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Virgin Peak Southeast Ridge
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Gold Butte National Monument
Virgin Peak, Gold Butte
Virgin Peak
Trailhead parking (view NE)

Note (Nov 2017). Virgin Peak Road washed out during 2017. The road is passable in regular 4WD vehicles only to the corral, thus the hike is 0.85 miles longer (1.7 extra miles total), and round-trip to the peak is about 12 miles. Understand that 12 miles off-trail is a lot harder than 12 miles on a trail.

Overview

This is a nice, but long, 10-1/4-mile round-trip hike to the summit of Virgin Peak (8,063 ft). The first 2.2 miles are on a road that washed during the spring of 2005, and the remaining 2.9 miles run off-trail up a long, brushy ridge with spectacular views in all directions.

There are no use-trails, few cairns, and lots of shrubs and trees, so although the route finding is easy, there is a lot of weaving around to find a way through the brush. The access road is washed out at the narrows and is unlikely to be reopened to trucks (ATVs can get through), so the round trip hike is now about 4.5 miles longer than it used to be.

Link to hiking map or elevation profile.

Virgin Peak
Obstruction in the narrows (view NE)

Adding interest to the hike, there are many fossils along the ridge and the vegetation in the Virgin Mountains is unique in Nevada. The sunny south-facing slopes support Singleleaf Pinyon and Utah Juniper all the way to the summit, but from the summit, hikers can look down the shady north and east-facing slopes to see tall conifer trees, including White Fir, Douglas Fir, Rocky Mountain Juniper, and Arizona Cypress.

The Douglas Fir, White Fir, and Arizona Cypress are Pleistocene relics here, species left over from the last ice age. There might also be California Juniper along the ridge, a species not otherwise known from this mountain range.

Virgin Peak
Hiker at obstruction in the narrows (view NE)

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this is a fairly safe hike in a wild and remote place. I encountered no unusual hazards, but be careful when hiking near edges where hikers could fall to their death.

This is wild and remote country without services of any kind (no restrooms, no water, no gas, no food). Bring what you need to survive. Be prepared and be self-reliant. It is a big place and someone will find you eventually if you stay on a main road, but be prepared to survive alone for a day or two, or even longer on side roads.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, this is a remote hike, so be sure to bring the 10 Essentials.

Virgin Peak
Beyond the narrows (view NE)

Getting to the Trailhead

Virgin Peak is located out in Gold Butte National Monument at the northeast end of Lake Mead, about 2.5 hours northeast of Las Vegas in a wild, remote, and scenic area.

From town, drive out to Gold Butte National Monument. From the end of the pavement at Whitney Pocket, continue south on the unpaved Gold Butte Road for about 120 yards to Arizona Road, which forks off to the left.

Turn left onto Arizona Road and drive east 2.3 miles to Virgin Peak Road, on the left. Turn onto Virgin Peak Road and drive north 0.75 miles to an old corral. In a 2WD-HC vehicle, consider stopping here. Continue 0.8 miles north staying right until a big boulder and washout block the road in a narrow canyon. Park here; this is the trailhead (ATVs can get around the boulder).

Virgin Peak

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 1, Waypoint 01), the route runs northeast up the road following the wash. The left wall of the canyon is the southeast ridge of Virgin Peak, and the route will eventually climb onto this ridge, but not for a couple of miles.

The narrow canyon eventually opens up, and after 0.81 miles, the road forks (Wpt. 02) in an open area by a large rusty water tank and an old watering trough.

The route stays to the left on the main dirt road and continues north for another 1.42 miles to the old trailhead campsite (Wpt. 03) on the west side of the road. There is some old machinery on the left just before the campsite; and at the campsite, there is a round metal water tank on the right and an old truck carcass on the left, all of which are in a grove of tall Singleleaf Pinyon Pine and Utah Juniper trees.

Virgin Peak

On the far side of the old trailhead campsite, an obscure side road branches to the left. The route runs southwest on this side road 0.17 miles to a nice campsite on an overlook above the canyon (Wpt. 04). An ATV trail continues up the hill above the campsite for a few yards, then loops back down and right to intersect the side road. From the top of the ATV trail loop, the route runs steeply up and across the brushy and rocky hillside for 0.27 miles to the ridgeline (Wpt. 05).

At the top of the ridge, the route turns northwest and runs straight up the ridgeline for 2.47 miles to the summit. The ridge generally is broad and easy to walk on, but there are many shrubs and trees to work around, and there is one narrow spot that can be passed by downclimbing a few yards on the west side of the ridge. The route crosses a knob 0.90 miles up the ridge (Wpt. 06), and 0.53 miles past the knob, there is a substantial cairn (Wpt. 07) on the ridgeline with rocks and sticks indicating a route off the ridge to the east. Continuing up the ridge, however, leads to the summit (Wpt. 08).

Virgin Peak

The ridge is formed of light gray carbonate rock with many fossils scattered about. There are several types of coral fossils, wing-shaped brachiopods, and snails about 2 inches across.

Vegetation on the ridge is Pinyon-Juniper (Pinyon-Juniper Woodland Life Zone) and quite shrubby. Lower on the ridge, common species include blackbrush, apache plume, cliffrose, green ephedra, sagebrush, utah agave, various species of pricklypear and cholla cactus, mahonia, and bunchgrasses. At middle elevations, there is some shrub live oak on the ridge, and higher up there is a fair bit of mountain mahogany.

