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Bluff Trail
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Bluff Trail
Bluff Trail
Trailhead between campsites 72-74 (Wpt. 01)

Overview

The Bluff Trail makes for a nice, relaxing, 0.9-mile stroll across the desert to a low summit overlooking all of the surrounding territory. There are surprisingly grand views all along Las Vegas Wash and from the summit. The habitat type is sparse Creosote-Bursage Flats, which is nice because the plants don't get in the way of the geology. All along the wash, erosion is undermining the surface layer of hard rock, and slabs are falling off into the wash. Look for Silverleaf Sunray on mud hillsides near the end of the trail, which very large yellow flowers in spring and summer.

Link to map or elevation profile.

Bluff Trail
Notice campsite numbers on fire grill

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this is a fairly safe hike. There are places where a hiker could stumble off the trail and over the cliff, but there is nothing unusually dangerous about this trail. Because the water in Las Vegas Wash comes from urban runoff, I would stay out of the water.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, this hike is short, so just bring what you need of the 10 Essentials.

Bluff Trail

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located along Lakeshore Drive in Lake Mead National Recreation Area, about 25 minutes southeast of Las Vegas.

From town, drive out to Lake Mead NRA. From the Las Vegas Wash entrance station (Table 1, Site 1020), continue east on the main road (now Lakeshore Road) for 2.1 miles to the Las Vegas Wash Marina turnoff (Site 1018). Turn left into the marina area, pass the ranger station, and immediately turn left towards the campground (Site 1019). Drive down the road to the pay station at the entrance to the campground (Site 724). Park by the pay station, or just ahead on the right across from the restrooms (do not park in a campsite). Park here; this is the trailhead parking area.

Bluff Trail

The Hike

From the parking area, walk north into the campground. The trail starts between campsites 72 and 74 (numbers on the fire grill post) on the trail to the amphitheater.

From the trailhead (Table 2, Waypoint 01), a gravel trail runs a few yards to the amphitheater, and then the Bluff Trail veers off to the left and runs west along the edge of the bluffs overlooking Las Vegas Wash. It is always nice to see flowing water in the desert.

Bluff Trail

The trail runs west along the top of the dry bluffs where the ground is covered with small stones and the habitat type is Creosote-Bursage Flats. In this habitat type, Creosote Bush and White Bursage dominate the vegetation. Beavertail Cactus is fairly common here too.

Early on, the trail crosses two washes, and in the washes other species can survive because more water is available than on the stony flats. In the washes, other species include Schott's Pygmycedar, Cheesebush, and even one large catcaw acacia full of Mesquite Mistletoe. There is a single Silver Cholla along the trail.

At the bottom of the cliffs down along the wash, saltcedar is common.

Bluff Trail
On trail approaching amphitheater (view N)

Hiking along the edge of the bluffs, it becomes evident that the ground surface is formed by a hard layer of rock several feet thick. Along the edge of the bluffs, water flowing down Las Vegas Wash over the eons is eroding away soil from under the hard rock layer. As a result, large blocks of the surface layer are breaking off and falling into the wash. The earth erodes away slowly, but this is real geology in action!

About half way out to the summit, the trail bends to the south and away from Las Vegas Wash. The trail continues to run along the edge of a bluff, but now the hillside below is mud rather than broken slabs of surface rock. There must be a fair bit of gypsum in the soil because Silverleaf Sunray can be seen growing along the edge of the bluff and down on the mud hills. These plants are fairly rare and were considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Bluff Trail
Trail departing amphitheater (view NW)

Near the summit, the trail climbs at a fair grade. Notice that the rocks here are granitic with fairly large crystals and mica mixed in. Granite is an uncommon type of rock in southern Nevada.

The trail finally turns abruptly up the hillside and runs up a ridge to the summit (Wpt. 02). Views from this low summit are surprisingly grand. To the south are the River Mountains. To the west is urban Lake Las Vegas, Lava Butte, and Frenchman Mountain. To the north is Las Vegas Wash and the mountains beyond. To the east are the Muddy Mountains, Lake Mead, and mountains off into Arizona.

The summit is a nice place to relax and enjoy the scenery. Huge summit cairns aren't really appropriate in a National Park, so please refrain from adding more stones. When ready to head back, follow your footprints back down the trail to the campground.

Bluff Trail Bluff Trail
Bluff Trail
Notice the landscape falling away
Bluff Trail
Jumbled slab of rock falling into the wash
Bluff Trail Bluff Trail
Bluff Trail Bluff Trail
Las Vegas Wash
Bluff Trail
Heading for the summit
Bluff Trail
Bluff Trail
Hikers on the summit
Bluff Trail
Summit cairns (Wpt. 02)
Bluff Trail Bluff Trail
Bluff Trail Bluff Trail

Table 1. Highway Coordinates (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site # Location Latitude (N) Longitude (W) UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (feet) Verified
0724 Las Vegas Bay CG entrance 36.12829 114.87381 691336 4000071 1,259 Yes
1018 Lakeshore at Las Vegas Wash Rd 36.11798 114.87078 691634 3998933 1,319 GPS
1019 Las Vegas Bay Camp turnoff 36.11895 114.86965 691733 3999043 1,280 GPS
1020 Las Vegas Wash Entrance Station 36.10531 114.90037 689000 3997470 1,602 GPS

Table 2. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27, UTM Zone 11S). Download GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi) Verified
01 Trailhead 691354 4000187 1,304 0.00 0.00 GPS
02 Summit 690474 3999653 1,421 0.90 0.90 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 130112

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