At 11,056ft, Griffith Peak is the third highest peak in the Spring Mountain range and Southern Nevada. Though often overlooked by hikers whose destination is Mt. Charleston, the highest peak at 11,918ft, Griffith Peak is a great summit destination in itself. It has a unique view of the Eastern portion of Las Vegas, the Strip and the mountains bordering Red Rock Canyon and Calico Basin which are not visible from Mt. Charleston or Mummy Mt. The summit itself is more interesting than the barren Mt. Charleston summit. And finally, Griffith Peak makes a great out and back conditioning run for trail runners as the trail is a fairly good running surface, the incline is steady and steep and the round trip is just under 10 miles so one can travel fairly light and fast. For hikers, all these benefits are also true. However, be sure to be in good condition as the incline is about 3,500ft in just under 5 miles. Bring plenty of water.
In addition, Griffith Peak makes a great side trip for those heading for Mt. Charleston from the South Loop trailhead as it is surprisingly only a half-mile (each way) diversion from the loop trail with about 300ft elevation gain. For the effort you’ll expend getting there, this little deviation from the South Loop trail is hugely worth it.
In more detail, here is a short list of what’s visible from the summit: Mt. Charleston, Lee Peak, Mummy Mt., the Desert National Wildlife Refuge (largest in the lower 48 States) including the Sheep Mountain Range and Gass Peak, a faint view of the Lake Mead area, Eastern Las Vegas including the Strip, the La Madre Mt. Wilderness (4 times the size of Red Rock Park) including the length of the Keystone Thrust (the cliff system bordering the back side of Red Rock Park), the mountains bordering the West side of Red Rock Park including Bridge Mountain, Rainbow Mountain and Mt. Wilson, Goat Peak (North Peak), the solar energy complex South of Las Vegas and very faintly Telescope Peak above Death Valley. As I said, this is a short list. Basically, you can see around 150 miles or more to the East, South, and Southwest.
Head up I-95 from Las Vegas and take a left at the Kyle Canyon exit (less than 30 miles from the Strip). Travel another 20 miles to the South Loop trailhead. You’ll pass through Charleston Village, pass a fire station, the road will bend to the left, crossing a short bridge and then heading up about a half mile where you will take the first right after passing some cabins, then on up to the South Loop Trailhead parking lot (which is also the parking lot for Cathedral Rock). By the way, in this parking lot are the best restrooms of all the Mt. Charleston area trailhead parking lots with actual flush toilets and sinks with running water.
Unlike Mummy Mt., there is a good trail all the way to the Griffith Peak summit. From the trailhead parking lot, ascend some steps which begin behind a trash container enclosure. Take a left and go straight keeping parking lots in sight to your lower left as you continue beyond the edge of a black iron fence. Don’t turn right at the edge of the fence. That’s the trail to Cathedral Rock. You won’t get to Griffith Peak that way unless you’re a very experienced climber. Instead continue straight beyond the fence keeping additional parking and picnic areas below you to the left. Now, in terms of navigation, you’ve got it made. There are no more trail deviations and the way is clear all the way up to the Junction, about 4 and a half miles from the trailhead. The Junction is at the top of the ridge where you can turn left and head up to Griffith Peak or right and head on over to Mt. Charleston.
After passing beyond the iron fence at the trailhead parking lot, you’ll descend slightly, then begin a rather steady and brutal ascent, crossing a canyon, then circling around, climbing a seemingly endless series of stairs, crossing the canyon again and then heading up the beloved switchbacks…I think there are between 30 and 40 or more, possibly 1000…but whose counting?! There are 3 great viewpoints where you can look straight down to Charleston Village and across to Mummy Mountain on the other side of Kyle Canyon. The trees go from pinyon pine to nearly 100% bristlecone pine as you reach the 9,500ft level. The well-appreciated Junction is the first point where the long ascent ends and the trail levels out providing some welcome relief. You’re now on the upper ridge that takes you around the Mt. Charleston loop above Kyle Canyon. You’ll know you’ve reached the junction as there is some good signage pointing to Griffith Peak to the left and Mt. Charleston to the right, along with a small camping shelter for those wanting the make the trip to Mt. Charleston a two-day experience. At this point also, you see the first view for around 100 miles above and beyond Kyle Canyon to the South and East.
Note that in the Winter and Spring the South Loop Trail is more likely to be blocked by snow than the Trail Canyon, North Loop route to Mummy Mt., though the North Loop Trail in the final 2 miles below Mt. Charleston is the worst in terms of snow until mid July or even later some years…as 2019 demonstrates.