon the drainage thins to a true slot—hikers can touch both sides with outstretched arms. The twisting walls grow higher, with centuries upon centuries of erosion cutting a passageway through the pancaked sandstone.

Looking back down the twisting passage
Continuing through the initial narrows

After several minutes of easy walking, the onward route comes to a large boulder choke, which is relatively easily surmounted. From here the canyon briefly looks like it will open up, but it quickly thins again to a slot, this one harboring a minor, 4-foot obstacle. A steel pipe, perhaps intentionally left here for assistance, helps hikers mount the minor dryfall.

Approaching a boulder jam (can be bypassed on left, or straight on)
Colorful slot

The narrows continue beyond, with the walls seemingly split into two sections: a lower, narrow slot, and a wider top, separated by a bulky shelf. Thereafter the narrows resemble more of a “V,” thin at the bottom but a wider aperture above. Here there a couple more 2- to 3-foot obstacles, easily surmounted.

Peach-colored narrows
A particularly colorful section

At points, the sinuous slot gleams a bright orange or peach, with streaks and crossbedding that add texture to the canyon walls. At last, after about 1/3 mile in the narrows, the canyon finally opens up again. Lovell Wash continues upstream into the Muddy Mountains, but the slot section ends here. This makes for a sensible turnaround point. (Note: Some will choose to venture on, summiting one or two of the nearby peaks, a much more challenging hike with no official trail.)

Nearing the end of the narrows
A final look at the narrows

Once ready, head back through the narrows of Lovell Wash, admiring arguably Nevada’s best non-technical slot. Make your way back across the straightaway and around the colorful bend with the mine tunnels dating to the 1920s, returning to the spot where Anniversary Mine Road comes down to meet the wash bottom. One can head back up the road to return to the trailhead, but a more scenic alternative that fashions a small loop is to stay in Lovell Wash, following it back to Northshore Road.

This route takes hikers downstream through an area that is only mildly scenic at first but soon entertains with a multitude of colors, including one section where the clay turns a greenish, almost turquoise, hue. Farther down, the wash edges an outcrop of reddish Aztec Sandstone and passes one short section where iron oxides and chloride have produced deep pink and gold colors.

Pastel colors in Lovell Wash
Near the end of the Lovell Wash walk

It is a roughly 1.6-mile walk from Anniversary Mine Road to Northshore Road via Lovell Wash. Climb up to the road, and carefully follow the left shoulder for about ¼ mile to return to the parking area at Calville Wash. This ends a 5.8-mile stem-and-loop hike, one of the most dazzling day hikes in the Lake Mead and Las Vegas area.

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2 Responses to Anniversary Narrows (Lake Mead National Recreation Area, NV)

  1. placestheygo says:

    Wow! We haven’t been back to hike Anniversary Narrows since it’s been closed. It’s amazing how much it has changed in four years. There weren’t any obstacles prior. We hiked it several times with different non-hiking friends. We’ve always driven to within a quarter mile of the entrance. We do have a Jeep. Thanks for the trip back! We’ll have to check it out now that the fences are down.

    • Andrew Wojtanik says:

      It’s still unclear to me what the precise jurisdiction arrangements are, but when we were there we came across no visible barriers to entry? Maybe this will change in the future, but it was a treat for now!

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