North Upper Crest Ridgeline | Rainbow Mountain Wilderness, Nevada

Overview | North Upper Crest Ridgeline | Rainbow Mountain Wilderness, Nevada

Adventure slide show by 11/11/2022.

Route Extent

This route covers the Northern section of the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline from the Willow Spring trailhead area and the beginning of Rocky Gap Road in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area to North Peak. For the return trip descend from North Peak to the summit of Rocky Gap Road then take that road back to Willow Spring.

Where is the Rainbow Mountain Wilderness?

The Rainbow Mountains are those colorful Aztec red and white rock mountains along the West side of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. They’re actually ancient Jurassic Era frozen sand dunes. Because there are trail head approaches in Red Rock Canyon to these mountains including Ice Box Canyon, Pine Creek Canyon, Juniper Peak and others, many assume these mountains are a part of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Actually, they are their own unique wilderness area, The Rainbow Mountain Wilderness. This wilderness stretches from its Northern point at the Willow Spring picnic and trailhead area in Red Rock Canyon to its Southern point at Highway 160 and Potosi Mountain.

Where is the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline?

Another even less known fact about the Rainbow Mountains is that there is a parallel high ridgeline stretching above the mountains and just to the West called the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline. This ridgeline continues unbroken from North to South except for one huge gap beginning just South of Mt Wilson. The ridgeline then resumes at Hidden Peak and continues South to Potosi Mountain. 

Why Hike the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline?

The Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline is important as an access to the Rainbow Mountains that does not require advanced rock climbing skills. One can hike the ridgeline and experience the Rainbow Mountain summits from above, along with spectacular 360-degree views along most of its length. What’s visible from the ridgeline? Here’s a short list: The La Madre Mountains Wilderness, the Mt. Charleston Wilderness, Lovell Canyon, Red Rock Canyon, Potosi Mountain, the Las Vegas Valley including awesome aerial views of the Strip, Gass Peak, the Sheep Range, the Muddy Mountains Wilderness, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area and many points beyond these in the far distance. In short, to traverse The Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline is to view nearly every wilderness area in Southern Nevada and many wilderness areas beyond.

How Does the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline Provide an Alternate Route to the Rainbow Mountain Summits?

Another value of The Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline is that it provides a unique access point to the Rainbow Mountain summits. Instead of ascending these summits from below through brush choked canyons and steep rock faces, it’s far easier to descend to the Rainbow Mountain summits from the Upper Crest Ridgeline. Of course, if you want the rock climbing and canyon navigating experience from below, go for it! But the Upper Crest Ridgeline offers an alternative. Just realize, you’re exchanging the rocks and brush for much longer distances. You are likely to end up traversing two or three times the distance in order to reach the Rainbow Mountain peaks from the ridgeline above.

Where are the Access Points to the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline?

There are three main access points to The Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline:

  1. From the North: Willow Spring Trailhead and Picnic Area in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
  2. From the South: Mountain Spring Trailhead area on Highway 160 at Potosi Mountain.
  3. At the Mid-Point: The camping area on Lovell Canyon and Salt Grass roads in Lovell Canyon, access to “the mid-point gap”.

Each access point to The Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline has its value. There are a number of additional access points which I will explore and document in time to come.

What is the Best Time of Year to Hike the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline?

The best time of year to experience the Rainbow Mountain Upper Crest Ridgeline is in the Fall or Spring. You are likely to face snow and ice during the Winter months and excessive temperatures from 90 to over 100 degrees during the Summer months.

What are the Major Peaks in the Rainbow Mountains?

