The name Bootleg Canyon conjures images of those who flouted laws that kept alcohol out of the dry, government-run reservation that existed when Boulder City was just a dam-construction site. It’s said that they used shadowy canyons like this one, along an old Native American trail, to smuggle liquor from Las Vegas. They called it the “Hooch Highway.”
Today it serves as an opportunity for a variety of adventures, all starting with a short four-wheel drive to Bootleg Canyon. The heart of it now is a city-owned mountain-bike park that links 36 miles of trails, including “Ginger,” said to be one of the most difficult single-track trails in North America (BootlegCanyon.net/trails). The dirt-and-gravel road winds some 2.5 miles through the canyon and slithers up the back of the mountain, where FlightLinez has built a zipline course that runs back down to the entrance gate.
Even in a Jeep, the guardrail-free trip up the mountain gets nice and hairy, especially after monsoons have worked on the roads a bit. Along the way, soupy, loose-gravel roads lead to enticing side canyons and fun rock scrambling along the Caldera and Inner Caldera trails, where you can discover more about the canyon’s bootlegging past: shallow caves, the remnants of a stove built right into the rock, a sea of discarded tin cans, a curiously placed park bench and what looks like a small grave.
But the most beautiful thing about the park is the serenity of relative isolation. The only signs of life are the occasional FlightLinez vans bumping along with their cargo of tourists, teams of mountain bikers crisscrossing the landscape in silent concentration, and a flock from the 40,000 bighorn sheep that live up here. Then, suddenly, where the road ends on top of the mountain, the 360-degree view reveals the entire Las Vegas cityscape glittering in the sun just 20 miles away.
The Trip: Las Vegas to Bootleg Canyon.
The Way: Take U.S. 93 toward Boulder City. Bear left at the Buchanan Boulevard intersection, then make a left onto Canyon Road. After the road turns to dirt, drive a quarter mile into the park, where the road becomes paved again. After the parking lot, it turns to gravel and stays that way till you reach the turnaround point on top of the mountain.
The Wheels: We drove my roommate’s 2012 Jeep Wrangler Sahara hardtop with four-wheel drive and six-cylinder engine. It’s manual, of course, “because automatic Jeeps are a sin!” he says. This also means that I cannot drive it and am therefore left to ride shotgun and helplessly cling to the “Oh shit!” bars when we hit the hairier curves up the mountain.
Pit Stops: Before you get going, stop by the Boulder Dam Brewing Co. (453 Nevada Highway) for fortification, and the Dillinger (1224 Arizona St.) after for a burger and celebratory beer. There are also restrooms and a grill under the shelter in Bootleg Canyon’s parking lot. At each of FlightLinez’s landing pads on the mountain, there are free water bottles for hikers and bikers.
While You’re at It: Keep going on U.S. 93 past the Hacienda Hotel; take Exit 2 and make a right onto the dead-end access road. Follow the sign left to the Gold Strike Canyon trailhead. There you’ve got a rugged 2-mile hike (including rock-scrambling and fixed ropes) to Gold Strike Hot Springs and another 45 minutes to Nevada Hot Springs and the Colorado River. Look out for nudists—seriously. Visit BirdAndHike.com.