Turtlehead Peak is arguably the most popular hiking destination in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Reasons:
There’s a bird’s eye view including at least 7 major wilderness areas:
In addition to the above there are numerous wilderness areas beyond, especially to the far East all the way to the Grand Canyon area and all points between.
Then there is the spectacular view of the Las Vegas Valley and world-famous Strip.
During the nearly 2000ft ascent from the trailhead at the Sandstone Quarry parking area there are avalanche slopes and a few light class 3 rock climbs. However, with proper conditioning and some care on the rough spots, you don’t need any advanced climbing skills to ascend Turtlehead Peak.
Spring and Fall are the best time of year to hike Turtlehead Peak. Summer temperatures can reach 110 degrees, though in the morning or evening hours you could hike Turtlehead Peak during the Summer. Winter may bring some snow and ice near the summit.
If it’s a weekend day, be parked at the Sandstone Quarry Trailhead by 8:30 or 9am or risk not finding a parking spot. There is no overflow parking on the Scenic Drive, so if the parking area is full when you arrive, you are out of luck.
Be in fairly good condition for this hike in order to have an enjoyable experience vs. being exhausted, wondering when the torment will end and possibly not making it to the summit. For conditioning, I run 5 miles per day 4 days each week plus one longer wilderness adventure. Walking could also create the conditioning you need. You want to enjoy yourself and enjoy the spectacular views along the way and at the summit!
From I-215 in Summerlin at the Red Rock Casino, take Hwy 159 (Red Rock Canyon Road) West toward the mountains. Red Rock Canyon is the 2nd turnoff to the right, about 4 miles after leaving Summerlin. You will need a reservation to enter the area and gain access to the scenic drive. Once on the scenic drive, the Sandstone Quarry parking area is the 3rd parking area beyond the visitor center.
From the Sandstone Quarry Trailhead take the well-marked trail toward Turtlehead Peak. You can see the peak from the parking area, and the peak is visible during the entire hike. Take time to view the historic Sandstone Quarry, then continue up the trail. You will immediately cross a wash. Incidentally, that wash would lead you all the way to the Keystone Thrust cliffs and over to the neighboring Calico and Brownstone Basins to the East, but that’s another story. Cross the wash to continue on the Turtlehead Peak trail. Soon there will be a split in the trail. Stay left for Turtlehead Peak, take a right for the Calico Tanks (another awesome destination).
Soon you’ll cross the wash again…actually 2 more times before the trail angles to the right and heads directly for Turtlehead Peak after passing through an opening in a band of white sandstone hills.
Main Trail Route
Now take a good look at the potential routes up to Turtlehead Peak. There is Turtlehead Peak itself on the right, a high ridge on the left and a gully between. The main trail will head up a little above the left side of the gully toward a saddle between the high ridge on the left and Turtlehead Peak on the right. The trail is well marked, though somewhat challenging in spots (as described above).
After winding upward through the gully, you will reach the saddle. Take a left to head up the back (East) side of Turtlehead where the final slope to the summit is most gradual. Again, the trail is fairly well marked. Once behind Turtlehead Peak turn right and just head upward.
What’s the “twist” indicated by the title to this page? The “twist” is an optional, more challenging route I worked out that requires some light class 3 climbing skills in places, but is easy enough if you have a little experience scrambling over class 3 rocky inclines. Class 3 means you will need to use your hands to ascend (maintain 3 points of contact), however, you won’t need climbing gear such as ropes (You can probably tell I’m not a rock climber!). There is no dangerous exposure, and the 7 or 8 rocky inclines you will face are 15ft high or less. However, there is no trail, and there are a number of avalanche slopes you will need to traverse with a loose gravel surface.
Watch the video on this page carefully for the detail you will need. The route you will take to the saddle is that high ridge to the left above the gully. It’s challenging and fun, and the view is spectacular all the way up, compared to the main trail in the gully. And a bonus is that you gain altitude more rapidly in the beginning, so that by the time you reach the saddle (you actually descend to the saddle) you’re rested up vs. those on the main trail who are huffing and puffing by the time they finally reach the saddle.
Note that this route will probably take twice the amount of time as the main trail, and that you will need to be comfortable with class 3 climbing and rock scrambling. Also, you will not likely see anyone on the ridge, so if you have an accident, there will be no help…and cell coverage is not likely.
I head up to the summit along the edge of the cliff to the right (North). I actually give the cliff edge a 6ft berth for good measure. Why? Not to prove anything, but because the rocky surface near the edge of the cliff is much firmer and easier to ascend than the gravel trail.
After crossing the saddle there is a large trail marker indicating the main trail to the summit continues straight ahead. At this marker, take a right and scramble up a rocky hill. Light class 3 climbing again. At the top of the hill, continue up to the summit hugging the edge of the cliff to your right (Again, for good measure, stay 6ft from the edge of the cliff).
Definitely take the main trail to Turtlehead Peak, especially your first few ascents and until you have experience with light class 3 rock scrambling and navigating wilderness routes with no trails. The main trail is awesome, safer, challenging enough and you’ll still get all the spectacular views at the summit. In the video on this page, I descended by the main trail through the gully in order to demonstrate it. I took the ”twist” routes on the ascent.
Regardless of the route you take, Turtlehead Peak is an awesome, unforgettable hike. Some even use it as a training ascent route for higher peaks. Have fun and be safe!