Escarpment Trail | Mt Charleston Wilderness | Spring Mountains, Nevada
Overview | Escarpment Trail | Mt Charleston Wilderness | Spring Mountains, Nevada
Experience an escarpment by hiking this 3.6-mile Escarpment loop trail in The Mt. Charleston Wilderness. Note that there are some rather steep inclines at the beginning of the trail and on either end of the escarpment.
The Escarpment Trail begins and ends at The Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway on Kyle Canyon Road, but can also be accessed from The Fletcher Canyon Trailhead via The Acastus Trail. A very good trail skirts the base of the Escarpment cliffs, circles around the end and then spans the upper edge of the Escarpment. Views up and down Kyle Canyon are spectacular, as is the Spring floral display along the trail.
What is an “Escarpment”?
An escarpment is the vertical cliff that separates 2 level land plateaus of different heights. “Scarp” refers to the cliff itself. The first image in the slideshow above is a perfect example. It’s an image of the escarpment around which the trail described on this page loops.
How to Experience an Escarpment?
Experience an escarpment by hiking this Escarpment loop trail in The Mt. Charleston Wilderness! Some highly skilled rock climbers experience this Escarpment by scaling the cliff wall as evidenced by the cables that can be seen attached to the cliff at a few points (on and near the Eastern end of the escarpment).
Clockwise or Counterclockwise on The Escarpment Trail?
As it’s a loop trail, it really doesn’t matter whether you take The Escarpment Trail clockwise or counterclockwise. In the video on this page I took The Escarpment Trail in a clockwise direction. That worked well. Why? Easily connected with The Packrat Route, headed upward along the base of the cliffs, reached the C-54 November 17, 1955 aircraft crash memorial and telescope early while I was fresh enough to really take in the experience, circled around the end of The Escarpment, got most of the elevation gain out of the way early, rested on the bench at the center of the Escarpment, continued around the upper end of The Escarpment, then descended back to the beginning of the loop. The clockwise direction just seemed to have a better flow. But it’s really a toss-up. Counterclockwise would have a different set of advantages. It’s an awesome loop trail and you can’t go wrong in either direction.
The Escarpment Trail as an Awesome Physical Conditioning Loop
The Escarpment Trail has all the requirements for an awesome physical conditioning loop. At around 7,000ft it’s a great for altitude conditioning as you’re planning to ascend in coming weeks and months to Charleston Peak’s 11.919ft summit, or Griffith Peak (11.056ft), Lee Peak (11,289ft), Mummy Mountain (11,528ft). The trail surface is good enough to take at a run. There are some healthy ascent stretches for you uphill conditioning. And, if you’re so inclined, take the 3.6-mile loop more than once, vary the direction each time…knock yourself out! You’ll find yourself prepared to have a great time in higher altitude adventures in The Mt. Charleston Wilderness and other high altitude excursions.
Best Time of Year to Hike The Escarpment Trail
The Escarpment Trail should be taken from Fall to Spring. You might want to avoid hiking the trail during Summer months when temperatures can easily rise to near 100 degrees!
Trailhead Directions | Escarpment Trail | Mt Charleston Wilderness | Spring Mountains, Nevada
Though you can access this trail from The Fletcher Canyon Trailhead, the more direct access is at The Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway. Take Hwy 95 North from Las Vegas for about 25 miles. Turn left onto Kyle Canyon Road at the Kyle Canyon Road Exit on Hwy 95. Take Kyle Canyon Road about 20 miles. As you near Charleston Village you will see The Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway to your left. Access via the traffic circle on Kyle Canyon Road.
If you want to add The Acastus Trail to this adventure, you could start out on that trail at The Fletcher Canyon Trailhead: Driving to the Fletcher Canyon Trailhead is pretty easy: Up I-95 North from Las Vegas, take a left at the Kyle Canyon exit, continue about 20 miles up Kyle Canyon Road, pass the traffic circle at The Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway, pass the Deer Creek Road turnoff and Mt Charleston Lodge and then onward for less than a quarter mile to The Fletcher Canyon Trailhead parking on your left. In all, it’s less than 40 miles from the Las Vegas Strip.
Adventure Observations | Escarpment Trail | Mt Charleston Wilderness | Spring Mountains, Nevada
Whether you park your car at The Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway or at The Fletcher Canyon Trailhead, you won’t find signs that say “Escarpment Trail” at the parking area. That may be a plus because most people don’t know the trail exists, which leads to more wilderness solitude on the trail.
