Red Rock Canyon stands just 20 miles west of Las Vegas, NV. What most people don't realize is there are three separate hiking areas. Let's look at them.
Calico Basin/Red Spring
Calico Basin/Red Springs is just north of what most people call Red Rock Canyon.
Access is off of SR 159 about two miles before Red Rock Canyon.
The hikes are short and relatively easy. The established trails are few and not well marked. Some of the popular peaks in this area include: Calico Tank Peak, Kraft Mtn, Gray Cap Peak and Turtlehead Jr. Peak.
There is no fee to enter and hike in this area.
It is crowded, especially during the weekend.
There is a pavilion area with tables, chairs and restrooms.
Red Rock Canyon - Scenic Loop
This is the area most people visit at Red Rock.
Access is off of SR 159.
The hikes range from easy to very difficult. There are 19 established trails (BLM) and the only peak the BLM recognizes is Turtlehead Peak.
There are many challenging peaks in this area including: Bridge Mtn., Juniper Peak, Rainbow Peak, White Rock Hills Peak, Ice Box Peak, Pine Creek Peak, Oak Peak, Terrace Canyon Peak, Crabby Appleton Peak, Bridge Point, Mt. Wilson (highest sandstone peak in Red Rock), and Mescalito Peak.
There is a fee to drive on the 13 mile Scenic Loop road:
$7 per vehicle, per day;
$30 Red Rock Annual Pass
$80 America the Beautiful Annual Pass - good for all national parks.
There is a Visitor Center just beyond the fee booth.
It is crowded, especially during weekend. Try to arrive before 11 am to avoid waiting to get through the fee both.
South Red Rock Canyon
This is the least known part of Red Rock Canyon.
Access is off of Blue Diamond Road aka SR 160.
Most of the hikes are difficult. There are very few established trails.
There are many challenging peaks in this area including: Black Velvet Peak, East Peak, Hidden Peak, Global Peak, Windy Peak, and The Stealth Range.
There is no fee to enter and hike in this area.
There are no amenities.
It is not crowded.
This past September members of the Las Vegas 52 Peak Hiking Club climbed Mt. Russell (14,086 feet) in the Sierra. It stands just north of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states. We took the Rockwell variation, which is recommended.
I created a video of our hike. Watch it below.
Mt. Baldwin soars 12,615 feet into the air and looks down some 8,000 feet onto US 95. This past September (2016), Kathy and I did a dayhike to the summit. The hike is 15 miles, round trip, and about 5,200 feet of elevation gain.
The hike begins at Convict Lake, a very popular spot. The lake got its name from a group of escape convicts that broke out of a Carson City prison and were capture near the lake in 1871.
Side Note: Mt. Morrison, a peak just south of Convict Lake, got its name when Robert Morrison was killed by one of the convicts. There's a movie loosely based on the incident called: The Secret of Convict Lake.
And We Are Off
We got started around 6 am. Our headlamps illuminated our way through the darkness. We followed the Convict Lake trail about three miles to a washed out bridge. This marked where we crossed the creek. Crossing Convict Creek can be tricky depending on the amount of water flowing. When we crossed, the water was fairly low making for an easy crossing. Early in the year the water flow is greater making it dangerous to cross.
On to Mildred Lake
The trail on the other side of the creek was surprisingly good and easy to follow. I had read reports that the trail needed repair. We arrived at Mildred Lake a little before 9.00 am. It was cold as the high ridges blocked the sun. Mildred Lake is one of the most scenic lakes I have seen. For the next mile the trail is flat and the views are outstanding.
And Now the Work Begins
Once the creek that feeds Mildred lake turns west, we headed SE up a hiker's path and started gaining elevation. We soon came to an area that looked more like Death Valley than the Sierra. I have never seen an area like this in the Sierra.
Where Are We?
The path disappears for a bit and Mt. Baldwin is not obvious as there are several peaks above us. We eventually see Bright Dot Lake and we knew we were back on route.
A major landmark on this route is a calcite mine that sits at 12,000 feet. The path to the mine is steep and loose. It's a small mine that one could miss, except for numerous crystals on the ground.
The mine was active on a limited basis back in the 30's, but it was never fully developed.
Now the Hard Part.
From the mine to the summit is about 600 feet of very loose scree. I headed off to the south (right) and found it to be slightly better footing, but still loose. A little before noon we were standing at the summit of Mt. Baldwin.
There's a hiker's path that makes for an easy descent via the scree slope. We were back to the mine in about 20 minutes. It took us over an hour from the mine to the summit! The rest of the descent was easy, though long. We arrived at the trailhead around 5 pm.
