Griffith Shadow Loop:
Everything BUT the Missing Half-Mile

Griffith Shadow Loop:
The Missing Half-Mile

Griffith Shadow Loop:
Initial Adventure

Overview | Griffith Shadow Loop Trail | Lovell Canyon, Nevada

4 Main Established Lovell Canyon Trails

There area four main established hiking trails in Lovell Canyon. “Established” refers to the trails being well signed, maintained and easy to follow:

  1. Lovell Canyon Trail
  2. Lovell Canyon Loop
  3. Schaefer Springs Loop
  4. Griffith Shadow Loop (Some stretches on the upper West side are overgrown and obscure. The trail on the upper East side is all but invisible!)

Most Comprehensive Overview of Lovell Canyon

Each provides an experience of beautiful Lovell Canyon. However, the Griffith Shadow Loop Trail provides the most comprehensive overview of every part of Lovell Canyon from the upper end of Lovell Canyon Road to the heights of Griffith Peak and Harris Mountain at the North end of the canyon.

Clockwise Direction Recommended

This adventure takes the Griffith Shadow Loop in a clockwise direction, which gives you the best trail signage and the longest stretch before the trail becomes obscure in places and nearly obliterated in brush for that first mile after you descend from the high point on the West side and cross over to the East side of the main Lovell Canyon wash. Not to worry! I’ll explain how to easily navigate that missing mile in the description below.

The Ridgeline Heights of Lovell Canyon

The Griffith Shadow Loop Trail itself, including the approach trails is around 8-9 miles in length and makes a grand circuit of Lovell Canyon at a mid-height between the canyon floor and the high ridgelines above. As you traverse the Griffith Shadow Loop you not only see the canyon in all its majesty below, but you come so close you can almost touch the heights above. These include:

In this description and video I point out various approach routes and adventures on the higher ridgelines you can see on from the Griffith Shadow Loop. You can also find adventure descriptions and videos covering these high ridgelines on the Lovell Canyon Overview page.

Total Wilderness Immersion

Most of Griffith Shadow Loop is wide open, delivering spectacular views. It’s like being on a mountaintop the entire way! In addition, the approach route to the loop delivers an experience of the lush juniper and pine forests found in Lovell Canyon. In all, the Griffith Shadow Loop is the greatest, most extended wilderness immersion and introduction to Lovell Canyon to be found on an established trail!

How Easy or Difficult is the Griffith Shadow Loop?

Be prepared not only for this awesome wilderness immersion, but for some rather strenuous effort, and for the opportunity to practice your trail-finding/wilderness navigation skills.

The Total Elevation Gain from the Lovell Canyon Trailhead to the highest point on the Griffith Shadow Loop is around 2,300ft. However, a more accurate measure of the elevation you will gain on the trail is the Overall Elevation Gain.  This measurement includes the rolling ascent and descent on many parts of the trail. You can add about 30 percent elevation gain to the total elevation gain to come up with the more accurate overall elevation gain. So, 2,300ft becomes a more realistic 3,066ft elevation gain. These are all approximate numbers, but they are close enough to what you will experience on this trail.

If you’ve hiked the South Climb Trail in the Mt. Charleston Wilderness from the Cathedral Rock parking area to Griffith Peak summit, realize that you will experience the same elevation gain on the Griffith Shadow Loop, and a similar overall distance. So be prepared! 

Wilderness Navigation Challenges on the Griffith Shadow Loop 

In addition, there are some wilderness navigational challenges on the Griffith Shadow Loop. The Western part of the loop is very straightforward. The trail is good, though in some places, mostly in the upper regions, it becomes obscure, calling for careful observation in order to avoid mistakenly heading off trail.

But the real navigational challenge is when you eventually descend to the Lovell Canyon Wash in the base of the canyon. This is where you cross over to the Eastern side of the loop. Despite every attempt to search out the trail on the upper Eastern side of the wash, I eventually gave up and ended up heading down the wash for a mile before I was able to connect with the Griffith Shadow Loop Trail and finish the loop. The map on this page traces the trail route, but also shows the cutoff route you can take on the wash if, like me, you can’t find the trail on the upper East side of the loop.

