birdandhike.com logo
Home | Wilderness | Hiking | Mt. Charleston
Harris Saddle Trail
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Spring Mountains (Mt. Charleston), Kyle Canyon Area
Harris Saddle Trail
 
Harris Saddle Trailhead
Trailhead (view NW)

Note: Trails in the Carpenter 1 Fire area are closed. Check with the Forest Service. Also, storms of August 2013 washed out the access road. It is possible that the road will reamin closed for years - or even forever.

Overview

This easy, 2.25-mile hike climbs about 725 vertical-feet from the Harris Canyon trailhead to Harris Saddle. The trail starts at the upper edge of the Pinyon-Juniper Woodland (Upper Sonoran Life Zone) and follows an old road built by the WPA in the 1930s. The old road runs up and across a sunny hillside until it ends abruptly at the bottom edge of the Pine-Fir Forest (Canadian Life Zone). From there, a trail continues on to Harris Saddle, which is in a cool, alpine-feeling Pine-Fir forest with Quaking Aspen. From the saddle, there are great views to the north into Kyle Canyon and south towards Mt. Potosi. Driving up Harris Canyon Road is a bit rough and requires a high-clearance vehicle. Most of the trail offers little shade, but during cool weather, this is a great short hike.

Link to map or elevation profile.

Harris Saddle Trail

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ... this is a safe hike if you stay on the trail. The first 1.5 miles of the trail are wide and secure (i.e., an old road), but the sidehill below the road is quite steep. The remaining 0.75 miles of trail present no unusual hazards. This shadeless trail gets surprisingly hot during warmer weather.

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

Harris Saddle Trail
End of the old road (view north)

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.

Harris Saddle Trail
Drill bit left by the WPA (view northwest)

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 1, Waypoint 01), the trail runs out on the old Harris Canyon Road. The old road runs out onto steep, west-facing slopes high above Lovell Canyon, providing great views across the desert towards mountain ranges that disappear into the distance. The high peak to the northwest is Griffith Peak.

Near the trailhead, the vegetation is dominated by shrubs (Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany, Gambel oak, sagebrush, manzanita, silk tassel, wild current, green ephedra, serviceberry, and other low bushes) and few trees that provide little shade. The vegetation here is typical for hot, dry hillsides in the upper Pinyon-Juniper Woodland. It is interesting that there are a few small Ponderosa Pine (Yellow Pine Forest; Transition Life Zone) growing among the Singleleaf Pinyon Pine at the trailhead. In addition, along the road below the trailhead, the shady, north-facing slopes support a nice Pine-Fir Forest (Canadian Life Zone), demonstrating that aspect, as well as elevation, influences the distribution of Life Zones.

Harris Saddle Trail
Harris Saddle and Mt. Charleston (view northwest)

The trail follows the old, one-lane road for about 1.5 miles to where the road abruptly ends high in Lovell Canyon (Wpt. 02). The abrupt end of the road seems odd at first, but a story explains it. During the 1930s, the road was being built by the Works Progress Administration (known as the WPA), one of the government-funded public works programs that put people to work during the Great Depression. The road was intended to be a fire road that would connect with the Lovell Canyon Road (bottom of the canyon below the trail). However, in 1935 President Roosevelt went on a junket to the western mountains (the official line is the he came to inspect the construction site) and asked the project foreman where the road was going. The foreman said he didn't know (probably not really true; he was probably just nervous about talking to the president), and the president immediately stopped the project. Fortunately for the workers, the crew was moved to another project in Lee Canyon.

Harris Saddle

Up near the end of the old road, the vegetation is still dominated by Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany and sagebrush, but many of the other species have dropped out and a few pines and White Fir begin to appear. Here the trees include Limber Pine, a high-elevation species that is less common in the Spring Mountains than the other pines.

From the end of the old road, a good, normal-sized hiking trail continues on across the sideslope. Just past the end of the old road, a several old rock drills (at least four) that are still stuck in the rock, attest to the abrupt end of work on the road. These drill bits would have been retrieved and the rock blasted away if the road had been finished.

