Overview | Damsel Peak Loop | Brownstone Basin, Nevada

Adventure Slide Guide Week of 3/10/2024

Prepare for a full day of magical wilderness immersion as you experience a variety of high desert terrains, discover multiple approaches to 2 fascinating summits and enjoy spectacular views!

What’s the Route of Your Full Day of Magical Wilderness Immersion on the Damsel Peak Loop?

The approximately 30-mile route seems daunting, but the entire second half is an easy, gradual, obstacle-free downhill all the way. The route begins at Gene’s Trailhead in the Calico Basin, an easy 5-minute drive from the edge of metro Las Vegas. Take the Half-Wilson Trail to the edge of Brownstone Basin. Angle your way across Brownstone Basin along the Southern Base of majestic Damsel Peak. Circle around the Eastern base of Damsel Peak across the beautifully sculpted Jurassic Era Aztec red sandstone hills of upper Little Red Rock. Now circle around the Northern base of Damsel Peak as you ascend a nice gradual wash. So far you’ve been mostly on nice trails, roads and nice open washes. Near the summit of the wash, between Damsel Peak to the South and Gateway Peak to the North, ascend Gateway Peak. Now the downhill all the way part begins. Descend Gateway Peak’s nice, gradual Western gully then navigate a series of ever-widening washes as you descend Brownstone Basin back to the Half Wilson Trail and Gene’s Trailhead.

What Variety of High Desert Terrains Will You Experience Along the Damsel Peak Loop?

Between the Calico Basin and Little Red Rock you’re passing through a fairly level high desert terrain populated by sage, creosote, yucca and cacti. Then you pass through the ancient frozen Jurassic sand dunes of upper Little Red Rock. You emerge into a terrain that quickly becomes a mountain pinyon pine and juniper forest. Ascend the ancient rugged limestone South face of Gateway Peak (450 million years ago at the bottom of a sea). Finally, descend through all these various terrains to return to Gene’s Trailhead.

What Multiple Summit Approaches and Future Wilderness Adventures Will You Discover Along the Damsel Peak Loop?

What Spectacular Views Will You Witness Along the Damsel Peak Loop?

There are far too many additional great reference points to list here. Each hold multiple adventures – follow the links above. 

What is the Best Time of Year to Traverse the Damsel Peak Loop?

My suggestion is to traverse the Damsel Peak Loop from mid-Fall through late Spring. At these elevations – 3,600 – 6,000ft – Summer temperatures can rise into the upper 90’s and some days beyond! Most of the year the highest places are free of snow and ice, but avoid times when there has been recent rain and snow. Las Vegas temperatures below the mid-40’s with rain, will translate to snow and ice above 5,000ft.) In addition, you want a long day with maximum daylight. Mid-March to early June and early September to late October are ideal.

One more point: You’ll have cell phone coverage along most of this route, but will lose coverage on the North side of Damsel Peak and around Gateway Peak.

Trailhead Directions | Damsel Peak Loop | Brownstone Basin, Nevada

From Hwy 215 in the Summerlin area, take the Charleston Blvd exit, turn upward (West) on Charleston Blvd toward the mountains. Charleston Blvd becomes Blue Diamond Rd. (159) as you leave the city. Take the Calico Basin exit off 159 (right turn) onto Calico Basin Road. Park at Gene’s Trailhead near the beginning of Calico Basin Road.

Adventure Description | Damsel Peak Loop | Brownstone Basin, Nevada

Gene’s Trailhead to the Brownstone Basin

There are 3 trails at Gene’s Trailhead. Take the unmarked trail furthest to the right (South). This is the Half Wilson Trail. It skirts the Southeastern base (right side) of the large Peak 3844 hill as it heads toward Brownstone Basin. Note that Peak 3844 is a great quick peak to summit with a spectacular view of many of the reference points noted above. At the far edge of Peak 3844 hill, the Half Wilson Trail ends in a wash bordering the Brownstone Basin

Brownstone Basin to the Southeast Edge of Damsel Peak

Cross the border wash and head for the right side of the next hill. You may or may not locate paths along this stretch. Just head for that next hill ahead. At the edge of that hill you’ll see the full view of Damsel Peak. Summerlin Ridge is to the right across the Brownstone Basin. Head for the Southeast corner of Damsel Peak. This is your next reference point as you will be making a complete counterclockwise circuit of Damsel Peak. Again, along the way to the Southeast corner of Damsel Peak you will come across roads. Take the roads where possible to mitigate the ups and downs of the series of washes you will be crossing. As you enter an upper stretch of Little Red Rock, you’ll know you’ve reached the Southeast edge of Damsel Peak.

