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Mt. Charleston via North Loop Trail
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Spring Mountains (Mt. Charleston), Kyle Canyon
Mt. Charleston via North Loop Trail
North Loop Trail
North Loop Trailhead (view W) [more photos]

Overview

This strenuous, 10.8-mile trail starts on the Deer Creek Road (8,440 ft) and runs out across hillsides and exposed ridges to the summit of Charleston Peak (11,918 ft). Much of the trail is forested, so there is plenty of shade until the last half-mile above timberline. The only water on the route is Cave Spring (4.5 miles out) where water can be filtered from a pool at the base of a cliff. Water us also available at Mummy Spring via a 0.6 mile, round trip, spur trail. The views from the ridges and the summit are spectacular, and there are lots of fossils in the rocks. The North Loop Trail can be done in part to the Viewpoint or the Raintree, alone to the summit, or in combination with the Mummy Spring, Trail Canyon, or South Loop trails.

Link to map.

North Loop Trail
First part of trail (view W) [more photos]

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this trail traverses narrow ledges with some serious exposure out near Devil's Thumb. While the hiking is safe, be careful along these sections because you will be tired by the time you get there (either coming or going), and a stumble could be your last. This is a long trail to a high-elevation place, so take it easy if you've just come up from the desert and aren't used to the elevation.

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. This trail runs up into the Mt. Charleston Wilderness Area, so pay particular attention to respecting the land.

North Loop Trail
Viewpoint Ridge (view SE) [more photos]

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 hour northwest of Las Vegas. From town, drive out to the North Loop Trailhead.

North Loop Trail
Highpoint [more photos]

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 2, Waypoint 01), the trail runs into the forest on a clearly marked and well-maintained trail. Initially, the trail is fairly gentle and passes through a forest of tall ponderosa pines and white fir, with an open understory of mountain mahogany and wild currents. The trail gradually steepens and climbs onto a flat ridgetop that I refer to as “The Viewpoint” (Wpt. 02) with some good campsites and grand views of the Sheep Range, Las Vegas, and other points to the east (see below). [More photos from The Viewpoint]

North Loop Trail
Highpoint Ridge (view W) [more photos]

From the Viewpoint, the trail switchbacks steeply up a forested hillside towards a highpoint (Wpt. 03) on the ridge east of the Mummy's Toes. From the Highpoint, the trail runs east along the ridge through a bristlecone pine forest to the toe of Mummy Mountain and a junction with the Mummy Spring Trail (Wpt. 04). This trail junction is watched over by the fabled "Raintree," an enormous old bristlecone pine that is said to be some 3,000 years old.

North Loop Trail
Raintree (view W)

From the Raintree, the trail drops off the south side of the ridge and crosses sunny slopes beneath the Mummy's toes, eventually reaching the Trail Canyon Trail junction (Wpt. 05). A mix of tall ponderosa pines, white fir, and bristlecone pines at the junction provide nice shade, while fallen logs provide nice seats. [photos of this section]

North Loop Trail
Trail beyond the Raintree (view W) [more photos]

From the junction, the Trail Canyon Trail runs down Trail Canyon to Echo Road in Kyle Canyon. Hiking up the North Loop Trail and down the Trail Canyon Trail (or visa versa) makes for a good day hike if you can position vehicles at both trailheads. Hiking up Trail Canyon en route to the summit of Mt. Charleston is 2.0 miles shorter and 750 feet lower than starting at the North Loop trailhead, so if you climb the peak using the Trail Canyon Trail, subtract 2.0 miles from the remaining trail distances.

north loop trail
Cave Spring trough (view SE) [more photos]

From the Trail Canyon Trail junction, the North Loop Trail climbs to the northwest through an old burn area. Many of the large old dead trees are still standing, but the area is growing back nicely with shrubs and trees. The trail runs up to some crags below the Mummy's belly and reaches Cave Spring (Wpt. 06). An old watering trough, carved from a single large log, provides water for wildlife, but drinking water can be found where the spring comes out of the cliff up the hill. A cave-like ledge near the spring is a popular campsite, although it is too close to water.

