Overview | Gray Cap Ridge Brownstone Basin Loop | La Madre Mountains Wilderness, Nevada

What Views Will You See Along the Gray Cap Ridge Brownstone Basin Loop?

The Gray Cap Ridge Brownstone Basin Loop offers spectacular views of a huge slice of Southern Nevada wilderness including:

This is just a short list, there are many points beyond! And traversing the 4-mile long Gray Cap Ridgeline, towering over Kraft Mountain, is like being on a mountaintop the entire way!

How Difficult is the Gray Cap Ridge Brownstone Basin Loop?

To make this adventure even better, it can all be done at a walk with very little brief scrambling over a few rocky sections along the way. That is, pertaining to the substantial stretch of Gray Cap Ridge documented in this adventure. On the day of this adventure I had not yet gone all the way along Gray Cap Ridge to Gray Cap Peak, so I cannot vouch for that last quarter to half-mile stretch. But that’s not included in this loop adventure.

What is the Route of the Gray Cap Ridge Brownstone Basin Loop?

There are a series of pretty good, but unmarked trails that will get you nearly all the way to Gray Cap Ridgeline’s Southern Summit. The narrative guide below and the video guide and slide guides on this page will get you around the loop. Here is a quick summary of the loop route:

  • Start at Gene’s Trailhead on lower Calico Basin Road
  • Take the Half Wilson Trail to Brownstone Basin
  • Round the East side of a hill at the base of Gray Cap Ridge and ascend to the ridgeline saddle between that saddle and the lower end of Gray Cap Ridgeline
  • At the saddle, catch a nice rock-lined trail I call The Gray Cap Lower Ridgeline Trail.
  • Where that nice trail ends at a survey marker, head for the obvious high point further up the ridgeline: Gray Cap Ridgeline Southeastern Summit
  • Continue beyond the Southeastern Summit for about a half-mile to a descent point into Brownstone Basin.
  • Take Brownstone Basin Road back to the Half Wilson Trail
  • Take the Half Wilson Trail back to Gene’s Trailhead

This may sound a bit complicated, but the entire route, except for a few brief rock scrambles, can be done at a walk. It’s fairly easy to stay on course as for much of the route you’re traversing the center of a nice wide ridgeline and it’s obvious if you stray too far to the right of the left you’ll be facing the edge of a huge drop-off. But the ridgeline is wide, there is no exposure to a fall as long as you stay near the center of the ridgeline!

What is the Best Time of Year for the Gray Cap Ridge Brownstone Basin Loop?

The best time of year for this adventure is Spring or Fall. Though most days throughout the Winter are snow and ice-free, there are a few days where you need to watch the weather. Mid-Summer can bring temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, so June through August is questionable.

Trailhead Directions | Gray Cap Ridge Brownstone Basin Loop | La Madre Mountains Wilderness, 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 | Gray Cap Ridge Brownstone Basin Loop | La Madre Mountains Wilderness, Nevada

Gene’s Trailhead to the Brownstone Basin

As you’re standing at Gene’s Trailhead facing toward Las Vegas, you’ll see 3 trails. The trail to your left is Gene’s Trail which takes you toward Kraft Mountain. The center trail angles more toward Peak 3844, the large hill immediately in front of you. It also eventually heads toward Kraft Mountain. You want the trail to the right.

The trail to the right is the Half Wilson Trail. It makes a wide circuit around the right (South) base of the huge hill with Peak 3844 as its summit. Not far along the Half Wilson Trail there is an opening in the hills to your left through which you can see Gray Cap Ridge. This is a good place to become familiar with the look of Gray Cap Ridge and its Southeastern Summit. The sight of that summit will be a good reference point along the way. The Half Wilson Trail continues around the base of Peak 3844 and its large hill before emptying into a wash in Brownstone Basin near some powerlines. A second, even better view of Gray Cap Ridge and its prominent Southeastern Summit now appears.

Brownstone Basin to the Lower Gray Cap Ridgeline Saddle

Don’t head for Gray Cap Ridge yet. Once in the wash in Brownstone Basin, set your sites on the next hill ahead beyond Peak 3844 hill. You want to circle around the right base of that hill. To do so, follow the washes that lead more directly toward the right (East) base of that hill. As you circle the hill, hugging the right base, a trail will appear. That trail will guide you around the opposite side of the hill and up to a low saddle between that hill and the lower Gray Cap Ridgeline.

The Lower Gray Cap Ridgeline Trail 

Once you’re on the saddle, be watching for some cairns to your right near the far edge of the saddle. You’ll know you’re there because you’re now looking down into Calico Basin straight ahead. These cairns are the beginning of the nice rock-lined trail I call the Lower Gray Cap Ridgeline Trail. Take a right onto the rock-lined trail as that trail guides you up lower Gray Cap Ridgeline. Now the prominent Gray Cap Ridgeline Southeastern Summit is clearly visible ahead. Though it looks from where you are standing like a vertical cliff, don’t worry. When you eventually reach the final summit approach the cliff-like terrain will disappear and you’ll basically be walking up a steep hill to that summit. By the way, if you loose the rock-lined Lower Gray Cap Ridgeline Trail along the way, just continue ascending along the center of the ridgeline and the trail will reappear!