Damsel Peak Summit Reference Points

The main summit reference points on Damsel Peak are the Northern Summit, Southern Summit, Summit Saddle between the two summits and the Southern Pinnacle, just below the Southern Summit. Recognizing these summit reference points is an important first step to approaching and navigating Damsel Peak’s summit. From the South you’ll be able to see the Southern Summit and Southern Pinnacle. 

Damsel Peak Southern and Southeastern Summit Approaches

As you traverse the South and Southeast base of Damsel Peak, notice at least 3 summit approaches. These are future adventures, not on today’s Damsel Peak Loop:

Southern Summit Approach: This is a very steep, loose rock slope toward Damsel Peak’s Southern Pinnacle. It circles the left (West) side of the Southern Pinnacle and Southern Summit, then takes the saddle to the Northern summit and descends from there either into Brownstone Basin to the West or the Little Red Rock Basin area to the East.

Southeast Ridge Approach: This approach is much more gradual. Notice a huge Southeastern canyon from the summit to the base of Damsel Peak. The ridge to the left is the Southeast Ridge. You can enter the the canyon, angle your way to up the left side to the Southern Pinnacle, then continue around the Southern Pinnacle as noted above.

Southeast Gully Approach: Angle your way up the right side of the Southeastern canyon to summit at the saddle between the South and North summits.

Damsel Peak Eastern Base (Upper Little Red Rock)

As you near the Southeastern corner of Damsel Peak, watch for a gully wash road that will take you along the Eastern base of Damsel Peak and through the Upper Little Red Rock

Upper Little Red Rock is a beautiful stretch of Jurassic Era Aztec red rock sandstone hills. Up close, they are surprisingly huge compared to how they looked from a distance. This could be another entire adventure of exploring, climbing and photographing. Note that there are a number of other similar groupings of red sandstone hills throughout this basin. I’ve seen ancient Native American petroglyphs scattered throughout these hills.

Damsel Peak Eastern Summit Approaches

Unlike the vertical West side of Damsel Peak, the East side is a more gradual slope. You can almost pick your summit approach and walk to the summit. You’ll most likely arrive on the Summit Saddle from which you can continue to the Northern or Southern summit before descending.

Damsel Peak Northeast and Northern Base

As you continue up the Eastern wash through Little Red Rock, you’re actually in the wash that continues on to circle the North base of Damsel Peak. The wash doubles as a 4WD road until the road ends on the North side of Damsel Peak and the gully continues. The wash and gully are an easy gradual incline walk. As you near the summit of the wash you’re between the North side of Damsel Peak and the South side of Gateway Peak.

Damsel Peak Northeast and Northern Summit Approaches

There are numerous Northeastern and Northern summit approaches to Damsel Peak. As with the East side, you can almost pick your summit approach from any point along the way. By the way, the gully you are ascending will continue down the opposite side of Damsel Peak, but I hear it has some challenging dry falls during the descent. For this reason my plan was to ascend the South side of Gateway Peak and descend the much friendlier, gradual North or West side of that peak. 

Gateway Peak Summit Southern Approaches 

Gateway Peak to your right (North) has at least 3 summit approaches I noticed:

  • The first summit approach is up a gully on the East side of Gateway Peak. It looked as if there was a high dry fall early in that gully. It may have been easy to navigate, but I continued up along the South base of Gateway Peak.
  • The second summit approach is just East of the Eastern summit. Like Damsel Peak, Gateway Peak has 2 summits (East and West) and a saddle between. Hindsight says this second summit approach might have been more gradual than the third.
  • The third summit approach is up to the saddle. I took this because by the time I got to the base of the saddle, it looked as if this might be my last chance to summit Gateway Peak from the gully between Gateway Peak and Damsel Peak. This was very steep, with loose rock and some exposure as I wound my way around and up. I have to confess that the only thing that kept me going upward was the thought of having to turn around and descend that slope! It was possible to wind up and around various ledges and barriers. Very challenging. Never horribly frightening, but for this non-rock-climbing trail runner it was at the edge of my comfort zone!