Virgin Peak

Vegetation in the Virgin Mountains is unique in Nevada. The lower elevations are typical Mojave Desert Scrub (Upper Sonoran Life Zone), and the sunny south-facing slopes support Singleleaf Pinyon and Utah Juniper (Pinyon-Juniper Woodland Life Zone) all the way to the summit. From the summit, however, you can look down the shady north and east-facing slopes to see tall conifer trees (mix of Yellow Pine and Pine-Fir Life Zones), including White Fir, Douglas Fir, and Arizona Cypress. There used to be Ponderosa Pine on these slopes too, but all of the Ponderosa Pine burned during a wildfire in the 1940s. The Douglas Fir and Arizona Cypress are Pleistocene relicts here, species left over here from the ice age. Although not confirmed by real botanists, there might also be California Juniper along the southeast ridge, a species not otherwise known from this mountain range.

Virgin Peak
Old road follows the wash bottom (view N)
Virgin Peak
Old road follows the wash bottom (view N)
Virgin Peak Virgin Peak
Virgin Peak Virgin Peak
Virgin Peak
Entering open area with water tanks (view NE)
Virgin Peak
Route stays left in open area with water tanks (view NE)
Virgin Peak
Staying left (view N)
Virgin Peak
Route continues up road in the main canyon (view N)
Virgin Peak Virgin Peak
Virgin Peak Virgin Peak
Virgin Peak Virgin Peak
Virgin Peak Virgin Peak
Virgin Peak
Route continues up road in the main canyon (view N)
Virgin Peak
Water trough and agave roasting pit on spur road right (view E)
Virgin Peak
Agave roasting pit (view N)
Virgin Peak
Route continues up road in the main canyon (view N)
Virgin Peak
Road departs the wash to the left (view N)
Virgin Peak
Old ranching junk begins to appear (view N)
Virgin Peak
Note one of three water tanks on the right (view N)
Virgin Peak
Old campsite with ranching junk (view SW)
Virgin Peak
After campsite, hiker approaches spur road left (view N)
Virgin Peak
Hiker on spur road left (view W)
Virgin Peak
Designated road sign for spur road (view W)
Virgin Peak
Passing old truck at rancher campsite (view SW)
Virgin Peak
Old truck at rancher campsite (view W)
Virgin Peak
Hiker on spur road (view SW)
Virgin Peak
Spur road (view SW)
Virgin Peak
Spur road, which bends right to loop back (view SW)
Virgin Peak
Hiker in bush beyond spur road (view W)
Virgin Peak
Easiest to aim high, but for the ridgeline (view W)
Virgin Peak
Hiker climbing hillside in burn zone (view SW)
Virgin Peak
Steep hillside in burn zone (view SW)
Virgin Peak
Not-quite-so-steep hillside in burn zone (view SW)
Virgin Peak
Approaching the ridgeline (view W)
Virgin Peak
Ridgeline (view W)
Virgin Peak
Ridgeline (view W; zoom)
Virgin Peak
Ridgeline (view S)
Virgin Peak
Ridgeline (view E)
Virgin Peak
Ridgeline (view N)
Virgin Peak
Ridgeline (view N; 2015 conditions)
Virgin Peak
Ridgeline (view N; 2016 conditions)
Virgin Peak
Ridgeline (view N; 2016 conditions)
Virgin Peak
Ridgeline (view N; 2002 conditions before fire)
Virgin Peak
Route continues up ridgeline through burn area (view N)
Virgin Peak
Route continues up ridgeline through forested area (view N)
Virgin Peak
Along the southeast ridge (view NW)
Virgin Peak
Southeast ridge with blooming agave (view NW)
Virgin Peak
Approaching the summit (view N)
Along the southeast ridge (view NW)
Summit (view N)
Virgin Peak
Summit (view N)
Virgin Peak
Summit (view NE into Utah)
Virgin Peak
Summit (view SE across Gold Butte area)
Virgin Peak
Summit (view NW towards Mormon Mountains)
Southeast ridge (view SE)
Patches (arrows) of Pleistocene relict forest near summit
Virgin Peak
Douglas Fir cones -- you won't see these elsewhere in So. Nevada
Along the southeast ridge (view NW)
Descent along southeast ridge (view SE)

Returning to the Trailhead

Virgin Peak
Returning down the main ridge (view S)
Virgin PeakApproaching point to turn off main ridge to the east (view S)
Virgin PeakReturning down the upper canyon (view S) Virgin Peak
Approaching fork in the canyon (view S)
Virgin Peak
Passing old water tank and troughs (view SW)
Virgin Peak
Retuning to the roadway obstruction (view SW)
Virgin Peak
Passing the roadway obstruction (view SW)
Virgin Peak
Arriving at the trailhead (view SW)

Table 1. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi) Verified
01 Washout Trailhead 759741 4048769 4,481 0.00 0.00 GPS
02 Fork 760272 4049666 4,856 0.81 0.81 GPS
03 Camp 760105 4051396 5,341 1.42 2.23 GPS
04 Road End 760012 4051260 5,450 0.17 2.40 GPS
05 Ridgeline 759691 4051210 5,855 0.27 2.67 GPS
06 Knob 759243 4052487 6,564 0.90 3.57 GPS
07 Big Cairn 758976 4053163 6,933 0.53 4.09 GPS
08 Summit 758387 4054485 8,090 1.05 5.14 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 171118

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