Here’s how to locate The Escarpment Trailhead, it’s pretty easy:
- From The Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway: Go behind the Gateway, look down into the wash below and you’ll see a series of pathways. To your right you’ll see a good trail that angles downward into the wash. Take that trail, then navigate the pathways below toward the escarpment cliffs above (South). Before you reach the base of the cliffs you’ll see a Packrat Route trail sign. Take that. The Packrat Route further upward toward the cliffs. You’ll begin seeing Escarpment Trail signs as you near the cliffs.
- From The Acastus Trail: As you reach the Eastern (lower) end of The Acastus Trail and enter the wash below The Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway (above the wash to your left – North), begin to angle upward toward the Escarpment cliffs above to your right (South). Depending on how far down the wash you are when you begin angling upward toward the escarpment cliffs, you will either see Packrat Route trail signs or an Escarpment trail sign. Either works fine, as The Packrat Route leads to The Escarpment Trail.
Looping Around the The Escarpment Trail
The Packrat Route is a pretty healthy incline toward The Escarpment cliffs. The good news is that the incline is not too long. Once you reach the summit of The Packrat Route you’ll begin heading East (left) along the base of The Escarpment Cliffs. Here you’ll begin to see “Packrat Route/Escarpment” trail markers to reassure you that you’re on track. But actually, staying on The Escarpment Trail is just a matter of looping around the lower edge of the cliffs, rounding the Eastern edge of The Escarpment, following the trail upward and above The Escarpment cliffs, then looping around the Western edge of the cliffs and descending along the cliff line to where you began the loop. The trail itself is very distinct. There are little or no opportunities to get off track.
Composition of The Escarpment Cliffs
The cliffs up close appear to be made up of composite rock that initially washed down from the mountains above, then bonded into a solid form through a calcification process, then through tectonic shifts, were lifted up along the current cliff line forming two separate levels. Looking closely at the cliff base and the huge rocks along the base you’ll notice that the cliffs and boulders are really a mosaic of compacted smaller rocks.
C-54 Aircraft Crash Memorial
As you head East (left) along the base of the cliffs you’ll be surprised to see a very fine telescope. This was placed to allow you to view the famous November 17, 1955 C-54 aircraft crash up on the Southeastern base of Charleston Peak’s final summit approach. Train the telescope on the area just below and to the left of Charleston Peak where the incline suddenly begins to level out. If it’s Summer (you’re pretty hot on The Escarpment Trail) or Fall (much cooler), and the snow on Charleston Peak has melted, you may be able to see the sun glinting off the wing or other metal parts of the aircraft remains. There is a memorial display at the telescope that tells the story of the mission of the aircraft, the crash and the aftermath.
Rounding the Eastern End of The Escarpment Trail Loop
As you continue along The Escarpment Cliffs past the memorial, you will notice some pretty interesting cave formations in the lower portion of the cliffs. These may be due to water seeping through the porous bonded limestone rock to form the caves. Watch in 3 or 4 places near and around the Eastern edge of The Escarpment Cliffs. These metal cable lines with carabiner connections appear to be somewhat permanent. Perhaps you will get to observe rock climbers using these lines to scale the cliffs.
Once you’ve reached the Eastern edge of the Escarpment cliffs, the trail will begin to switchback upward as it circles around to the upper end of The Escarpment cliffs. Here’s where the views all around are incredible. You’ll see Harris Mountain above, along with potential ridge routes to the summit. Looking past Harris Mountain and to the right (West) Griffith Peak will appear along with the entire stretch of Kyle Canyon’s South rim all the way to Charleston Peak. Below the cliffs you can see a great aerial view of Eagle’s Nest Loop, The Mt. Charleston Lodge (Retreat), The Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway, and beyond, on the opposite side of Kyle Canyon, The Kyle Canyon Cliffs near the Southern base of Fletcher Peak. To the right of these you will see Angel Peak. Down Kyle Canyon and beyond you can see The Sheep Range and Gass Peak. The La Madre Mountains may also be visible, but I was too busy looking at all the other sites to confirm that!
There’s a nice resting bench at the center and above The Escarpment Cliffs, so take your time and enjoy the view!
Descending the Western End of The Escarpment Trail Loop
It’s not too far beyond the resting bench that The Escarpment Trail will begin a brief series of downward switchbacks as it rounds the Western end of The Escarpment Cliffs and descends to the area were the loop began. Based on where you parked your car, it’s an easy walk across the wash and up to The Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway, or only 1.5 miles up The Acastus Trail (right turn) to The Fletcher Canyon Trailhead parking area.