Not to worry! Where ever you are on the Griffith Shadow Loop, if you loose the trail and can’t find it again, you can fairly easily head down a ridge or gully to the base of Lovell Canyon and reconnect with the trail system there. Worst case scenario: Head down Lovell Canyon’s main wash all the way to the intersection of Upper Lovell Canyon Road and Lovell Summit Road where you will easily recognize how to get back to the trailhead or where you parked your car.

But be prepared! If you do go off trail, your return trip could take much more time, so bring enough water and food for an entire day. And start out early, at dawn, so that you don’t end up on the Griffith Shadow Loop or off-trail in the dark! 

Best Time of Year for Your Griffith Shadow Loop Adventure

You want a lot of daylight, but also want to avoid mid-Summer heat. I suggest early Fall or late Spring. Winter could bring ice and snow which could make parts of the loop more challenging and potentially dangerous.

Trailhead Directions | Griffith Shadow Loop Trail | Lovell Canyon, Nevada

Take Hwy 160 from Las Vegas toward Pahrump. The highway ascends over a “hump” (the Potosi Mountain area). There’s a saying around here, “Over the hump to Pahrump”. Well, you’ve just traveled over that hump. Around 4-5 miles from the point where the highway begins to descend toward Pahrump there is a well-marked sign on the right for Lovell Canyon Road. Proceed 12 miles up the well-paved road until the pavement ends and an unpaved road branches off to your left 1/4th mile from the official Lovell Canyon Trailhead which will be on the right. There is ample parking across from the trailhead which will be on your right.

The actual Handy Peak Loop Trail begins about 2.9 miles up from The Lovell Canyon Trailhead.

Trail Observations | Griffith Shadow Loop Trail | Lovell Canyon, Nevada

Starting Out from the Main Lovell Canyon Trailhead

Start out at the main trailhead for upper Lovell Canyon’s maintained trails. The Griffith Shadow Loop begins 2.9 miles and two trail divisions ahead. For now you’re on the Lovell Canyon Trail and loop. 

Pointing Out 3 Adventures on the Wilson Ridgeline Across Lovell Canyon

You’ll find yourself immediately in a lush juniper and pine forest as you ascend the initial 2-300ft hill. Once you top the hill you’ll see the Wilson Ridge stretching out to the East. That’s the Eastern border of Lovell Canyon. Throughout this adventure, in the video I point out a number of adventures on this beautiful isolated seldom traversed ridge. Directly across from where you are standing is the Wilson Ridge Southern High Point. There are three adventures on that involve this 8,500ft high point:

  1. Wilson Ridge South High Point
  2. Wilson Ridge/Lovell Canyon Loop
  3. Wilson Ridge Lower Loop

My goal is to bring this incredible ridgeline to life in the imagination of viewers.

Viewing Sexton Ridge to Griffith Peak and Wilson Ridge to Harris Mountain

As you continue around the first corner to the left the view of upper Lovell Canyon opens up in all its glory! You’ll see Griffith Peak and Harris Mountain at the high North end of the canyon along with the saddle between to two peaks. Below stretches beautiful Lovell Canyon. It’s an incredible moment! The Sexton Ridge ascends to Griffith Peak on the West side of Lovell Canyon and the Wilson Ridge ascends to Harris Mountain on the East side of the canyon. Beyond the two peaks is the Mt. Charleston Wilderness. Here are a couple adventures on these ridges:

  1. Griffith Peak via Sexton Ridge
  2. Wilson Ridge to Harris Mountain Summit

Rolling Ascent, Descent and Re-Ascent

Once you’ve rounded the corner and witnessed these spectacular views, you’ll begin the rolling descent and re-ascent on the lower trail. You’ll descend and re-ascend as much as 200ft or more with each rolling stretch of the trail as you continue in the wonderful deep forest, so unexpected if you just came from the Las Vegas desert landscape. The trail is very good and well-defined. But don’t get lulled into a sense of false security. There are many boulders peaking up from the trail surface, ready for someone to trip upon them!

First Main Trail Division

The first trail division at the 1.6-mile point gives you a choice of continuing straight to do the Lovell Canyon Loop, Schaefer Springs Loop and Griffith Shadow Loop in a counterclockwise direction. I suggest you take a left to do the Griffith Shadow Loop in a clockwise direction (reasoning explained above). Views continue to open as the rolling trail mostly ascends. The forest at first remains lush tall juniper and pine. However, these slowly begin to give way to smaller brush primarily including thickening groves of manzanita and ashy silk tassel shrubs. The views in all directions correspondingly expand. By the time you get to the second trail division you’ll feel as if you’re on a mountaintop. That feeling will continue for the remainder of the Western stretch on the Griffith Shadow Loop.

