If you’re driving up Lovell Canyon Road and looking for Rocky Gap Road, this article, map and video will be helpful. I walked and carefully video documented Rocky Gap Road from its intersection with Lovell Canyon Road to its summit point at the Bridge Mountain Trailhead. So, this video shows how to locate the unmarked Rocky Gap Road at the intersection with Lovell Canyon Road. For the forest road system in this and other wilderness areas, even though the roads have names on the map, you will seldom if ever see road signs with those names. Instead, you’ll see small signs with forest road numbers: In this case #45549.
My primary purpose here was not to locate or document the nature of Rocky Gap Road. My primary purpose was to scope out the 3 major ridge systems that can be accessed from Rocky Gap Road:
So, this is a baseline exploration of access to the three major ridge systems. Soon to follow will be routes along those ridge systems.
Traversing these three ridgelines presents mountaintop views along the entire length of the ridgelines! Views include this short summary list and much more:
When you see that all this…a huge slice of the Southwestern U.S. wilderness…can be viewed from the three ridgelines accessed from Rocky Gap Road, you’ll realize this road as a rare, incredible nodal point!
Stick to Spring and Fall months. Winter can bring snow, especially if you’re navigating the ridgeline systems, and mid-Summer can bring extremely high temperatures.
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.
Lovell Canyon Road is a beautiful stretch passing through a Joshua tree forest that soon becomes populated predominately with junipers and pines. There are ridges and meadows and many camping pull-outs along the way. This stretch reminds me a lot of the high desert area around Bend Oregon. Very open and majestic. All the while you’re looking up at the Spring mountains with Griffith Peak standing prominent. The road has very little traffic and would make a great bike, walking or running route. In fact, what an awesome backdrop for a marathon (pretty easy to add 2 miles to the 24-mile out and back stretch)!
Proceed about 9 miles up the well-paved road to the intersection with Rocky Gap Road on the right. You won’t see any signs that say, “Rocky Gap Road”. Rather, watch a small sign marked Forest Road #45549. There is ample parking at the start of the road.
First, my assessment of Rocky Gap Road from its intersection with Lovell Canyon Road to its summit at The Bridge Mountain Trailhead. You’d better have a good 4WD vehicle, an ATV or be on foot or on a mountain bike to navigate this stretch! A 2WD vehicle would experience its final days on earth! There is one particular 1000ft stretch that is actually a rocky wash. Boulders in this stretch are huge. I named the stretch, “The Stretch from Hell”. I did see a Rubicon 4WD successfully navigate the stretch and numerous ATVs have been successful.
As a walking trail, Rocky Gap Road is great! Wide, easy, beautiful and the shortest route to the Bridge Mountain Trailhead. It’s wilderness at its best!
There are some great camping pullouts along Rocky Gap Road. If I were coming in from Las Vegas or points further distant and wanting to climb Bridge Mountain, I might rent or bring my own 4WD vehicle and spend the night camping. The next morning, I’d have all day to do Bridge Mountain or hike the Wilson Ridge, the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline or the La Madre Mountains cliff line and peaks. In fact, I could camp there for a week and never run out of great adventures!
Here is what I discovered regarding ridgeline access from Rocky Gap Road:
Take the gradual ridge that begins about a quarter mile up Rocky Gap Road. It’s the ridge to the left (North) of Rocky Gap Road. You can’t miss it. This ridge parallels Rocky Gap Road. Begin ascending near the base of this ridge. It will take you all the way to Red Rock Summit, the high point above and North of the Bridge Mountain Trailhead.
From Red Rock Summit, you can continue North on the Wilson Ridge. You could go all the way to Harris Mountain at the summit of the Wilson Ridge. And, at the base of Harris Mountain you could catch the Griffith Peak back-wilderness trail, hike to Griffith Peak and then down Sexton Ridge on the opposite side of Lovell Canyon all the way to the Lovell Canyon Trailhead, then take Lovell Canyon Road back to Rocky Gap Road, finally ascending back to your camping area. Awesome legendary circuit, but be prepared for a multi-day adventure!
Or, you could take the ridgeline to the right (East) of the Wilson Ridge (about a quarter-mile North of Red Rock Summit. This ridge to the right (East) will lead to the La Madre Mountains Cliffs including El Bastardo, Burnt Peak, El Padre and La Madre Mountain. You could spend at least a couple days exploring the La Madre Mountains!
Important Note: If you wait until you’re at the Bridge Mountain Trailhead area to access the Wilson Ridgeline North or South, you’ll more likely face come serious rocky sections to navigate including some vertical headwalls. So, use the more gradual ascent ridges that begin about a quarter-mile from the beginning of Rocky Gap Road.
Take the more gradual South approach ridge that runs parallel to the North approach ridge just mentioned. It’s to the right (South) of Rocky Gap Road and begins about the same area (a quarter-mile up Rocky Gap Road). However, in this case, you need to cross an intervening canyon wash to get to the ridge. That crossing doesn’t look too difficult as the wash is shallow at this point lower in Lovell Canyon. In fact, I might just head to that ridge directly from Lovell Canyon Road and skip Rocky Gap Road altogether.
At the summit of this approach ridge you’re on the Wilson Ridgeline above the Bridge Mountain Trailhead. Angle right (South) on the Wilson Ridgeline. Set your sites on The Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline. There’s a fairly tame cross-over ridge between the Wilson Ridgeline and The Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline that will land you on The Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline above the Juniper Peak area. From there you can go either North on that ridgeline all the way to White Rock Mountain in Red Rock Canyon, or South on the ridgeline all the way to highway 160 at Mountain Spring, the Southern tip of the Rainbow Mountains and beginning of Potosi Mountain.
As mentioned above, connecting with this ridgeline involves heading North on the Wilson Ridgeline. See above.
If you’re well prepared, you could spend a week (Spring or Fall) camping on Rocky Gap Road near the Bridge Mountain Trailhead and exploring the Wilson Ridgeline, the Rainbow Mountains, the Mt. Charleston Wilderness, the La Madre Mountains and Lovell Canyon! Have a great time exploring this huge slice of Southern Nevada Wilderness from Rocky Gap Road. In the process, you’ll be connecting all the wilderness areas as you explore a rarely traveled, pristine wilderness! Total, extended wilderness immersion creating enduring life memories!
However, I suggest you begin exploring and becoming familiar with small stretches of this wilderness (10-mile RTs), before piecing it all together in larger, more comprehensive adventures. It took me about 6-7 years of exploring the wilderness in this area on a weekly basis to be able to make these connections without getting lost or ending up in a dangerous place. Now I can do all of this walking…no climbing beyond a few brief, light class 3 stretches here and there. 99% is at a class 2 walk, though steep in places!