The View from Gateway Peak Summit

The view from the summit of Gateway Peak is incredible! Just to your North you have the La Madre Mountains Ridgeline. Turn to the East and you can see the Las Vegas Valley all the way to the Strip, to Lake Mead and beyond into Arizona. To the South is the Northern summit of Damsel Peak, almost so close you feel as if you are standing on that summit. The the West is the Brownstone Basin with Red Rock Canyon and the entire stretch of Rainbow Mountains beyond, all the way down to Potosi Mountain on the South end of the Spring Mountains.

Descending Gateway Peak

The North side of Gateway Peak is more gradual and appears to have multiple descent points.

There’s a nice gradual Western gully from Gateway Peak’s summit to its base. The gully is narrow in places, but there are no obstacles. When you arrive at the base of the gully, you land on a wide, gravel gully. Take a left here and descend this ever-widening gully all the way down through Brownstone Basin and ultimately to reconnect with the Half Wilson Trail back to Gene’s Trailhead.

Additional Adventures West and Northwest of Damsel Peak

  • Little La Madre: Just North of Gateway Peak is Little La Madre. It appears possible to summit Little La Madre from its East side. There may be additional summit approaches. I have not explored this area yet.
  • The La Madre Ridgeline Southern Passage: Looking to the West along the La Madre Mountains Ridgeline, there are La Madre Mountain and El Padre Mountain. There is a Southern passage between called “The Notch”. I’ve been up this passage nearly all the way to its summit and also looked down from above. It’s steep, loose rock, challenging, but very possible with no higher than class 3 climbing.
  • Limestone Trail to Red Rock Canyon: At the base of El Padre Mountain, near the summit of the Brownstone Trail the Limestone Trail circles over to Red Rock Canyon.
  • Damsel Peak Northwestern Summit Approach: As you descend the wash along the Western base of Damsel Peak, you could angle upward to Damsel Peak Summit. I’ve taken this route previously. The Western side of Damsel Peak is sharply vertical with no potential summit approaches to any but highly experienced, skilled rock climbers.
  • Brownstone Basin Calico Hills: Continuing down the Brownstone Basin there are 2 groups of Calico Hills: An upper red group to your right and a mid-calico group to your left that has a beautiful ephemeral pool and reservoir. These could hold some rewarding future adventures.
  • East Summit Approach to Turtlehead Peak: Turtlehead Peak’s Eastern side is gradual, with multiple summit approaches.
  • Gray Cap Peak and Ridgeline: Just South of Turtlehead Peak is an approach to Gray Cap Peak and its long ridgeline that extends along the Western border of the Brownstone Basin for about 5 miles. There are multiple approaches to Gray Cap Ridgeline from Brownstone Basin.

Reconnecting with the Half-Wilson Trail

Angle your way down the Brownstone Basin washes, eventually connecting with the Brownstone Trail near the beginning of Gray Cap Peak and Ridge. Continue to descend along the Eastern base of Gray Cap Ridge. During this stretch, the Brownstone Trail will end and the Brownstone Road begin at a well marked border. Continue hugging the Eastern Base of Gray Cap Ridgeline on Brownstone Road. Near the lower portion of Gray Cap Ridgeline, leave Brownstone Road and begin angling down washes to the right along the ridgeline. You’ll eventually pass under some powerlines and reach the upper end of the Half Wilson Trail at the East side of Peak 3844 Hill. Take the Half Wilson Trail back to Gene’s Trailhead.

Damsel Peak Loop Summary

Congratulations! You’ve made quite a significant accomplishment during this day of total wilderness immersion on the approximately 30-mile Damsel Peak Loop. By the way, I did not see a soul along the entire route, so it was pure wilderness solitude all the way!

Damsel Peak Loop | Brownstone Basin, Nevada
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Damsel Peak Loop | Brownstone Basin, Nevada
This complete loop of Damsel Peak's base in the Brownstone Basin, Nevada searches for previously unknown summit routes to the summit.
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