Second Main Trail Division: Official Beginning of Griffith Shadow Loop

As you near the second trail division you’ll notice a large hill with a rocky summit to your right. That’s Handy Peak. The second trail division begins at the Handy Peak saddle. Now you have the choice of continuing straight toward and around Handy Peak on the Schaefer Springs Loop and Lovell Canyon Loop or taking a left to continue on the Griffith Shadow Loop. There are no more trail divisions until you are near the end of the Griffith Shadow Loop. Take the left to continue on the Griffith Shadow Loop.

By now those manzanita and ashy silk tassel shrubs have become an impenetrable 4ft high wall of shrubbery lining both sides of the trail and in places choking it out and making it hard to find. However, watch carefully and you’ll stay on track! The tall junipers and pines have disappeared by now and the view dramatically expands as the trail rapidly winds upward. There are spectacular views of all the ridgelines mentioned above.

Pointing Out Additional Adventures on the Wilson Ridgeline Across Lovell Canyon

As the more Southern portions of the Wilson Ridgeline come into view and you can see all the way to and beyond the Rocky Gap, I point out some additional adventures on that ridgeline. From North to South:

  1. Switchback Spring Pinnacle
  2. Mini-Matterhorn North Twin Pinnacle
  3. Mini-Matterhorn Pinnacle   
  4. Red Rock Summit Loop

Reaching a High Point on the Griffith Shadow Loop

The Griffith Shadow Loop continues to wind upward toward a high hill. The trail is very faint in places, but if you watch carefully it’s not hard to stay on track. You’ll be approaching a tall hill where the trail will take a right turn to skirt the lower base of that hill.

On this first week of November in late Fall, it was surprisingly clear how as you ascend you’re passing through different climate zones. Notice how the Gambles Oak leaves are colorful in the lower regions. They think it’s still early Fall. By the time you get to that upper hill I just mentioned, the oak leaves have dropped and the oaks think it’s Winter–two seasons on the same trail!

Observing Trout Canyon and 2 Approaches to the Sexton Ridge

After rounding that high hill, look to your left. You’re looking down Trout Canyon with the Nopah Range squarely in the center distance. Here I describe a couple approaches to the Sexton Ridge:

  1. Sexton Ridge from the Griffith Shadow Loop Trail
  2. Sexton Ridge from the summit of Lovell Summit Road

I have yet to work out the second of the two approaches. The first approach involves taking a hard left turn off-trail along a fire break, up a gully and along an approach ridge to the Sexton Ridgeline. The fire break comes after you’ve skirted the base of the first high hill then skirted the left side of a quick series of hills, just before the trail takes a hard right and begins to descend toward Lovell Canyon. Watch carefully and you’ll see the fire break. Check out the adventure descriptions and videos.

The second of the two Sexton Ridge approaches may be the most streamlined. You’re on Lovell Summit Road up to the lower base of Sexton Ridge. At that point you go off-road and head up the base of Sexton Ridge. This route promises to avoid the rolling ascent and descent of the Lovell Canyon and Griffith Shadow Loop trails. It may be more direct. But oh, what an ascent from Lovell Summit Road!!

Rounding the High Point, Descending Toward the Base of Lovell Canyon

Back to the Griffith Shadow Loop: Now it begins to descend toward Lovell Canyon. There is a sharp descent followed by a steep re-ascent toward a ridgeline above and ahead. Aim for the upper area of that ridgeline, top the ridgeline, then descend along the upper East side of the ridgeline into the base of Lovell Canyon. A couple observations on that ridgeline:

  1. Staying on the Trail: The trail almost completely disappears in tall grass as you circle the upper ridgeline to its upper East side. Just know that you need to stay immediately below the upper East edge of the ridgeline and the trail will reappear and become more distinct as it winds down into the base of Lovell Canyon. 
  2. Observing 2 Sexton Ridge Approach Ridges: The ridgeline presents a great vantage point from which you can look immediately North up Lovel Canyon to trace the direction of two huge Sexton Ridge approach ridges. We’ll test these ridges in the future as potential streamlined routes from upper Lovell Canyon to Griffith Peak via the Sexton Ridge. Getting to the base of these approach ridges may be aided by taking the Schaefer Springs Loop to its highest point in Lovell Canyon, then heading for the base of the ridges. 

