This adventure mainly covers the Pinyon Pine Loop Trail accessed from the upper parking area of the Sawmill Trailhead in Lee Canyon. The Pinyon Pine Loop Trail is a peaceful, serene emersion in nature including juniper and pine forested areas and high ridges with spectacular views of Mummy’s Head, Macks Peak, McFarland Peak, Bonanza Peak, the Sheep Range, Gass Peak and points North of the Sheep Range.
History repeats itself! Despite the best of intentions to complete the Mud Springs Loop trail, I again got off course. This time I began on the Sawmill Loop (yellow), ascended to its intersection with the Mud Springs Loop (green), began the Mud Springs Loop in a clockwise direction (Green/Red), mistakenly deviated to the Pinyon Pine Loop (Red) and took that long loop trail along the top of a ridge paralleling Lee Canyon Road, reconnected with the Mud Springs Loop (green) then descended back to the Sawmill Loop (Yellow) and from there back to the Sawmill Trailhead.
In retrospect, my route was the exact route you take if you’re doing the Pinyon Pine Loop, though for long stretches you are on a convergence of both the Mud Springs Loop (green) and the Pinyon Pine Loop (red).
Click on the Sawmill Areas Trail Map button on this page to view and download the color-coded trail system.
All that said, it wasn’t until I reached the far edge of the Pinyon Pine Loop that I realized I was actually on that loop and had missed the Mud Springs Loop turnoff. This is reflected in my real time narration in the video on this page. However I did later add notes to the video that describe exactly where I was and where I went off course. This makes the video a valid documentation of the Pinyon Pine Trail along with the mistakes you do not want to make if you’re going for the Mud Springs Loop.
View my first off-course Mud Springs Loop adventure here, where I ended up on the North side of Macks Peak! As they say, “Third Time’s a Charm“. Next time I’ll nail that elusive Mud Springs Loop! I’m beginning to understand this relatively new area (new to me) better and will make yet another attempt to circle the Mud Springs Loop. I believe I know where I got off course (see below).
Curiously, I believe I may have had a key to successfully navigating the Mud Springs Loop on all the Sawmill Trails pages of this website before today’s adventure! But, like a driver who refuses to ask for directions and instead tries to figure everything out himself, it seems I end up wandering around and getting lost a few times before fully understanding a new area. This strategy may take a bit longer, but when I finally figure out the various routes, I thoroughly know the entire area with a 360 degree understanding.
Anyway, back to the key to success on the Mud Springs Loop: I once took a picture of a large Sawmill Trails Map posted on a display at the trailhead. That map has been on all the Sawmill Trails pages of this website. When you’re out on the trails, it can seem that there are a lot of potential turns and deviations with no markings. This is to some extent true, and there are a lot of opportunities to go off course. Thus, some of my earlier wrong turns on the Mud Springs Loop leading me off that loop and over to Macks Peak and the Pinyon Pine Loop Trail.
If you’re looking for signs with the names of any of the trails you’ll be disappointed. However, there are a few trail markings out there. The markings exclusively follow the color-coded trail system on the map including:
Every now and then at a junction there will be a small signpost that simply notes the color of the trail along with a directional arrow. But there are a number of junctions without the color coded sign posts. Note that on the day of this adventure the signboard with the color coded map was missing at the upper trailhead. However, I did have an image from an earlier trip on my website–but not with me!
Summary insight: Follow the colors. That’s all you’ll get. You may still end up going off course, but the color coded system will give you the best chance of success on the Sawmill area trails.
Take Hwy 95 North from Las Vegas and take a left at the Lee Canyon Road exit (Hwy 156). Travel up Lee Canyon Road about 13 miles. Take a right onto the Sawmill Trailhead Access Road and proceed to the trailhead. Stay left to reach the upper trailhead parking area (the equestrian trailhead is to the right). You’ll begin on the Sawmill Trail Loop which is at the very upper end of the parking area.
From the trailhead you can see a big picture clue to successfully navigating the area. Look up to the Northwest and notice a ridge with 3 hills. This will be a landmark going out and later returning. The hill on the right (North) angles down to a saddle before the next hill begins to rise. You will basically be ascending to this saddle area where a left turn will put you on the Mud Springs Loop (green) in a clockwise direction. On the other hand, if you don’t take that saddle left, but continue along the base of the hills to a second left turn, this will put you on the Mud Springs Loop (green) in a counterclockwise direction. In addition, this second left will keep you on the Pinyon Pine Loop Trail (red). Note that for about a mile the Pinyon Pine and Mud Springs Loops (red and green) are the same trail until they later diverge: Mud Springs will later make a second split off to the left, Pinyon Pine will continue straight. Confused yet? Once you get it, you’ll wonder how you ever got off course! Just follow the colors.
I started out from the upper Sawmill Trailhead parking area on the Sawmill Trail (yellow) with a left turn, taking the Sawmill Trail in a clockwise direction.