This is a very scenic route with great views from the summit.
There's virtually no scrambling or climbing on this route.
I recommend doing this hike, but one time will probably be enough for most hikers.
Check out the video of the hike:
Doing White Pinnacle Peak in August sounds crazy. Everyone knows it's 120 degrees in Vegas during August. I led a hike to White Pinnacle Peak on August 27th, 2016. Let's see if this was a smart thing to do.
It has never been 120 degrees in Las Vegas and August is not the hottest month.
Hike Based on the Forecast, Not the Month
Yes, August is normally a hot month, but on August 27th, 2016, the high temp in Las Vegas was 90 degrees and that was around 5 pm. That's 12 degrees below average. The elevation of Las Vegas is around 2,000 feet.
We were not hiking at 5 pm and we were hiking at an elevation much higher than 2,000 feet. We started our hike at an elevation of 4,000 feet and climbed to 5,500 feet.
"You lose almost 4 degrees for every 1,000 of elevation you gain"
Let's Do the Math!
5,500 feet - 2,000 feet = 3,500 feet
3500 x 4 = 14,000 or 14 degrees
It was 14 degrees cooler at the peak than in Las Vegas.
But there's more!
We were not hiking at 5 pm, the hottest part of the day.
We started hiking at 6 am. It's much cooler in the early morning than at 5 pm.
At 6 am it was in the low 70's at the trailhead for White Pinnacle Peak.
It was never warmer than 80 degrees the entire hike.
That's almost 50% less than the claim of 120 degrees!
Here's the best source for weather forecast for Red Rock Canyon:
Watch the forecast, get early start, and pick your day correctly and you can hike on days that normally seem too hot or cold. The weather around Las Vegas varies wildly at times.
Have fun, stay safe, and make good decisions,
Wow! Why would it take someone 15 years to climb Dragon Peak? Because California Department of Fish and Game closed the area around Dragon Peak and several other peaks for years. Actually, the closure was from July 1st to December 15th. That meant you had to climb Dragon with snow and ice on the route. I was not willing to climb exposed class 3 rock with snow and ice. Fortunately, that restriction was lifted in 2014. I had been eyeing this peak since 2000.
2014 Not Happeing
Twice I tried to climb Dragon Peak during the summer of 2014 and failed! During the first attempt we got off route resulting in an extra 1,000+ feet of elevation gain. Once in the final gully we took off too soon to the north and climbed until we were looking at a steep section of class 5 rock. That was it. I was beat physically and mentally.
A few weeks later we tried again armed with better beta. At around 10,000 feet I became weak and dizzy. I had been drinking water and eating. I waited at the second unnamed lake as two other parties attempted Dragon Peak. One party made it; the other did not.
After losing 30+ pounds, getting into very good shape, and having some good beta I tried again. This is a great mountaineering route. It's scenic, has fun and airy climbing and can easily be done as a day hike.
Since I had done the approach twice before, I knew the tricks. In about two hours we were at the second unnamed lake. Ascending the gully below the peak was easy! It looks terrible, but staying on the large boulders made it a breeze.
The photo below shows the correct chute to ascend. Notice the crack off to the right. This is a great landmark to identify the correct chute.
If you have researched this peak, you have heard about the traverse. The photo and video below shows the traverse. It's about 25 feet long; the ledge is from one to four inches wide and there are handholds.
This is one of the better Sierra Peaks. It's fun, scenic, has great class 3 climbing, and can be done in a day. It's located in Onion Valley in the Sierra. The nearest town is Independence, CA.
It's 8.6 miles round trip and has an elevation gain of around 3,900 feet. Dragon Peak stands at 12,995 feet. There is a sign-in book at the summit.
The obvious question is: Why do a speed ascent? It's to see what you are made out of. My definition of a speed ascent is simple: Go as fast as you can until you reach the summit.
Warning: You need to be in good shape to do a speed ascent
Pick the Correct Mountain for You
I believe the #1 criteria is to pick the correct mountain.
Here are some of the criteria:
I like Kraft Mtn. Here's why:
I have been doing speed ascents for over 20 years. The way I got started is interesting.
Years ago I did Turltehead Peak and I read in the sign in book that a guy did it in 37 minutes starting from the Visitor's Center. That's impossible. It's over two miles from the Visitor's Center to the trailhead. Even if he could run two 5-minute miles, that would mean he would have to hike to the summit of Turltehead Peak in 27 minutes! Turtlehead Peak is 2.5 miles and almost 2,000 feet of elevation gain on mostly very loose trail/path.