Arrival at the Base of Lovell Canyon. Lost Trail on East Side

There’s a large cairn marking the point where the trail empties into the wash as the base of Lovell Canyon. Across the canyon on the East side of the wash there is another cairn and the beginning of a trail, inviting you to cross the canyon to continue on the Griffith Shadow Loop on the other side. On this day I made every possible attempt to find the Griffith Shadow Loop on the other side of the wash. You can observe a few of these attempts in the video. All failed!

Insert: Later Return to Document the “Missing Half-Mile” on the Loop’s East Side

Trail Signs Pointing Toward the Missing Half-Mile

See the “Griffith Shadow Loop Missing Half-Mile” Video on this page. There are signs on both lower entrances to the Schaefer Springs Loop Trail that point to the Griffith Shadow Loop Trail. It’s logical, based on the trail signs, that access to the missing half-mile of the Griffith Shadow Loop Trail must be at the upper end of the Schaefer Springs Loop.

The Satellite Image Shows the Missing Half-Mile

The map I originally created on this page, painstakingly tracing signs of the Griffith Shadow Loop Trail from a satellite image of the area accurately shows that missing half-mile.

Evidence of the Missing Half-Mile

One day while on the upper Schaefer Springs Loop Trail at the point where it descended into the main wash, I noticed a few large cairns buried in the wash-choked brush. And, there was what looked like a trail across on a low mid-wash ridge. It seemed likely that these were signs of an entrance to the missing half-mile of the Griffith Shadow Loop. Incidentally, there are actually two entrances to the Griffith Shadow Loop Trail from the upper Schaefer Springs Loop Trail.

Return to Discover the Missing Half-Mile

So I returned to that point and followed the overgrown hidden cairns across the wash. Signs of a rock-lined pathway began to appear even in the wash. And, there was indeed a trail across on the low mid-wash ridge. I took that trail up the ridge. The trail continued upward and quickly became well-pronounced and easy to follow. Eventually, it descended, through another brush-choked, tree-fallen stretch down into the wash at the exact point where I had originally lost the Griffith Shadow Loop Trail. The missing half mile is solved!

Solution to the Missing Half-Mile of the Griffith Shadow Loop Trail

Here’s the problem: The 200 feet on both ends of the missing half-mile are unmarked and choked with brush. If you can’t find the entrance at either end, you’ll never make it onto the trail. The main length of the missing half-mile is a beautiful, easy to follow trail. There’s a simple, easy solution (possibly already in the plans): Clean up the brief brush-choked sections on each end of the missing half-mile and place trail signs at the entrance of those sections. Then, the spectacular Griffith Shadow Loop will again become an easy-to-follow complete loop trail in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions. In addition, the current signs on the lower Schaefer Springs Loop Trailheads will all be valid.

Don’t Forget to Look at the Map!

Funny thing: If I’d only looked at the accurate trail map I’d originally created on this page by tracing the satellite image, I would not have lost the trail in the first place. Regardless, all is now solved!   

Back to Main Adventure: Descending Lovell Canyon Wash to Connect with Schaefer Springs Loop

However, I did observe from the top of the first ridge lining the East side of the wash that below about a mile South in the Lovell Canyon Wash there was the clear line of a trail on the East side of the canyon. I took this to be the resumption of the Griffith Shadow Loop. I point out this trail in the video. It begins at the lower end of a long rocky ledge on the East side of the Lovell Canyon Wash. I headed down the wash to re-connect with the Griffith Shadow Loop. 

Heading down the Lovell Canyon Wash to connect with the Schaefer Springs Loop worked. And, due to heavy rains and increased growth of brush, that missing mile may be all but obliterated. So, if you lose the Griffith Shadow Loop Trail, my recommendation is to take the Lovell Canyon Wash to the point where the Schaefer Springs Loop resumes on the East side of the wash.

Connection with the Schaefer Springs Loop Trail a Mile Down the Wash

Once you’ve connected with the Schaefer Springs Loop Trail Loop at that lower point in the wash, you’ve got it made! The trail is beautiful, well-defined, and easily guides you to a well-marked lower crossing in the wash. The crossing takes you back to the West side of the wash where there are signs pointing back to the main Lovell Canyon Trailhead where you began your adventure! If, for some reason, that lower wash crossing is obliterated by brush, which can happen in the Spring, just watch for a rocky outcrop on the West side of the wash. The main trails and directional signs are at the base of that rocky outcrop.

