Charlie’s Spring Trail in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, was an unexpected amazing discovery. While the idea of a desert oasis is always inviting, I was expecting to travel down a flat desert wash with little variation all the way to the oasis. However, after the first few miles, the wash unexpectedly took a dive into a beautiful red rock canyon before reaching the oasis. The trail itself is 4.7 miles long (each way) through a combination of sandy and gravelly soil and follows the continuation of the desert wash that parallels the Old Arrowhead Trail. However, the sand is not as deep as the Fire Canyon sand! This trail is totally worth the hike, but not very easy to run. The trail is not marked in any way, you just need to stay in the wash and travel down hill like water!
One could easily miss the trailhead for Charlie’s Spring Trail. Like the other long trails in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, there are no road signs or improved parking areas to mark the trailhead. The only signs are small signs at the trailhead itself. Pinnacles Loop, Fire Canyon, Prospect Trail, Old Arrowhead Trail and Natural Arches Trail are other examples. You need to have looked at a map and know where you are going in order to find these trailheads. In this case, the trailhead for Charlie’s Spring Trail comes just before Elephant Rock Loop if you’re traveling West on the main highway through Valley of Fire State Park. Charlie’s Spring Trail and Natural Arches Trail share the same trailhead. Charlie’s Spring trail heads South across the highway; Natural Arches Trail heads North up Fire Canyon.
Charlie’s Spring Trail begins by passing through a tube under the main highway. I found the tube to offer some cool photo ops and it reminded me of the near death experiences people report of passing through a tunnel toward a light at the end of the tunnel! The tunnel emerges at the memorial (interesting coincidence) of John G. Clark, the civil war vet who died of dehydration at this place while traveling the Old Arrowhead Trail in his wagon. Enough for morbid thoughts!
Charlie’s Spring Trail is actually a desert wash, the continuation of the Fire Canyon wash for its first half mile or so, and therefore nearly as sandy. After that first half mile or so, the wash meets up with the extension of the larger wash that parallels the Old Arrowhead Trail. Take a left down this larger wash which is broader and offers a surface combination of gravel and sand, a little easier to navigate. This wash passes alongside some beautiful red rock hills to your left (North) with the Southern park boarder range about 5 miles off to your right. A detour into those red rock hills to the North would be well worthwhile. In fact, navigate through the hills all the way to Elephant Rock Loop as I did when I overshoot the end of the Old Arrowhead Trail, and you’ll be rewarded with some little known amazing rock formations that rival the formations elsewhere in Valley of Fire State Park.
However, today we’re continuing down the Charlie’s Spring Trail wash. Just as you’re getting lulled into the routine of traveling down a flat desert wash, the wash suddenly dives into a spectacular red rock canyon, and within a few hundred feet it feels as if you’re in a mini-version of the Grand Canyon! While the descent into the canyon requires you to use all four limbs to navigate the red rock, it is not very difficult, and soon you find yourself once again on a relatively flat, sandy surface with beautiful red rock canyon walls towering above on either side. It’s amazing that a flat desert wash could so completely transform in such a brief distance.
Now, in the red rock canyon, the photo ops are non-stop, with weird and wonderful rock formations and intricate cliff wall designs all around. There are one or two more light rock scrambles, but for the most part the canyon floor is flat and sandy. Meanwhile, above you can see the brown, rocky desert floor, so different from the canyon you are in. It’s like it’s own world that could have easily been missed were you above, traversing the desert — unless you fell in! The little creek that appears and disappears the whole length of Charlie’s Spring Trail continues to appear, then disappear into the sand. It was traveling under you during the entire trip.
Near Charlie’s Spring there is one pillar of a rock in the midst of the canyon that appears to have a brush pile near the top (over 15 feet above the canyon floor) that could only have been deposited there during a flash flood. One can’t help but imagine 15 or more feet of water rushing through the canyon. As you look around it becomes apparent that huge chunks of composite rock once crashed down from above, probably during such floods, and are now deposited at the base of the canyon walls.
Eventually, after a mile or so beyond the beginning of the canyon, the little creek appears again and becomes more pronounced while the plant life and animals (mostly birds) begin to appear. You’re approaching Charlie’s Spring. Charlie’s Spring itself is a beautiful, peaceful desert oasis complete with a pond, a palm tree (one tree!) and lush vegetation. The oasis forms a peaceful zone of life, so different from the surrounding desert that is has its own magic. Birds are singing, insects are buzzing and you can see the total transformation water creates in a desert landscape.
Just to make sure I’d actually reached Charlie’s Spring, I traveled another half mile down the canyon, which began to widen out as it approached the still distant Overton Arm of Lake Mead. Actually, the canyon was beckoning me on as I found myself asking, “What lies beyond the next bend?”
After the canyon releases its hold on you, turn around and retrace your steps back up the canyon and the wash to return to the trailhead, or take that deviation through the red rock hills to Elephant Rock Loop I mentioned earlier. See the video on this page and on the Old Arrowhead Trail page for better directions and views of this amazing area.