Immediately I was confronted with another temporary color coded system of ribbons on trees. This was meant to guide runners participating in the annual Sawmill Relay (first weekend in June) put on by the Triple Dare Running Company of Las Vegas. ALL the loops in the Sawmill trail system were marked with various colored ribbons that did not match the permanent color code system I’ve described above. These are the various loops the runners took on this day:
All loops needed to be completed by each team member. The team member would finish 1 loop and then tag out to the next runner until all 3 loops by all 3 runners were completed. This totaled approximately 19.23 miles per person and around 57.69 miles total per team!
There were also simultaneous solo runs:
So, as you can imagine, there were all sorts of temporary colors and pointers on the trails this day and runners going in all directions! I loved the energy, but some of the temporary markers threw me off a bit.
I’ll stick to the permanent colors in this description. After starting out at the upper parking area trailhead and taking an immediate left (clockwise) on the yellow Sawmill Loop Trail I eventually reached a split in the trail that indicated red (Pinyon Pine Loop) was left, yellow (Sawmill Loop) was right. I headed left on the red Pinyon Pine Loop which angled up to the high ridge saddle. No green markings for Mud Springs Loop yet.
At the saddle there is a left that goes through the saddle. This is the clockwise route for the green Mud Springs Loop trail. I’m not sure there was a green color coded marker, or any marker, at this left turn through the saddle. You just have to know that’s the way you enter the Mud Springs Loop in a clockwise direction. I once took this first left onto the Mud Springs Loop and ended up at the North side of Macks Peak after erroneously missing a right turn at the far end of the Mud Springs Loop.
At the saddle, instead of turning left I continued straight watching for a second left that would send me onto the counterclockwise Mud Springs Loop Trail. In about 1/4th mile there was a small unmarked trail splitting off to the left. It looked like that trail should be the Mud Springs Trail turnoff, but I bypassed it and continued on for a bit to see if there was a marked left turn further up. No marked left turn, so I returned to take the small trail.
Turns out, a ways into that small trail (second left) there was a color coded post that said this trail was both the Pinyon Pine (red) trail and the Mud Springs (green trail), verifying I had made the right decision. The small trail began with a rapid descent into a beautiful, peaceful pine and juniper forested area.
In about a quarter to a half mile, there was another color-coded green marker heading off to the left. I should have taken this left turn. Hindsight! I wasn’t fully dialed into the color code system at the time, and the direction just didn’t look correct. It seemed that the Mud Springs Loop should take a wider circle to the right, so I ignored the green pointer to the left and ended up continuing on the red Pinyon Pine Trail thinking I was still on the Mud Springs Trail. Remember, there are no trail names posted, just colors and arrows. And at some key intersections, the colors and arrows are missing. There is an image in the slide show that points out the signpost where I should have taken a left!
The Pinyon Pine Trail rounded a curve and ascended to a beautiful ridge with spectacular views of Mummy’s Head, Macks Peak, McFarland Peak, Bonanza Peak, the Sheep Range, Gass Peak and points North of the Sheep Range. It would alternately pass through areas of high ridges and low canyon washes, eventually becoming a forest road (25837) on the outer edge of the Pinyon Pine Loop. At this point I circled over to the ridge overlooking Lee Canyon Road, then set my sights for Mummy’s Head and those 3 hills I knew were just above the Sawmill Trailhead.
Keeping Mummy’s Head and the Sawmill Trailhead 3 hills in sight, I took various trails along the upper ridge overlooking Lee Canyon and paralleling Lee Canyon Road. Within a few miles I found myself on trails above the Sawmill Trailhead and eventually back on the yellow Sawmill Loop Trail which finally brought me to my point of origin at the upper Sawmill Trailhead parking area. Keeping the big picture of large reference points like Mummy’s Head in mind is very helpful, especially when you find yourself in a maze of looping trails and roads. Navigating by the big picture reference points kept me on course when the color code system and directional signs along the way proved unhelpful.
With those big picture reference points in sight, it was clear that when I emerged on the ridge above Lee Canyon Road I was way below the Sawmill Trailhead area and just needed to stay on the ridge above Lee Canyon Road and head toward Mummy’s Head and the Sawmill Trailhead 3 hills. Without those reference points one might have ended up not knowing whether to take a left up Lee Canyon Road or a right down Lee Canyon Road.
When you’re hiking or running trails in the Sawmill area of Lee Canyon, prepare for multiple trail and road intersections, many of which are unmarked. Unlike some other areas (like the Mt. Charleston Loop) there is not just one main trail. The entire area is full of deviating trails, intersections, twists and turns. And, there are times you will find yourself in a forested area passing through a series of canyons or washes where big picture reference points are not visible. My suggestion is to start with the yellow Sawmill Trail and gradually widen your area of exploration until you know the larger area by sight and do not need to solely depend on any trail or road markings.
It’s an incredibly peaceful, beautiful area, but easy to take a wrong turn and head off to unknown parts!