It was a joke, but it got me started doing speed ascents. I do not do speed ascents up Turltehead Peak anymore. I got smart, well at least, smarter :)
A few years ago leaders of the 52 Peak Club found a route to Mack's North Peak starting from Mack's Canyon Road. This was a big improvement, but the route had a long and loose traverse (not dangerous, just aggravating) all the way around to the north side of the mountain. On top of that the descent route had a lot of elevation gain! That should be hiking illegal :)
I had been hiking to Mack's Peak for 20 years. The other day I was looking at a photo of Mack's when I noticed a ramp that was about halfway between Mack's Peak and Mack's North Peak. I thought this would be the perfect route to Mack's North Peak. It would be very direct and would eliminate the need to first hike to Mack's Peak.
The ramp in the photo was an easy class 2 ascent, but then there was an extremely loose 100 foot climb. The climb was only class 3, but you couldn't trust any handholds. I put up three ropes, but it was still a very sketchy climb. The top of the ascent met up with the original Mack's Peak Traverse route, which at this point weaves around to the NW and looses about 400 feet in elevation.
The Ultimate Route or Is It?
I did not think the route I found was safe, especially for a group hike. Upon looking at photos, I saw what appeared to be the ultimate route. It would eliminate the 400 feet in elevation loss, avoid the loose ascent and save at least 40 minutes! This would be my greatest find in the Mt. Charleston area.
I had to take down the ropes and cairns that led to the extremely loose 100 foot climb. It was too dangerous and not practical. There's an old saying in screenwriting: You have to kill your darlings. It applies to most things in life. Once I had taken down the ropes, then I could complete the ultimate route to Mack's North Peak!
Here I Go:
So DH and I set off to find what would be an amazing route to Mack's North Peak. The night before I studied a photo that showed our potential route. Although it might look sketchy in the photo, I know from 20 years of finding routes that you do not know if it goes until you try. We ascended the ramp and started looking for the traverse in the photo. And then we saw it...
The Moment of Truth
From the photos and video below it's obvious this is a death traverse. It's extremely exposed, very difficult, and the rock is rotten. It was just 25 yards from far and safe side of the traverse. In fact the cairn on top of the boulder is one I made! I had been to the far side of the traverse several times via the normal Mack's Traverse route.
Bottom line: Sometimes 25 yards are too far. This is one time a route did not go. I was very enthusiast, but I can't let that cloud my judgement. This lesson pertains to all aspects in life.
So this route is a no-go, unless...
In this post I will list a plethora of hiking resources for hikers. These resources will be broken down into different categories. This is not an exhaustive list; I am sure I missed some resources, but I believe you will find these valuable. Enjoy and use.
Online Hiking Information
HikingLasVegas.com (http://www.hikinglasvegas.com/) – my own website that has been on the internet since 1998! It has over 100 pages of hiking information focusing on hiking around Las Vegas. There are both free and paid sections. The paid section allows members to download over 400 step-by-step directions of hikes all over the Southwest. I have done every hike on my site, no exceptions.
SummitPost.org (http://www.summitpost.org/ )– another online website that features route descriptions from all over the world. The quality of the descriptions range from good to very poor. Be careful when using the hike descriptions. Anyone can add a route description.
Trails.com (http://www.trails.com/ ) – Over 57,000 hike descriptions. This is a paid service. The website focuses on trails, not routes. You will not find hikes such as: Ice Box Peak, Pine Creek Peak, Holiday Peak etc.
AllTrails.com (https://www.alltrails.com/ )- Search over 50,000 trails with reviews and photos curated by 3 million hikers, campers and mountain bikers like you. You will not find hikes such as: Ice Box Peak, Pine Creek Peak, Holiday Peak etc.
Peakery.com (http://peakery.com/) – online database of peaks around the world that you can keep track of the peaks you climb.
Backcountry Post - (http://backcountrypost.com/) Another community site where you can post trip reports and photos.
Weather Site: (http://climbingweather.com/nevada) weather information for hiking areas in NV.
Nation Weather Service (http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/vef/) Link set to Las Vegas. You can zoom to any location and get very accurate information.
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/BranchWhitney Over 250 hiking videos, hiking tips, and product reviews for you.
Hiking Las Vegas Facebook: (https://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_68936636102) Very active Facebook hiking group. 3000+ members. Photos and information about hikes around Las Vegas and beyond. Members can share hiking tips, trips, and photos.
Sierra Trading Post (http://www.sierratradingpost.com/): Great selection and prices.
Campmor: (https://www.campmor.com/): Great selection and prices.
