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Griffith Peak (via Harris Saddle) Trail
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Spring Mountains (Mt. Charleston), Kyle Canyon Area
Griffith Peak Trail
Griffith Peak
Cliffs beyond Harris Saddle (view NW)

Note: Trails in the Carpenter 1 Fire area are closed. Check with the Forest Service. This trail is closed for the next 5 years (2014 until 2019).

Overview

This moderately strenuous, 11-mile round-trip hike climbs about 2,660 feet from the Griffith Peak Trailhead to summit of Griffith Peak. The trail generally is open, airy, sunny, and not too steep, and views from the summit are among the best in southern Nevada. There are even fascinating fossils and rare plants on the summit.

The trail mostly follows sidehills, contouring up and around Harris Mountain and then along the east ridge of Griffith Peak. Near the summit, the trail contours around the south side of the peak to the west ridge. When the trail reaches the west ridge, a spur trail to the summit turns hard to the right (east) while the main trail continues west to the South Loop Trail and the summit of Mt. Charleston.

Link to map or elevation profile, and extra trail photos.

Griffith Peak Trail
Harris Saddle below limestone cliffs (view NW)

The road to the trailhead (Harris Springs Road and Harris Mountain Road) are a bit rough, and a high-clearance vehicle is necessary on Harris Mountain Road.

An alternate route up Griffith Peak starts in Kyle Canyon and follows the South Loop Trail to the rim of Kyle Canyon. At the rim, the South Loop Trail joins the Griffith Peak Trail. From the junction, the route up Griffith Peak runs southeast along the ridge and heads up a spur trail following the west ridge.

 

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this is a pretty safe hike. The trail climbs through some limestone cliffs on narrow, exposed ledges just above Harris Saddle, so watch your step along this part. The trail is moderately strenuous, so take it easy at this elevation if you've just come up from the desert. Because of the length, this probably isn't a good trail for young children.

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.

Griffith Peak
Narrow trail in cliffs above Harris Saddle (view SW)

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (generally called Mt. Charleston) off Harris Springs Road south of Kyle Canyon Road, about 1.5 hours northwest of Las Vegas.

From town, drive north on Highway 95 to Kyle Canyon Road, then to Harris Springs Road, and finally to the end of Harris Mountain Road and the Griffith Peak Trailhead.

Griffith Peak Trail
Hikers on trail in woods (view W)

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 1, Waypoint 01), the trail enters the Mt. Charleston Wilderness Area and runs northwest up the old road until the road abruptly ends high in Lovell Canyon (Wpt. 02). From the end of the old road, a good trail continues northwest to Harris Saddle (the saddle between Griffith and Harris peaks; Wpt. 03). For details on this part of the hike, including a map, see the description of the Harris Saddle Trail.

Lower down, the vegetation generally is composed of mountain mahogany, shrub live oak, sagebrush, manzanita, silk tassel, Mormon tea, other low bushes, shrubby burn areas, and a few single-leaf pinyon pines, but little shade. Along the upper section, the vegetation transitions to a cool, alpine-feeling ponderosa pine and white fir forest with a few limber pine mixed in.

Griffith Peak
Grassy slope on north side of the ridge (view W)

From Harris Saddle (Wpt. 3), which overlooks Kyle Canyon to the north, the trail turns west and climbs fairly steep switchbacks, rocky stairs, and narrow ledges to pass through and around craggy limestone cliffs. At the top of the cliffs (Wpt. 04), a short spur trail leads to a great overlook (Wpt. 10) out to the rim of Kyle Canyon. After climbing through the cliffs, this is a good place to rest and enjoy the view. In this area, and especially a little higher up, the vegetation becomes less dense and gives way to bristlecone pine, limber pines, wild currents, and a few open, shrubby areas.

After the cliffs, the grade becomes more gentle as the trail runs along the south side of the main ridge. After a long, sweeping switchback, the trail regains the ridgeline and briefly crosses onto the north side in a meadow area that feels very alpine and provides grand views up Kyle Canyon.

Griffith Peak Trail
Brushy area with great views to the southwest

The trail crosses back onto the south side of the ridge, passes short switchbacks and then longer ones, and passes a nice campsite on a low saddle in the trees.

Continuing up the ridge, the trail breaks out of the bristlecone pine forest and enters a grassy area that looks like a ski slope (Wpt. 05). Some hikers leave the trail here and climb off-trail to the summit. This route is relatively long and steep, and there are faint use-trails in places.