From Cave Spring, the trail continues climbing through the old burn area as it ascends the big scree gully between Mummy Peak and the North Ridge. The burn area is growing back in aspen (which provide nice shade in the summer and color in the fall) and pines, including at least one limber pine along the trail. The trail makes three big switchbacks (two corners) until crossing out of the scree gully near the top of the North Ridge and climbing to some nice viewpoints (Wpt. 07) that look out to the south.

North Loop Trail
Hikers long North Ridge (view W) [more photos]

Along the North Ridge, the trail stays on the south side of the ridge, occasionally breaking onto the top of the ridge at saddles that provide nice campsites and great views to the north. The hillsides are steep in this area, and they get steeper as the trail winds along rocky cliffs towards the Devil's Thumb. The trees are almost entirely bristlecone pines. In this area, the trail has been rerouted off the top of the ridge and does not match the USGS topographic map.

After the third saddle with a view to the north (Wpt. 08), the trail climbs a steep, but short, set of tight switchbacks through rocky cliffs (Wpt. 09). From this point until the start of switchbacks up the summit slope, the trail traverses precipitous ledges. There are also many interesting fossils (mostly corals and sponges) in the limestone along this section of trail, but don't get distracted and stumble off the trail.

north loop trail
E Face, Mt. Charleston (view NW) [more photos]

After the short, tight switchbacks, the trail passes cliffs, another saddle with a campsite and view to the north, runs up and down some steep sections, and passes one outcrop promontory were you can walk out from the trail and get some great views down Kyle Canyon (Wpt. 10). The surface of the outcrop has some nice bas-relief coral and sponge fossils.

north loop trail
Switchbacks on the barren summit slopes (view E)

From the outcrop, the trail runs up and down, passes another small saddle with a campsite, and eventually climbs up onto a large saddle with the first view over the crest of the Spring Range to the east (Wpt. 11). The south edge of this saddle is formed by rocky limestone crags. One stocky crag separated from the main cliffs, the Devil's Thumb, looks like a warty thumb with red-orange splotches (the warts are fossiliferous).

Past the Devil's Thumb, the trail continues running up and down, and in and out, as it follows precipitous ledges across the dissected east face of Mt. Charleston. There is one short set of switchbacks most of the way across the face. Near the southeast side of the face (Wpt. 12), the trail turns back to the north and begins a series of long steep switchbacks that run up the treeless summit slopes to the peak (Wpt. 13).

Mt Charleston summit
Summit (view NE) [more photos]

The views from the summit are magnificent; they say that you can see 300 miles on a clear day. Look for Mt. Whitney and other 14,000-foot peaks along the Sierra crest to the west, the radioactive mesas on the Nevada Test Site to the north, the Grand Wash Cliffs and the Kaibab Plateau to the east, the Hualapai Mountains (south of Kingman Arizona) to the southeast; and the Los Angeles mountains to the southwest.

To get back to the trailhead, retrace your steps or continue south and descend the South Loop Trail to the Cathedral Rock picnic area, making a grand circle.

Table 2. 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 Trailhead 624679 4018903 8,435 0.00 0.00 GPS
02 Viewpoint 623635 4018053 9,331 1.47 1.47 GPS
03 Highpoint 623420 4017531 10,023 0.71 2.18 GPS
04 Mummy Spring Trail (Raintree) 622786 4017247 9,968 0.47 2.65 GPS
05 Trail Canyon Trail 621573 4016349 9,307 1.42 4.07 GPS
06 Cave Spring 621075 4016876 9,692 0.53 4.60 GPS
07 Nice viewpoints 620044 4016609 10,602 1.52 6.12 GPS
08 Third saddle with view north 618531 4016488 10,821 1.18 7.30 GPS
09 Switchbacks through cliffs 618064 4016390 11,064 0.43 7.73 GPS
10 Promontory 617821 4016246 10,996 0.22 7.95 GPS
11 Devils Thumb 617293 4015688 11,004 0.60 8.55 GPS
12 Southeast face 617605 4014580 11,046 0.91 9.46 GPS
13 Summit 617238 4014665 11,914 0.78 10.24 GPS

Note: All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
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© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 120531

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