Pointing Out an Additional Wilson Ridgeline Approach Ridge

During my traverse of that fine trail on the lower East side of the wash I made some observations of potential approach ridges to the upper Wilson ridgeline. One of the most promising approach ridges begins at the point where the Griffith Shadow Loop trail resumes on the East side of the wash.

Griffith Shadow Loop Trail Summary

In summary, the Griffith Shadow Loop is an incredible overview of Lovell Canyon from its lower wash to its upper ridgelines. The trail is well-defined and easy class 2 walking, except for that one missing mile on the upper East side of the loop. Plan an entire day, and be in shape for an 8-9 mile trek involving over 3,000ft of overall elevation gain similar to the main summit route to Griffith Peak from Cathedral Rock. Only, the Griffith Shadow Loop involves a greater distance.  


Initial Experience of Lovell Canyon and the Griffith Shadow Loop

My very first time on the Lovell Canyon Trail and Loop I took in the Griffith Shadow Loop (second video on this page). This was my first experience of Lovell Canyon, so everything was new and unknown at that point. History repeats itself! I ended up taking the same route as the most current adventure. Here are my observations at that time:

Griffith Shadow Loop Trail

A few miles up the trail there is a well-marked split-off to the left for Griffith Shadow Loop. On this day I took the loop, which the trail sign said was 1.3 miles. Now, unless I’ve totally lost my sense of distance, I’ve got to say that I found myself wondering whether the sign maker placed a decimal point in the wrong place meaning that the Griffith Shadow Loop might actually be 13 miles! Or, perhaps I missed a turn.

At any rate, I began to ascend…and continued to ascend eventually over 1,000ft up a ridge. It looked as if the trail was heading for Griffith Peak. The ridge is an old burn area with few mature trees, but the looks of a mountain meadow in terms of plant life — grasses, small shrubs, wide open, lots of light.

Views On the Griffith Shadow Loop Trail

The views on the ridge are tremendous in all directions. There are a few high points with grand 360-degree views, of which Lovell Summit must be one. Circling around the trail intersects with a ridge that looks as though it could actually be an approach ridge to Griffith Peak summit. I’ll have to return to try that out. I’m estimating the overall time up the Lovell Canyon trail, the Griffith Shadow Loop and then on to Griffith Peak summit could be in the area of 6 or 7 hours up and 3 hours back…just a quick intuitive estimate.

Griffith Shadow Loop Trail – Off-Trail Experience

The Griffith Shadow Loop at first circles away from Lovell Canyon as it ascends, then finally around again to face Lovell Canyon. There is a healthy descent and re-ascent as you circle around back to the Lovell Canyon side. Finally you arrive at a high point overlooking Lovell Canyon. It looks as though at this point the trail is no longer well maintained but a bit choked by grass. The trail quickly descends to the bottom of Lovell Canyon and crosses the canyon. There’s a cairn on both sides of Lovell canyon marking the trail crossing.

Detour Down the Lovell Canyon Wash

At this point I decided this trail must actually be heading for Harris Mountain, so I took a right and headed down Lovell Canyon with the assumption that the canyon would again intersect with the Lovell Canyon trail. The rock and gravel on the canyon floor is easy enough to run on lightly if your ankles are well conditioned for off-road running. I run 6 miles each day off road.

Reconnecting with Lovell Canyon Trail

On this day my guess was right. The canyon intersects with the Lovell Canyon trail which I took back to the trailhead. There are even some good trail signs in the canyon at the point the trail intersects. Alternately, I believe one could continue down the canyon and emerge at the location where the Lovell Canyon road paved section ends.

Griffith Shadow Loop | Lovell Canyon, Nevada
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Griffith Shadow Loop | Lovell Canyon, Nevada
Griffith Shadow Loop takes you up the West side of Lovell Canyon for spectacular views up and down the canyon with Griffith Peak clearly visible ahead at the summit of Sexton Ridge. You'll then descend into the base of Lovell Canyon, cross the central wash and experience the East side of the canyon. Great introduction to Lovell Canyon!
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