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Historic Desert View Overlook Trail
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Spring Mountains (Mt. Charleston), Lee Canyon Area
Desert View Overlook Trail
Desert View Overlook
Beginning of the trail

Note: this page commemorates the original Desert View Overlook Trail. For the current webpage, click here.


This is a short, nearly level, paved trail leads from the parking area to an overlook with grand views of the desert and mountains to the north and east. Historically, people came here to watch atomic bomb blasts on the Nevada Test Site, and this still is a good place to watch U.S. Air Force maneuvers (jets making bombing runs and firing rockets; also ground artillery) on the Nellis Bombing Range. Keep an eye out for drones, stealth bombers, and of course, UFOs dropping into Area 51 out just over the horizon.

Desert View Overlook

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, this is a safe paved trail; however, be careful of cars in the parking lot and zooming down the highway.

While hiking, but please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, this hike is so short that you probably don't need to bring the 10 Essentials.

Desert View Overlook

Getting to the Trailhead

The trailhead is located up in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (generally referred to as Mt. Charleston) on Deer Creek Road between Kyle and Lee Canyons, about 1-1/4 hour northwest of Las Vegas. From town, drive out to the Desert View Overlook Trailhead.

Desert View Overlook

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 1, Waypoint 01), walk north on the paved trail. The trail is relatively wide, paved, fully accessible, and has a railing on the downhill side. The short trail passes through a mixed forest of singleleaf pinyon pines, Utah juniper, rocky mountain juniper, curlleaf mountain mahogany, Fremont's mahonia, green ephedra, sagebrush, and a few other shrubs. After about 1-2 minutes of walking, the trail ends at the overlook (Wpt. 02) with a grand view to the north.

The view from the overlook covers a grand sweep of the northern Mojave Desert, with the Great Basin Desert in the distance to the north. A sign at the overlook describes the panorama and identifies the mountains and other landmarks, including the Nevada Test Site, that can be seen in the distance.

Desert View Overlook
Desert View Overlook

To the northwest is the Nevada Test Site. This is the best view of the Nevada Test Site that most people will ever get. If you look carefully at a bearing of 333 degrees, you can see over a low point on a ridge in the middle distance and see part of Frenchman Flats Playa. The first above-ground atomic bomb tests in Nevada were conducted at Frenchman Flat, but then they moved the tests north to Yucca Flats and "whomped off" many more bombs underground. When the bombs got too big for the alluvial soils of Yucca Flats, they again moved farther north and set off big bombs under the volcanic mesas (e.g., Rainier Mesa) that can be seen far in the distance beyond Frenchman Flats (but which are not identified on the sign).

A sign once provided information on the history of above-ground atomic bomb testing and how people came up here to watch the blasts. Unfortunately, vandals stole the original aluminum sign, but it has been replaced by a paper sign that looks like it will need to be replaced regularly.

Desert View Overlook
Information sign about geology names the peaks
To the north and northeast is the Nellis Bombing Range. In the bottom of the valley to the north, you can see a bit of Creech Air Force Base and Indian Springs town just over a ridge. This is where the air force trains and operates drone aircraft. Keep an eye out for them doing touch-and-go landings on the airfield. The overlook also provides good views of a playa (to the northeast) that the Air Force uses for bombing practice. Sometimes you can see fighter jets on bombing runs as they dive-bomb and drop bombs or shoot rockets at targets on the dry lake northeast of the overlook. Using binoculars, you can see a big bulls-eye bulldozed into the playa. South of the playa, in the valley along Highway 95, you might also see tank and artillery practice.
Desert View Overlook
Grand scenery to the north across Creech AFB

To the east are the Sheep and Las Vegas ranges. These two mountain ranges, plus four others, are part of the Desert National Wildlife Range, a National Wildlife Refuge set up primarily to protect Desert Bighorn Sheep. Other than at Refuge Headquarters (Corn Creek), the Wildlife Range is essentially undeveloped (few roads, no developed trails), making it a wonderful and wild place to hike and wander among the vast beauty and solitude of the desert.

Mt. Charleston, Desert Overlook Trail
Peeking into Frenchman Flat
From high on the mountain, we can look down into Frenchman Flat (arrow at left) and see where they whomped 'em off back in the 1950s at the dawn of the nuclear age. From here, it feels like you are looking into the belly of the beast, or perhaps Mordor, but people actually work in buildings out on the flat these days.
Mt. Charleston, Desert Overlook Trail
Military practice

The military still practices within sight of the Desert Overlook. This dry lake to the east of the overlook, and just east of Highway 95, is a good place to watch things blow up. Here (arrow at left), we seem to have artillery shells bursting in air above the lakebed.

After taking in the view, retrace your footprints to the trailhead.

Desert View Overlook Desert View Overlook
Desert View Overlook
Sheep Range (view west from end of trail)
Desert View Overlook
Information about the Nevada Test Site - sign is gone
Desert View Overlook
Nellis Air Force Base (view north from end of trail)
Desert View Overlook
Nevada Test Site and Frenchman Flat (view NW from end of trail)
Desert View Overlook
Near the end of the trail (view north)
Desert View Overlook
Desert Overlook in late afternoon (view north)

Table 1. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S).

Wpt. Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi) Verified
01 Trailhead 623139 4021968 8,310 0.00 0.00 GPS
02 First Overlook 623142 4022089 8,311 0.08 0.08 GPS
01 Trailhead 623139 4021968 8,310 0.08 0.16 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 150114

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