Turtlehead Peak in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
The Complete Turtlehead Peak Adventure Run with a Twist!
Turtlehead Peak is one of the most popular hikes in Red Rock Canyon, so if you don’t get to the trailhead at the Sandstone Quarry parking area by 7am on a Saturday or Sunday, you may risk having to park along the road and walk 1/4th mile or more to get to the trailhead. The best time to hike Turtlehead Peak is in the Fall, Winter or Spring, or as early as possible on a Summer morning to avoid high temperatures after 10am. Bring at least 2 quarts of water. The hike takes about 4 hours, allowing for some time to enjoy the summit. In terms of difficulty, it’s a cross between a hike and a climb with some brief boulder sections and a lot of scrambling on loose gravel. Be prepared to slip on the gravel and fall once or twice along the way, especially on the return trip down hill. Look for the micro-holds, which are the tips of securely anchored rocks poking up in the trail. Try to avoid stepping on any gravel section that is not horizontal!
The trail can appear and disappear, but continue on up to the saddle (the dip to the left of Turtlehead Peak). Pretty much all trails lead to the top, so it’s hard to get lost. You may however, end up having to scurry down an especially steep gravel section if you loose the main trail, marked in places with a green trail marking.
Adventure with a Twist: Tricky Traverse and Upper Ridge
The “adventure with a twist” involves going up the ridge to the left and above the main trail in the approach canyon. Head up the ridge after the second main plateau in the canyon trail (see the first video on this page for details). Getting up to the ridge involves a pretty slippery gravel section I call the “tricky traverse”. Continue along the ridge until you get to the saddle. The advantage of this little twist is twofold: First, the view is amazing all the way up compared to hiking down in the approach canyon. Second, you get most of the elevation gain out of the way in the beginning and actually descend to the saddle before ascending again to the summit.
Ascent to the Summit
I find the best ascent to the summit (after crossing the saddle) is to hug the cliff edge where the rocks are solid compared to the slippery gravel ascents further inward. Just watch your step near the cliff edge! Have fun! This is a great climb with some of the best vista views of Red Rock Canyon, Calico Basin and the La Madre Mountain Wilderness (Keystone Thrust cliff area) at the back of the park. I describe all this in the first video along with plans to discover a Legendary La Madre Mountain Loop hike/running route which will likely be a 10-11 hour round trip of about 25 miles with a 4000ft elevation gain. At the time of this writing I have a gap of just 3/4th mile and 600ft left before closing the loop. See the La Madre Mt. page for further details, videos and pictures.