Back below on the Gray Cap Lower Ridgeline Trail, there are two spectacular viewpoints not far up, and just a few steps from the trail. You could enjoy the view then turn around at either of these high points making this a 4-5-mile out and back trip.

Continuing past the second high viewpoint, you’ll come across a survey marker right on the trail. You can’t miss it. This is where the trail begins to fade out and soon end.

Final Approach to the Gray Cap Ridge Southeastern Summit

There’s a large high point ahead just beyond the survey marker and not far beyond that, the huge Southern Summit of Gray Cap Ridge. Just head for those two high points choosing the route of least resistance. The boulders become larger as you go, but it’s easy to weave your way around and through them at an easy, but steep, walk. Each high point view is more spectacular than the previous. You could turn around after enjoying the view at the high point beyond the survey marker or at the Southeastern Summit making this an amazing 8-10-mile round trip.

As you approach the Southeastern Summit, notice a reddish rocky outcrop near the summit. Plan to pass to the right of that outcrop during the final summit approach. In fact, I’ve found it good to hug the East side of the ridge (the Brownstone Basin side) and find the most gradual summit approach route along the upper edge of the ridge.

Arrival On the Gray Cap Ridge Southeastern Summit

The view from the Southeastern Summit is the most spectacular yet including all the landmarks listed above, and you could turn around there and retrace your steps back to Gene’s Trailhead. If you choose to continue further up the ridgeline beyond the Southeastern Summit, your best route back would be to eventually find a route down into Brownstone Basin, which is the loop documented in the article, video and slideshow on this page. This is because the ridgeline beyond the Southeast Summit, though still a relatively easy walk, is pretty complicated. After a series of trial and error route decisions…which were not too difficult…it felt easier to me to exit the ridgeline down into Brownstone Basin than retrace my steps to the Southeastern Summit.

Continuing Along Gray Cap Ridge Beyond the Southeastern Summit

Gray Cap Ridgeline beyond the Southeastern Summit is a wide, beautiful mountaintop experience with the feeling of an isolated “land that time forgot“. Enjoy! It’s pretty obvious that you need to choose a route along the center of the ridge because there are vertical drop-offs on either side. But not to worry, you don’t need to get near those drop-offs! Just keep in mind an important navigation strategy: Don’t descend any rock or ledge that you cannot re-ascend! You don’t want to ever become trapped below a drop-off you descended, only to be faced with another unexpected drop-off ahead which you cannot descend. In this scenario, you can’t continue forward and you can’t go back. This is a situation called being “cliffed out”.

Continuing to the Brownstone Basin Descent Route

The ridgeline now becomes a series of rocky hills to navigate. Still, possible to do so at a walk without any danger of being “cliffed out”. I believe it’s after the third rocky hill that you can look down the fairly level descend into Brownstone Basin documented in the video loop adventure on this page. On this first adventure on upper Gray Cap Ridge I wanted to document as many escape routes as possible. The Brownstone Basin descent route, along with returning to the Southeastern High Point make two good descent routes.

Side Note: If You Continued Further Toward Gray Cap Peak…

If you continued along the ridgeline for another half-mile (which I did not do on this day) you’d eventually arrive at Gray Cap Peak. I can’t vouch for the next stretch toward Gray Cap Peak. It looks pretty steep and rocky, but so did the Southeastern Summit from below. I hear it’s possible, and will return to explore that final stretch to the peak!

Descent to Brownstone Basin Road

On this day, I descended into Brownstone Basin. It was possible to weave around the rocks and ledges on the way down, always at a walk. Just choose your route carefully! The angle of descent continues to decrease as the terrain levels out. Eventually you’ll reach a red rock sandstone stretch. Still an easy walk unless you make it more difficult. And all along the descent, you can see your target, Brownstone Basin Road, clearly ahead with no intervening obstacles! Finally you’ll land on Brownstone Road in the Brownstone Basin.

From Brownstone Basin Road Back to Gene’s Trailhead

Take a right on Brownstone Road and head down the Brownstone Basin, hugging the lower left side of Gray Cap Ridgeline. Sticking to the lower left side of Gray Cap Ridgeline you’ll eventually branch off along a smaller wash to your right. You’ll recognize the lower ridgeline saddle you ascended earlier to your right. Continue downward in the wash hugging the now familiar base of the hill below that saddle. Then, cross under the powerlines ahead to relocate the Half Wilson Trail not far beyond. The Half Wilson Trail will take you back to Gene’s Trailhead. Loop completed! Congratulations!

Summary of the Gray Cap Ridge Brownstone Basin Loop

In this 10-12-mile loop adventure, you’ve risen to non-stop spectacular views, navigated a wild pathless ridgeline and seen a huge slice of Southern Nevada wilderness! This may well have been an unforgettable experience and a huge accomplishment! And it involved no heroic rock climbing or exposure to a life-threatening drop-off. It was all an amazing walk! 

Gray Cap Ridge Brownstone Basin Loop | La Madre Mountains Wilderness, Nevada
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Gray Cap Ridge Brownstone Basin Loop | La Madre Mountains Wilderness, Nevada
Beginning at Gene's Trailhead in the Calico Basin, traverse most of Gray Cap Ridgeline from the SE Summit, then return to the Calico Basin by way of the Brownstone Trail and Road.
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