In the video of my first adventure on the Southern ridgeline, I was encountering the Rainbow Mountain peaks below and attempting to number and identify them. Here is a more definitive description of the peaks following my later research. The peak numbers match the numbers in the video, but here are the names and position of the peaks from South to North, beginning from the Mountain Springs Trailhead. If you’re taking the ridgeline from the North, just start at the bottom of the list and move upward:

South Peak
Hollow Rock Peak
Windy Peak
Global Peak (Sprouts from the Northeastern Base of Windy Peak)
Black Velvet Peak
Mountain Springs Peak (between Black Velvet Peak and Hidden Peak) Unlike the others, is on the high ridgeline.
Hidden Peak
Monument Peak Further Out East, Higher
Note: There is a low, long peak between Hidden Peak and Indecision Peak
Indecision Peak
Mt. Wilson
Rainbow Mountain
Juniper Peak
Bridge Mountain
North Peak: Above Bridge Mountain and a bit further North on the Ridgeline

There are additional peaks below the ridgeline. For example, there are 4-6 peaks North of the peak called “North Peak” and one peak South of “South Peak”! However, these (above) are some of the main peaks. Over time, I’ll attempt to visit every peak in the Rainbow Mountains and descend to all their summits from the ridgeline.

Trailhead Directions | North Upper Crest Ridgeline | Rainbow Mountain Wilderness, Nevada

From I-215 take the Charleston Blvd exit (at Red Rock Casino) and head upward through Summerlin toward Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Take the Red Rock Canyon scenic drive past the high point overlook to the Willow Spring picnic area between White Rock Mountain and the Rainbow Mountains that border the West side of Red Rock Canyon.

Route Description | North Upper Crest Ridgeline | Rainbow Mountain Wilderness, Nevada

The 3-Wilderness-Area Junction

The first couple miles, beginning at Willow Spring Picnic and Trailhead area, are up Rocky Gap Road. Shortly after leaving Willow Spring, note that as you pass the Western edge of White Rock Mountain you are at the juncture of three major wilderness areas in Southern Nevada:

  1. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (197,349 acres) Red Rock Park itself, around the scenic drive is about 10,000 acres.
  2. La Madre Mountains Wilderness (47,180 acres)
  3. Rainbow Mountain Wilderness (24,997 acres)

Rocky Gap Road Canyon

After passing the juncture of the three major wilderness areas, as you continue up Rocky Gap Road for the next 2 miles you’re in a canyon between The Keystone Thrust cliffs to your right and the Rainbow Mountains to your left. Notice as you pass a couple smaller peaks in the Rainbow Mountains and the beginning of the Northern Upper Crest Ridgeline. 

How Do You Locate the Unmarked Trailhead  for the Approach Ridge from Rocky Gap Road to the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline?

In this adventure we summit the Northern Upper Crest Ridgeline on a very decent, but unmarked trail a couple miles up Rocky Gap Road. You’ll notice to your left an approach ridge ascending to the Upper Crest Ridgeline. The best key to locating the trail that ascends the approach ridge is that it is opposite the first parking area to your right on Rocky Gap Road, and a couple miles up. On this day there was a small cairn marking the trailhead to your left, but don’t count on that cairn being there. Begin by descending into the wash to your left, crossing the wash and then ascending the approach ridge to the Upper Crest Ridgeline.

What is the Approach Ridge to the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline Like?

The approach ridge is a very rapid ascent and within the space of an eighth mile Rocky Gap Road begins to look very distant and small below. There is a trail that will take you all the way up the approach ridge. About 3/4ths of the way up you will enter a beautiful Jurassic Era sandstone landscape dotted by pine trees that would make a bonsai gardener proud. The trail becomes fainter on the rocks, but is well marked by a series of cairns. Continue upward and skirt a large bluff to the left. A little beyond the bluff the landscape levels out into a large plateau I call “Paradise Plateau” on the Upper Crest Ridgeline summit. Here the scenery is incredible! Take a little time to wander around. I captured some great scenes here in the slideshow and video on this page. 

What are the Views from the Plateau at the North End of the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline?

Notice to the West, beyond and above the Keystone Thrust Cliffs you can now see Griffith Peak, Harris Mountain and a part of Mummy Mountain in the Mt. Charleston Wilderness. To the East and below you can see portions of Red Rock Canyon, Damsel Peak (aka Pincushion Peak) and the Las Vegas Valley beyond. To the South Bridge Mountain and Blue Diamond Mountain are visible as is the Upper Crest Ridgeline heading South.

