It’s possible to completely circle Gass Peak via the unpaved road system accessed from the Desert National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. However, as you will see below, some of the roads will require 4WD, a dirt bike or mountain bike. It’s a huge adventure well worth the effort. The 7,000ft Gass Peak mountain complex is immense, nearly a mountain range in its own right. It’s a well-defined landmark from nearly everywhere in the Las Vegas Valley. The complete circuit adventure gives you an excellent experience of the terrain North of Las Vegas.
Gass Peak Road stems off from Mormon Well Road in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge of Nevada. It follows the valley between the South side of Fossil Ridge and the North side of Gass Peak until arriving at the main Gass Peak trailhead. The road continues past the trailhead, skirting around the East side of Gass Peak and eventually into North Las Vegas. In the process you will see most of the South side of Fossil Ridge and the complete North side of Gass Peak. In addition, there appears to be a slot canyon half way down the pass through the East side of Gass Peak into North Las Vegas. We’ll explore that slot canyon in the future. At many points during this circuit the Mt. Charleston Wilderness and La Madre Mountains Wilderness are visible, often beautifully framed between mountain ranges and canyon walls.
Take 1-95 North from the Las Vegas Strip about 10 miles past the Mt. Charleston/Kyle Canyon Road exit. Then take a hard right (no off ramp) onto Corn Creek Road…small brown directional sign marks the Desert National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. Travel up Corn Creek Road about 3 miles to its end at the DNWR headquarters where there is usually ample parking. At the end of Corn Creek Road turn left onto Mormon Well Road. The intersection of Gass Peak Road is about 5 miles up Mormon Well Road.
As you turn right onto Mormon Well Road just beyond the Desert National Wildlife Refuge headquarters and begin to ascend the road toward Fossil Ridge and the Gass Peak Road turnoff, take time to turn around and view the expansive vista opening behind you. Across the valley the Mt. Charleston Wilderness and La Madre Mountains Wilderness are coming into view. All the while you are entering into a zone increasingly populated by Joshua trees. Soon you can see all the way past Red Rock Park to Potosi Mountain. This stretch is hard, stable unpaved gravel road and relatively easy on all vehicles…however some steady work accomplishing the elevation gain on a mountain bike or running!
At the Eastern tip of Fossil Ridge, turn right onto Gass Peak Road. You’ll soon descend into the valley between Gass Peak (to the South) and Fossil Ridge (to the North). The road condition becomes a bit more rugged at this point. I believe it would be possible to navigate in a passenger car, but I would not try that myself. There is a future adventure ascending Fossil Ridge from the Eastern tip and traversing the summit to explore for fossils.
The road takes a left to skirt the South side of Fossil Ridge. Great views of Gass Peak all along the way, more Joshua trees scattered around. Very rugged desert landscape. On course, on the other side of Fossil Ridge and along the East side of the Sheep Range there is the largest Joshua Tree forest I’ve every seen! Near the main Gass Peak trail there are some interesting points of ascent up Fossil Ridge.
The main Gass Peak trail has parking for about 8 vehicles. Ascend the trail for spectacular views of Las Vegas from the summit of Gass Peak. This route is much easier than the route I have taken from the Northern end of Rainbow Avenue in Centennial Hills.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Beyond the main Gass Peak trailhead, there are “no outlet” warning signs on Quail Road (left turn about 100 yards past the trailhead) and on the continuation of Gass Peak Road. I will explore Quail Road in the future, which promises to top Fossil Ridge and lead to the East side of the Sheep Range. But on this day I continued on Gass Peak Road despite the “no outlet” signs, being much more mobile on a mountain bike. The road becomes much more rugged, though I was passed by a pick-up truck. Definitely needs a high-centered vehicle.
Gass Peak road continues to descend along the Northeastern side of Gass Peak and will eventually lead to somewhere around or beyond the intersection of I-215 and I-15. That would be the first of at least 2 outlets on this “no outlet” road.
However, watch closely for a small road that branches off the the right to traverse a canyon pass between Gass Peak and North Las Vegas. This road will get you down into the Centennial Hills area a couple miles East of the Aliente Casino. The road is horrible for a mountain bike with 3-6 inches of deep loose gravel that slows you down to a walk…even on the downhill! I’m reminded of those freeway emergency lanes for semi trucks that have lost their breaks. Those lanes have deep gravel that can stop a semi. This road has a similar slowing effect on a mountain bike.
As you top the canyon the La Madre Mountains Wilderness comes into view. You’re headed straight toward that landmark. Soon the Mt. Charleston Wilderness also comes into view. The canyon walls are pretty majestic. About half way down the canyon there is a short trail that breaks off to the right leading to what looks like a pretty impressive slot canyon. Looks like there may be additional slot canyons in the cliffs.
Beyond that, the road continues downward. You’ll cross the border fence to the Desert National Wildlife Refuge (have to lift your bike over the fence) and then continue on to the power lines. At the power lines take a right onto the unpaved maintenance road that will eventually become Grand Teton Road in Centennial Hills.
Not having taken this route in a 4WD vehicle, I’m not sure where of if the route will get you all the way to North Las Vegas. The only way I was able to manage the final stretch beyond the border fence of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge and the power lines was due to being able to maneuver my bike over a fence and through a very rugged wash. However, I do believe there could be an alternate route for a 4WD vehicle. I suggest you check that route out from the bottom up (from North Las Vegas). You might reach a dead-end if you’re descending through the pass from the top down requiring a turn-around and reascent up that deep gravel road and back to Gass Peak Road and the Desert National Wildlife Headquarters starting point.