Continuing on the trail past the grassy area, the trail leaves the ridgeline and heads southward as it climbs gently around the south side of Griffith Peak. After walking for a few minutes in the forest, the trail crosses the Southeast Ridge (Wpt. 06) with views through the trees of Sandy Valley Town and places far to the south. Below the trail, open grassy areas and a rocky ridge look like they might have nice campsites.

Griffith Peak Trail
Trail crossing the South Ridge (view W)

Continuing westward, the trail climbs gently across the south side of the peak, eventually crossing the South Ridge (Wpt. 07). At this point, hikers get a view to the west into the Pahrump Valley and places far to the west. This is the highest point on this part of the trail.

Continuing past the South Ridge (Wpt. 07), the trail descends across southwest-facing slopes to the West Ridge and the rim of Kyle Canyon. When the trail hits the crest of the ridge (Wpt. 08), a spur trail forks hard to the right and climbs steeply up the West Ridge to the summit (Wpt. 09). Newly constructed switchbacks along the spur trail make the hiking easier and encourage hikers to always follow the same route, an improvement over the environmentally damaging multiple trails that once ran up the ridgeline.

Griffith Peak Trail
Hikers at Griffith Peak spur trail (view NW)

Views from the summit are spectacular. Much of the South Loop Trail to Mt Charleston, the North Loop Trail, the Sheep Range and points east, Red Rocks and Las Vegas to the southeast, Mt. Potosi and other mountain ranges to the south and east into California are visible. On clear days, the view reaches far into California and Arizona.

While gazing into the distance, don't overlook the close-up view: there are some interesting crinoid fossils on the summit, and some of the rock layers appear to be largely composed of crinoid fragments. Also, the thistle plants on the summit are a rare species (Charleston Mountain Thistle), so be careful around them.

Griffith Peak Trail
Griffith Peak spur trail on steep West Ridge (view E)

When ready to leave, the easiest way back to to the trailhead is to retrace your footprints along the dusty trail. Alternatively, hikers can make a partial-loop by descend directly down the east ridge on the "ski slope" towards Harris Saddle.

For hikers continuing west, descend to the start of the summit spur trail (Wpt. 08), then continue west on the ridgeline for 0.21 miles to the South Loop Trail junction (Wpt. 11). At the junction, the trail to the north (right) drops steeply into Kyle Canyon, while the trail to the northwest (left) goes to the summit of Mt. Charleston. For hikers climbing Griffith Peak from Kyle Canyon, this is where the South Loop Trail joins the Griffith Peak Trail.

Griffith Peak
Looking back at Harris Canyon Trail (view SE) [extra trail photos]
Griffith Peak
Hiker on Griffith summit (view NE to Sheep Range)
Griffith Peak
Crinoid fossils on the summit
Griffith Peak
Scenery: Mt. Charleston from Griffith Peak
Griffith Peak
Scenery: Mummy Mountain from Griffith Peak
Griffith Peak
Scenery: Mt. Charleston from Griffith Peak
Griffith Peak
Scenery: Harris Peak from Griffith Peak Trail
Griffith Peak
Hiker descending the "grassy ski slope"

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 Griffith Peak Trailhead 626092 4009097 8,338 0.00 0.00 Yes
02 End of Old Road 624603 4010812 8,751 1.57 1.57 Yes
03 Harris Saddle 623738 4011300 9,078 0.76 2.33 GPS
04 Trail Junction to Overlook 623387 4011221 9,499 0.60 2.93 GPS
05 East Ridge (Grassy Ski Slope) 622279 4010671 10,452 1.52 4.45 Yes
06 Southeast Ridge 622076 4010249 10,646 0.33 4.78 GPS
07 South Ridge (Pahrump View) 621679 4010169 10,763 0.28 5.06 GPS
08 West Ridge 621499 4010551 10,550 0.29 5.35 Yes
09 Griffith Summit 621752 4010381 11,060 0.31 5.66 Yes
01 Griffith Peak Trailhead 626092 4009097 8,338 5.66 11.32 Yes
. . . . . . . .
10 Overlook 623453 4011262 9,517 . 0.06 GPS
11 South Loop Trail 621317 4010822 10,550 . 0.21 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 120627

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