Amazon: Do I really have to say anything J
REI: (710 S Rampart Blvd and 2220 Village Walk Drive Suite 150) great selection and return policy. Staff is very helpful and knowledgeable.
Desert Rock Sports (8221 W. Charleston Blvd) – good selection of hiking and climbing gear. Staff is very knowledgeable.
The 52 Peak Club (www.52PeakClub.com): for advance hikers who want to hike/scramble to the best 52 Peaks around Las Vegas. We average 60+ hikes per month. I created the 52 Peak Club.
Las Vegas Mountaineers Club: (http://www.lvmc.org/ ) One of the oldest hiking clubs in Las Vegas. They offer hikes and climbing outings and teach their members outdoor skills.
Hiking Las Vegas. Covering Red Rock Canyon, Mount Charleston, and Lake Mead, Hiking Las Vegas is the definitive all-encompassing guide to the best outdoor adventures surrounding Sin City. The hikes range from relaxing trails perfect for families to challenging climbs for advanced daredevils. I am the author
You can buy it from Amazon or locally at REI.
Hiker's Safety Talks
Aug. 29th at 6:30 pm at the Windmill Library
Sept. 22th at 6:30 pm at the Rainbow Library
These are given by Branch Whitney and are free to attend.
Due to the higher elevation in Mt. Charleston (the lowest hikes start at 7,000 feet and higher), you want to start off slow and do easier hikes at lower elevations. Depending on the amount of snow, you can start hiking in Mt. Charleston in April or May. Mt. Charleston is only 35 miles NW of the Las Vegas Strip.
Your First Hikes:
Fletcher Canyon: A local favorite and perfect for your first hike. It starts at a lower elevation than other hikes in Mt. Charleston and only gains 600 feet over two miles.
The trail is easy to follow and has lots of water and sometimes snow in the late spring. This hike will not disappoint!
Distance: 4 miles - up and back
Elevation gain 600 feet
Time: 2 hours - up and back
Raintree: This hike travels to a 3,000 year old Bristlecone Pine, the oldest living thing in the region. The tree has been named Raintree. You’ll hike up to 10,200 feet, which is substantially higher than the other hikes so far. It’s all trail and easy to follow; however, Raintree is not signed.
Distance: 6 miles — round trip
Elevation gain: 1,100 feet
Elevation highest point: 10,200 feet
Time: 3 to 4 hours — round trip
Big Falls: This is a must do hike than ends at a 100 foot seasonal waterfall. During late spring you will most likely hike on snow, which actually makes the hike easier. Since the trail ends in the drainage, there’s some bouldering before the waterfall.
Distance: 3.50 miles – up and back
Elevation gain: 800 feet
Elevation highest point: 8,700 feet
Time: 2 hours – up and back, plus time spent at Big Falls
Ok, It's Time to do Your First Peak
Cathedral Rock offers great views from the top and follows an established trail. It’s another very popular hike. If possible, try avoiding hiking on the weekends. This hike should be done in late May or June. You don’t want to do this hike earlier in the year with snow on the trail, unless you are competent hiking in snow.
Distance: 3 miles
Elevation gain: 900 feet
Elevation peak: 8,600 feet
Time: 2.5 hours — up and back
After doing the above hikes you should be adjusting to the higher elevation in Mt. Charleston.
Now it’s Time to Tackle the Big Boys!
Fletcher Peak soars over 10,000 feet into the air and has some of the best views of any peak in Mt.Charleston. The hike is all trail except for the last 100 yards making it very easy to follow.
Trailhead: North Loop — marked
Distance: 7.25 miles — up and back
Elevation gain: 2,214 feet
Highest elevation: 10,319 feet
Time: 3 to 4 hours — up and back
After hiking Fletcher Peak you are ready for Mummy Mountain and Charleston Peak, the highest summit in southern Nevada. There are several routes to both peaks. Some of the routes have class 3 or class 4 climbs to reach the summit. Try to do these hikes before late July. You’ll read why in the section called: Dangers
Clothing, Food, and Equipment
Clothing helps you stay dry and comfortable. How do you prevent becoming chilled? Wear layers of clothing. The secret to layering is combining the correct clothing in the proper order. Done correctly it traps air warmed by your body heat while wicking moisture away from your skin.
The first layer (the one closest to your skin) will wick moisture away from your skin while trapping body heat. Any of the wicking fabrics found under the trade names Thermax or Coolmax work well. They come in different thickness. The colder the climate, the thicker the material you will want.
The middle layer acts as insulation. Fleece sweats, polypro pullovers, or a long-sleeved flannel shirt are good choices. The middle layer can be more than one garment.
