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Frenchman Mountain
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Frenchman Mountain
Frenchman Mountain
Frenchman Mountain trailhead and the trail (view south from Lake Mead Blvd).

Overview

Frenchman Mountain is the highest peak in the craggy mountain range forming the eastern border of the Las Vegas valley. The range is composed of two mountains: Frenchman (south) and Sunrise (north), which are separated by Lake Mead Blvd. Frenchman Mountain has two peaks: a northern false summit (3,942 ft) and a southern true summit (4,052 ft). The route starts on Lake Mead Blvd on the north side of Frenchman Peak, runs up and over (more or less) the false summit, drops into a saddle between the summits, and then finally climbs to the true summit.

Link to map

frenchman mountain
Frenchman Mountain Road (view north from below the false summit).

As might be expected for a high point overlooking a big city, there are many communications towers on the summit. There also is a dirt road to the top. The road is supposed to be closed to the public, but vandals tear down the gates and people drive to the top. This is the steepest dirt road that I have ever seen, so it is just as well to hike it. The road even has switchbacks that are too tight to turn a vehicle on, so you have to drive forward up one leg, then back up the next, drive forward on the third, back up, and so on.

Because there is a road to the top, you would think that hiking up this peak would be easy, but this is the steepest, and most consistently steep, road that I have ever seen. The views of Las Vegas to the west and Lake Mead to the east were worth the effort.

frenchman mountain
Frenchman Mountain Road (view north from below the false summit). The switchbacks are just below the saddle (view south).

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...there are no special hazards on this hike. Slipping on the steep road is a constant hazard, but that would be true for hiking on any steep trail. Watch your footing on the summit, as the east face is pretty steep and you wouldn't want to fall off.

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 long hike, so be sure to bring the 10 Essentials.

Frenchman Mountain

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located in the Lake Mead region, about 20 minutes east of downtown Las Vegas.

From downtown, drive out towards Lake Mead on Lake Mead Blvd (not to be confused with Lake Mead Parkway in Henderson). Lake Mead Blvd leaves town and runs up a rocky canyon between Sunrise Mountain on the left and Frenchman Mountain on the right. About 1/4 mile before the top of the hill, an obvious dirt road leads out of an illegal dump and cuts steeply up the side of Frenchman Mountain and into a canyon (Table 1, Site 810). Pull off the pavement at the start of the dirt road and lock your car. Park here; this is the trailhead.

Frenchman Mountain

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 2, Waypoint 1), hike up the steep dirt road. After a few hundred yards, the road levels out and then drops slightly into a canyon. Follow the road and the switchbacks up the canyon to a saddle (Wpt. 2) near the top of the false summit. This saddle is between the false summit (3,942 ft) and Point 3,858. From the saddle, the road drops a few hundred vertical feet into the big saddle (Wpt. 3) between the true and false summits. There is a good view of the runways at Nellis Air Force Base from the saddle.

frenchman mountain
Steep road to the true summit (view south).

From the saddle, continue on the road as it steeply climbs the north face of the true summit. The road actually gets steeper, and from below in the saddle, parts of the road look so steep that we thought we might want a safety rope! It turned out to be an optical illusion; but it sure looked steep from the saddle. Continue up the road to a fork near the summit. The summit has two peaks with communication towers on both, but the northern peaklet is a little higher than the southern one. At the fork in the road between the two peaklets (Wpt. 4), turn left and head back north to the summit (Wpt. 5), Watch for loose wires, torn down fencing, and don't disturb the equipment.

frenchman mountain
The saddle and road (view north from near the true summit). The tiny dot on the saddle is Liz.

 

There was a small summit cairn and a register in a red can nestled among the radio towers on the northern peaklet in 2002. However, the red can and the register are said to be missing. In March 2004, a new register was installed in an ammo can hidden in a cairn outside the fence on the southern peaklet.

frenchman mountain
Signing the summit register in the rain (view south). This is now a historical photo as the red can is said to be missing.

The summit is not pristine wilderness, but the views of town to the west and of the Lake Mead region to the east are spectacular. Plus, this is such a landmark that from anywhere in town, you can point at the peak brag to everyone about your ascent.

After enjoying the view, retrace your steps. Be sure to stop to rest on the way down because hiking down is harder on your knees than hiking up.

Frenchman Mountain Frenchman Mountain
Frenchman Mountain Frenchman Mountain
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Frenchman Mountain
Frenchman Mountain Trailhead (view S)
Frenchman Mountain
Frenchman Mountain Trailhead (view S)
Frenchman Mountain
Frenchman Mountain Trailhead (view S)
Frenchman Mountain
Don't drive into this gate! (view S)

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

Site # Location Latitude (°N) Longitude (°W) UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (feet) Verified
810 Lake Mead Blvd trailhead 36.2023 114.9885 680842 4008065 2,420 Yes

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

Wpt. Location Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Verified
01 Trailhead 680842 4008065 2,420 GPS
02 Saddle near false summit 680326 4006557 3,605 GPS
03 Big saddle 680308 4006102 3,300 GPS
04 Fork in the road 680112 4005414 3,950 GPS
05 Summit 680153 4005480 4,054 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 121208

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