After the devastating fire back in 2013, which closed numerous hiking trails in Mt. Charleston, the South Loop Trail is open again. This is one of the best trails in Mt. Charleston. Here’s why: The South Loop Trail leads to both Griffith Peak and Charleston Peak, the highest peak in Southern Nevada. In this article, I will be writing about Griffith Peak, the easier of the two hikes.
The Griffith Peak hike is an advanced hike. Hopefully you have been doing other hikes and are used to the elevation. Due to the fire four years ago, there are several burnt trees along the trail.
It will be at least 20 degrees cooler along the trail than down in Las Vegas. Some might want to bring an extra layer in case the temperatures drop. Also, watch the sky and check the forecast. The Monsoon season starts in July and continues through August. My previous articles talked about the Monsoon season. In a nutshell: The Monsoon season brings violent thunderstorms to the mountains.
These thunderstorms are sporadic and normally start around noon.
Hike: Griffith Peak via South Loop Trail — up and back
Trailhead: Cathedral Rock Picnic Area — marked.
Distance: 9.5 miles — round trip
Elevation gain: 3,470 feet
Elevation peak: 11,056 feet
Time: 5 to 7 hours – up and back
Danger level: 2
How easy to follow: 1
Best season: Summer
Driving directions: From the Mirage on Las Vegas Boulevard (the Strip) go north 1.5 miles and turn left (west) onto Sahara. In less than one mile, turn right (north) onto I-15. Take I-15 two miles to US 95. Take US 95 north 14 miles to State route 157. Go left on 157, drive 21 miles into Cathedral Rock parking area. The signed trailhead is located between the upper and a lower parking
Comments: Griffith Peak offers one of the best views in the Mt. Charleston Area. You can also see Bridge Mtn in Red Rock Canyon from the summit! There are numerous fossils found in rocks around the peak.
The Hike: The trail starts at an easy pace as it heads in SSW. It soon splits: one trail turns into the South Loop Trail; the other the Cathedral Rock Trail. The grade increases rapidly as the trail heads east and passes to the east of Echo Cliffs. It winds through ponderosa pines, white furs, and smaller aspens. The aspens are colorful during the fall months. As the trail turns back to a SW direction, it passes through the two sets of cliffs. To the north is Echo Cliffs; to the south is an unnamed cliff range. A small cave is located near the bottom of the unnamed cliffs. Off to the south is Springs Fork where water flows year-round. It is a short 0.25-mile trek to the springs. The trail turns into a series of moderate switchbacks as it climbs up the backside of Echo cliffs. A great overlook is at the top of Echo Cliffs; Kyle Canyon, Mummy Mt., and Cathedral Rock are all in view. The overlook is two miles from the trailhead.
The trail leaves the overlook and heads west with a gradual incline. It crosses a dry drainage and starts a series of moderate switchbacks that takes you to the South Rim Plateau. Many of the switchbacks on the north end offer magnificent views of Kyle Canyon, Cathedral Rock, and Mummy Mt.
The landscape changes into a delightful meadow before reaching the plateau. The last quarter mile is steep, but offers a pleasant view of Griffith Peak. Upon reaching the South Rim, a sign indicates the distances to Charleston Peak, Harris Saddle, and back to Kyle Canyon — the trailhead. Griffith Peak is not listed. The elevation is 10,700; the distance to this point is four miles.
Go left onto the trail and head toward Griffith Peak. In about 400 yards the trail divides. Follow the path up to Griffith Peak. It’s a short, strenuous trek to the peak. (The trail goes around Griffith Peak and back down to Harris Saddle. It does not go up to Griffith Peak.) The wind and lower temperature makes Griffith Peak refreshing in the summer and cold in the winter. There are numerous fossils in the rocks at Griffith Peak. Look at them, but leave them so others can marvel at ancient history. Millions of years ago, the entire area was underwater.
To Descend: Retrace your steps.
After the hike you can visit the new Visitor Center. It’s located on the south side of the round-about that you drove past on your way to Cathedral Rock trailhead. +
Hiking Resources for You:
The 52 Peak Club: Safe and smart group hiking: http://www.52peakclub.com/
Branch’s bio here: http://www.hikinglasvegas.com/about.html
Branch’s Facebook Hiking Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/HikingLasVegas/
Branch’s YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/BranchWhitney