Sawmill Trailhead to McFarland Peak | Spring Mountains, Nevada
Sawmill Trail to McFarland Peak Overview
As you’ll see in the video on this page, this adventure began with the intent of doing the Mud Springs Loop trail from the Sawmill Trailhead in Lee Canyon, Spring Mountains, Nevada. Somewhere I went off course and ended up on a 9,235ft bluff near the base of the 10,745ft McFarland Peak! The trail that took me to that point was a very well traveled trail with a great surface. It looked as though that trail would go all the way to Cold Creek and potentially make an incredible ultra marathon out and back running course.
Trail Absent from Maps
One would think that such a great trail would appear on maps, so I did some research only to find every map I viewed showed no trail on the East side of McFarland Peak. There is a better known, well documented Bonanza Trail that appears on the West side of McFarland Peak on every map. This unknown East side trail appears to parallel the West side trail all the way to Cold Creek.
Views Along the Trail
The views along the trail are spectacular including Mummy Mountain’s Head, the East side of McFarland Peak and the ridge system all the way to Bonanza Peak, then down to Cold Creek. To the East Gass Peak, the entire Sheep Mountain Range and the massive, beautiful desert valley on the Hwy 95 corridor North of Las Vegas spread out in an incredible panorama lit in a thousand changing variations with the advance of the Sun.
Though I was unable to find this great trail on any map, it was well worth the trip. What an amazing ultra run this would make on a trail with such a perfect runner’s surface except for a brief 1/2 mile stretch up a canyon wash!
Sawmill Trail to McFarland Peak Trailhead Directions
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.
Sawmill Trail to McFarland Peak Trail Observations
There are a few places I could have gone off the Mud Springs Loop. I’ll make a note of each, and then in a future adventure complete and document the loop.
Decision Point: Second Left Off the Sawmill Trail
You’ll begin on the Sawmill Loop. Stay to your left. Soon you will come to a split where a yellow trail branches off the the right and a red trail to the left. Take the red trail to the left. This much I know for certain. The red trail will rise up a ridge opening a view of Angel Peak and Mummy Mountain’s Head. Continue to the high point on the ridge. This is where things become uncertain. At the high point, and where there is a saddle between two rises, there is a very good, but unmarked trail that branches off to the left. I took this trail. I believe taking this branch puts one on the 15-mile Mud Springs Loop in a clockwise direction. On the other hand, if you continue straight you’ll be taking the loop in a counterclockwise direction. See the map on this page. I went left this day, next time I’ll try going straight.
Descending to the Wash – Macks Canyon Wash?
The very excellent trail that branches off to the left continues along a ridge above and to the left of a shallow canyon wash. Again, the more I look at the maps it appears this may have been the Mud Springs Loop. Continuing along this ridge views of the beautiful desert valley around the Indian Springs area begin to open up to the Northeast. The trail eventually descends into a canyon wash which I believe may be Macks Canyon Wash. There is a cairn at the base of the trail in the wash.
Heading Up the Wash
A few branches someone has placed in the wash seem to indicate that you need to take a left turn and head up the wash. I did this, continuing up the wash for about a half mile. This is one potential place where I may have gotten off trail. Perhaps the thing was to take a right and head down the wash. Unlikely. Heading up the wash, the surface appeared to be well traveled with a lot of foot prints and good deviations around barriers in the wash.
Trail Resumes. “R3D” Marker
Eventually, the regular trail resumed rising out of the wash to the right. This trail rolled along ascending and descending as it crossed a few more washes. Then, there was a plastic brown marker in a wash with the words “Red Trail” etched on it. The “e” of red looked like a backwards 3. “R3d” trail. Funny! The marker indicated one should continue along across that wash, and the trail did indeed resume on the other side of the wash. The trail marker is another decision point. Perhaps the thing was to take a right there. Further reflection points to the right turn as the likely route to continue around the Mud Springs Loop Trail. Why? Continuing straight resulted in altitude gain beyond that of the Mud Springs Loop Trail and also approached and passed the Eastern base of McFarland Peak.
Heading Into Wilderness Area and Toward McFarland Peak
Continuing straight across the wash at the “r3d” marker (instead of turning right), there was more up and down, but gradually ascending overall and always heading toward McFarland Peak. Again, great views of the desert valley to the East, along with emerging views of the Sheep Range across the valley.
After winding around the ridgeline a few more times, the trail briefly dipped into a wash with a “Wilderness Area” marker, crossed the wash and then ascended again along the ridge, continuing to show closer views of McFarland Peak every time the trail circled the ridge opening a large view. The trail ascended to a high point just beyond McFarland Peak. I estimate that point was around 8,700ft, which was higher in altitude than any point along the Mud Springs trail. By this time, it appeared I was off track.
Ascending a High Ridge Just Beyond McFarland Peak
At the highest point in the trail the town of Cold Creek appeared in the distance just before the trail began to descend sharply. McFarland Peak and the entire ridgeline all the way to Bonanza Peak was now in view along with the town of Cold Creek. Feeling I was off track, I decided to ascend a ridgeline above that high point on the trail and continued upward for about 500ft to a bluff that on area maps was 9,235ft. Bristlecone Pines began to appear at this elevation. I was just below and a little beyond McFarland Peak. Awesome view of McFarland Peak, the entire ridgeline all the way to Bonanza Peak and on down to Cold Creek. Across the valley below a full view of the Sheep Range with Gass Peak at the Southern most point.
The question for today: Before going off trail and ascending the 500ft ridge to the bluff, had I still been on the Mud Springs trail? Unlikely. Too close to the base of McFarland Peak and too high in elevation. I likely missed the Mud Springs Loop earlier at the “R3d” Trail marker.
Unmarked Trail East of McFarland Peak Well Worth the Discovery!
However, in the process, I believe I discovered a trail that does not appear on any map (Google, Mytopo…etc – see the video of this page) and seems to head parallel to the Bonanza Peak Trail but on the East side of the main ridge upon which McFarland Peak and Bonanza Peak sit. This trail looks as though it would continue all the way to the town of Cold Creek. In addition this looks like a potential approach to the East side of McFarland Peak. However, this side of McFarland Peak looks rather imposing and vertical!
In all, it’s a very beautiful trail and potentially an alternate route from the Lee Canyon area to Cold Creek with spectacular panoramic views to the East.