Harris Saddle
Harris Saddle and Mt Charleston (view west)
With a bit of what seems like unnecessary up and down, the trail continues northwest towards Harris Saddle (Wpt. 03), the saddle between Griffith and Harris peaks. Along the upper section, the vegetation transitions from a mix of dry, middle-elevation species to a cool, alpine-feeling Pine-Fir Forest (Canadian Life Zone). There is a pretty little meadow on the north-facing slope at the saddle with grasses, forbs, and spring wildflowers, but it is getting a bit overgrown by a thicket of low-growing Quaking Aspen. The trees here are mostly White Fir, Limber Pine, and Quaking Aspen with a few Ponderosa Pine mixed in. There are also some Oregon grape, twinberry, sagebrush, and Common Juniper in the area.
Harris Saddle
Harris Saddle and Harris Peak (view east)

The saddle is a great place to stop, rest, and take in the views. There are great views to the north into Kyle Canyon and Mummy Mountain, and to the south towards Mt. Potosi and the vastness of the desert beyond. While there, keep an eye out for Mount Charleston Chipmunks and Clark's Nutcrackers. Palmer's Chipmunks are unique to the Spring Mountains; they occur nowhere else on earth. Clark's Nutcrackers, noisy, black-and-white birds about the size of a jay, occur only at the highest elevations in Southern Nevada -- if you find Clark's Nutcrackers, you know you are in a nice place.

Harris Saddle Trail
Back down the trail (view south)

From Harris Saddle, the Griffith Peak Trail continues west, climbs up through the limestone cliffs, passes near the summit of Griffith Peak, and connects with the South Loop Trail at the top of Echo Canyon. The South Loop Trail can be followed up to the summit of Mount Charleston or down to the Cathedral Rock Picnic Area in Kyle Canyon. In addition, a pleasant off-trail route runs east to the summit of Harris Mountain.

To get back to the Harris Canyon trailhead, retrace your steps down the Harris Saddle Trail.

Harris Saddle Trail
Hikers at trailhead (view NW)
Harris Saddle Trail
The trail quickly enters the Mt. Charleston Wilderness Area
Harris Saddle Trail
Hikers low on trail (view NW)
Harris Saddle Trail
Grand view into Lovell Canyon and Mt. Potosi (view SW)
Harris Saddle Trail Harris Saddle Trail
Harris Saddle Trail
Griffith Peak (view W)
Harris Saddle Trail
Hikers at mid-trail (view NW)
Harris Saddle Trail
Harris Saddle (view NW)
Harris Saddle Trail
Hikers at mid-trail (view NW)
Harris Saddle Trail
Trail beyond end of road on hillside (view NW)
Harris Saddle Trail
Hikers at the end of the old road (view NW)
Harris Saddle Trail
Hikers at the end of the old road (view SW)
Harris Saddle Trail
Bits of old cable at the end of the road left by WPA
Harris Saddle Trail
Hikers on trail beyond the old road (view NW)
Harris Saddle Trail
Hikers on trail beyond the old road (view NW)
Harris Saddle Trail
Hikers passing first drill bit (view W)
Harris Saddle Trail
First drill bit (view N)
Harris Saddle Trail
Hikers returning past first drill bit (view E)
Harris Saddle Trail
Hikers passing second drill bit (arrow; view W)
Harris Saddle Trail
Second drill bit (view N)
Harris Saddle Trail
Hikers returning past second drill bit (view E)
Harris Saddle Trail
Third drill bit (view NW)
Harris Saddle Trail
Hikers returning past third drill bit (view E)
Harris Saddle Trail
Fourth drill bit (view N)
Harris Saddle
Fourth drill bit (view N)
Harris Saddle Trail
Hikers on trail pass last drill bit (view NW)
Harris Saddle Trail
Grand view down Lovell Canyon toward Mt. Potosi (view S)
Harris Saddle Trail
Hikers towards end of trail (view NW)
Harris Saddle Trail
Cliffs above Harris Saddle (view NW)
Harris Saddle Trail Harris Saddle Trail
Harris Saddle Trail Harris Saddle Trail
Harris Saddle Trail
Hikers on trail crossing Harris Saddle (view W)
Harris Saddle Trail
Treeless area on north side of Harris Saddle (view NE)
Harris Saddle Trail
Hikers at Harris Saddle lunch spot (view NW)
Harris Saddle Trail
Grand view across Kyle Canyon to Mummy Mountain (view N)

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

Wpt. Location Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance Cumulative Distance Verified
01 Trailhead 626077 4009084 8,335 0.00 0.00 GPS
02 End of old road 624599 4010814 8,835 1.53 1.53 GPS
03 Harris Saddle 623738 4011296 9,076 0.74 2.27 GPS

 
Note: All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
Thanks for coming to visit!
© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 130828

Hiking Around Mt Charleston Hiking Around Las Vegas Glossary Copyright, Conditions, Disclaimer Home

 

Google Ads