What is the Key to Traversing the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline Between the Northern Plateau and North Peak?

Now begins your traverse Southward on the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline. You’ll immediately notice the spine of that ridgeline stretching South beyond the Jurassic sandstone zone all the way to North Peak, which is also visible. There is actually a fairly good trail that traverses the ridgeline all the way to North Peak and beyond. The key to staying on this trail, which tends to disappear as you approach some of the high points, is to stay as close to the right (West) edge of the ridge as possible. If you need to skirt a few high points to the left, quickly re-ascend to the upper right edge of the ridgeline, and the trail will again appear. Avoid the temptation to take a wide berth to the left of the high points as that will send you down and away from the trail eventually requiring some hefty back climbing to re-capture the ridgeline trail.

What are the Views from North Peak in the Rainbow Mountain Wilderness?

After ascending a few high points with spectacular views in all directions, you will eventually reach the highest point on this Northern stretch of the ridgeline: North Peak. The easiest ascent of North Peak is on its South side. Take a little time to ascend the short class 3 rock scramble to the summit of North Peak. It’s the best 360-degree view in the area and a bit like standing on the turret of a medieval castle! As you progressed along the ridgeline you viewed Bridge Mountain from a number of perspectives. Now, you see Bridge Mountain in all its glory almost immediately below. To the South Potosi Mountain and the Southern stretch of the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline are now visible as is Rainbow Mountain and immediately behind it, the upper portion of Mt. Wilson. If you look carefully, you can also see the mid-gap in the ridgeline beginning just beyond Mt. Wilson, dividing the Northern and Southern portions of the ridgeline. The Rainbow Mountains Southern Upper Crest Ridgeline resumes beyond the gap at Hidden Peak and Monument Peak, continuing all the way to the Southern edge of the Rainbow Mountain Wilderness at Highway 160 and Potosi Mountain.

Where Do You Descend from North Peak to Either Rocky Gap Road or Bridge Mountain in the Rainbow Mountain Wilderness?

Continue on the Upper Crest Ridgeline trail for about 50-100 yards beyond North Peak to a junction where the trail to Bridge Mountain splits off and downward to your left (East) and another trail splits off to the right and downward for less than a mile to the summit of Rocky Gap Road. In this adventure I descended at this point to Rocky Gap Road and then took that road back down to the Willow Spring area in Red Rock Canyon.

What is the Time Difference Between Traversing Rocky Gap Road and Taking the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline? 

Curiously, the descent down Rocky Gap Road to the unmarked point where I earlier ascended the approach ridge to the Upper Crest Ridgeline only took me 30 minutes, compared to the over 3 hours it took ascending and traversing the Upper Crest Ridgeline in the first part of this adventure. Yes, Rocky Gap Road is a lot quicker, but you miss the incredible views on the Upper Crest Ridgeline along with the Paradise Plateau area. One quick note: Just before reaching the approach ridge trailhead there is a co0l camping area on Rocky Gap Road.

How Can the Rainbow Mountains Northern Upper Crest Ridgeline be Divided into 3 Separate Sections? 

In a future adventure I will take the quick route up Rocky Gap Road and ascend the Upper Crest Ridgeline at the high point on that road in order to have time to continue South on the ridgeline to the gap. Perhaps by the time you read this there will already be a page for that adventure on this site. Another section I will complete is the very Northern section of the ridgeline beginning in the Willow Spring area. So, in all, there will eventually be 3 adventures on the Northern portion of the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline.

 

Summary
North Upper Crest Ridgeline | Rainbow Mountain Wilderness, Nevada
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North Upper Crest Ridgeline | Rainbow Mountain Wilderness, Nevada
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Traverse the Northern Upper Crest Ridgeline between Willow Spring in Red Rock Canyon NCA and North Peak in the Rainbow Mountain Wilderness, Nevada.
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LasVegasAreaTrails.com
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