PHOTO/MAGGIE NICHOLS: A view of Carson City from the Prison Hill Recreation area.
PHOTO/MAGGIE NICHOLS: Prison Hill’s single-track trails are great for hiking, running and mountain-biking.

As summer approaches, many of us feel the call of the mountains and forests. While Mount Rose and Lake Tahoe have a renowned beauty and allure, spring is a great time to appreciate the uniqueness of the Northern Nevada landscape—and a trip to Prison Hill Recreation Area in Carson City provides ample opportunity to soak up many of our local environment’s best parts.

Prison Hill spans 2,500 acres and is crisscrossed by trails popular with hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. It offers excellent views of the Carson Range to the west and the Pine Nut Mountains to the east, along with panoramic views of Carson City.

There are several access points to this expansive open space. On the northern end, just off of East Fifth Street and Carson River Road, a parking area gives access to the North Loop Connector Trail and North Loop Trail. The middle section of the western side has gravel parking off both Koontz Lane and Clearview Drive. Many different trails are accessible from these points. On the eastern side, Silver Saddle Ranch has trails leading up to Prison Hill. On the southern end, off Snyder Avenue, a large staging area provides space for those seeking trails for motorized use.

This scenic area is popular with all kinds of trail users. Miles of maintained hiking trails all throughout the space and are well-used by hikers and trail runners; there are even organized 5k, 10k and half-marathon runs held here in certain seasons. Many of the paths are great for horseback riding, and dogs are allowed on all trails as long as they’re under the owner’s control. If you’re heading to Prison Hill with your ATV or dirt bike, be sure to check the map at for “Motorized Use” boundaries.

Surrounding a low mountain ridge, the Prison Hill Recreation Area has trails that offer various levels of difficulty. Some have enticing names like “Escape from Prison Hill” and “Dead Truck Canyon.” Around the fringes, the trails can be wide and relatively flat, providing access to those not looking for a strenuous journey. Heading up to some of the highest points in the area can involve around 1,000 feet of vertical gain on single-track trails that are rocky, sandy and gravelly. Views from the summit are spectacular; it’s a great spot to have a rewarding snack or picnic.

Whether heading out for a challenging all-day adventure or a quick and easy after-work jaunt, Prison Hill is a great desert destination. Though it’s accessible year-round, a total lack of tree cover makes this a very hot location during the summer. This nature-focused recreation area lacks developed amenities like bathrooms or picnic tables, instead providing a slice of the wild right on the doorstep of the Silver State capital.

Many native animals call Prison Hill home, including mule deer, coyotes and rattlesnakes. You’re unlikely to come into contact with many animals, as they tend to vacate the area when they hear you coming, but traces of them can be seen all around if you’re looking for them. Dozens of species of birds can be seen throughout the space, including rock wrens singing from towering boulders and ravens catching thermals from ridgetops.

If you find yourself falling in love with this picturesque slice of Nevada’s high desert, do your part to maintain its beauty. Pack out your trash; stay on maintained trails; and don’t pick flowers or take anything (other than trash) home with you. Feeling extra-inspired? Volunteer for trail maintenance with Carson City Department of Parks, Recreation and Open Space or local nonprofit Muscle Powered.

Prison Hill Recreation Area offers a breathtaking experience for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. With a network of trails spanning dozens of miles, this wild space beckons to be explored time and time again. From awe-inspiring vistas to tranquil foothill paths, Prison Hill offers something for everyone.

PHOTO/MAGGIE NICHOLS: A view of the Sierra Nevada.
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Maggie Nichols

Maggie Nichols is an avid outdoor adventurer and a dedicated nature enthusiast. She started leading canoeing and hiking expeditions in her teens and never stopped. While following her love of the environment...

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1 Comment

  1. You should’ve also told visitors to pick up their dog poop too. Lots of it left behind!!! Disgusting

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