The final layer protects from wind. A windbreaker is fine, except during winter months in Mt. Charleston. Jackets made from GORE-TEX are recommended during winter.
If you become hot, simply peel some of the layers. If you become cold, add layers.
I bring a rain jacket when hiking in Mt. Charleston. It can double as a windbreaker.
You lose more heat from your head than any other part of your body. A Balaclava, sort of like a ski mask, will keep your head warm and is lightweight.
I do not wear mid-weight boots. I use to and found them to be heavy and really not needed. I wear old approach shoes, ones that the soles are too beat up for Red Rock. The rock (limestone) in Mt. Charleston will tear up sticky rubber soles very fast. Hike Mummy mountain’s scree slope once and you will know what I mean.
If you do not have a pair of old approach shoes, then buy lightweight hiking shoes that do NOT have any type of sticky rubber. These shoes are generally less expensive and you will not ruin the soles.
Items you should have in a first aid kit:
Tape 1 inch roll
Moleskin or Spiroflex (for blisters)
Aspirin and pain medicine
Food and Water:
Water: Due to the elevation it’s easier to get dehydrated. If doing advanced hikes, bring at least 3 liters of water, which is a full bladder.
Food: Bring food that will give you energy. Fruit, energy bars, and trail mix are good choices.
lthough there are not many dangers while hiking in Mt. Charleston (no bears or venomous snakes), there is the ever present Monsoon season, which rears its ugly head normally in late July and last most of August.
The Monsoon season are violent thunderstorms with lots of lighting that start around noon. The wind can pick up and the temperature can drop drastically.
What’s the best strategy?
Watch the sky and be prepared. If it looks like a thunderstorm is kicking up, turn around and get off the mountain. It will be there tomorrow.
What should I do if caught in a thunderstorm?
* Get off of peaks and ridgelines.
* Stay out of shallow caves.
* Stay away from water. If a trail turns into a stream, stay off.
* If you're hiking with a group, spread out.
* Stay away from tall objects (trees).
* If you feel charged, squat down on non-conductive material. Your daypack is normally a good choice.
* The best rule of thumb is to watch the sky and listen to the weather forecast the night before hiking.
Mt. Charleston is known for loose rock. You need to be extra careful if hiking in a big group (8 + hikers). Here are some safety tips:
Well, now you have a strategy when it’s time to head for the alpine like peaks in Mt, Charleston. You also know what to bring and how to avoid dangers. All I can say is: take a hike!
Want to join the best hiking club in Las Vegas? Check out the 52 Peak Club.
For years hikers would descend a very loose slope from the summit of North Sister. This was dangerous due to hikers accidentally knocking down loose rocks. Last year (2015), I found a safer way to descend. It's not perfect, but it is better.
In a nutshell the new descent follows a rocky ridge down about 60 yards from the summit and then descends a class 3 down climb into the loose slope as the original route. This new descent avoids the top half of the slope making it much safer. Caution still must be used since the second half of the descent travels down the same loose slope.
Below is a video showing the descent. The descent is used for both the normal route (Old Mill Trailhead) or the route from Mack's Canyon road.
Old Mills Trailhead
Old Mills Picnic Area is still closed. You can't park there. You can park at a large gravel pulloff about 0.25 miles before the turnoff to Old Mills. It's on the south side of SR 156. See photo below. This is legal and there's plenty of room. There are trespassing signs, but they only apply if you hike south into the woods. Old Mills TH is north and west from where you park.
The start of the trail has changed slightly. In my write up (VIP Section) I state you walk about a half mile along pavement to where the pavement ends. The pavement has been extended, but the unsigned trail is pretty obvious. See the below photo.
If you park outside of Old Mills Picnic area, you are going to walk more than a half mile, but it really doesn't matter since this is a round trip hike.
The route is in good shape. Although the path you take from the main trail is faint for the first 25 yards it becomes easy to follow all the way to the saddle. From the saddle to the ridge the path is very faint, but direction of travel is obvious. Once on the ridge the path is easy to follow to the class 3 climb that lies just below the summit of South Sister.
I learned one trick as we follow the cairned route from South Sister to North Sister. Once past the exposed traverse, which is just beyond the arch, veer right instead of left. This is shorter and avoids a down-climb.
This is one of my favorite routes in Mt. Charleston and now it's safer. I prefer starting at Old Mills rather than Mack's Canyon road for three reasons:
Find out more information about the 52 Peak Club here.
Branch Whitney is the author of Hiking Las Vegas and creator of the 52 Peak Club where members hike to the best 52 Peaks around Las Vegas, NV