The Gold Butte region, administered by the BLM and the U.S. National Park Service, is a 500,000-acre area located about 2 hours east of Las Vegas: south of Mesquite, north of the Colorado River, east of the Virgin River and Overton Arm of Lake Mead, and west of the Arizona state line.
Gold Butte is wild and remote with high peaks, low valleys, grand views, lots of historic and pre-historic history, mixed up geology, fossil dinosaur tracks, and huge solitude.
Activities in Gold Butte include hiking, horseback riding, driving on designated roads and trails, camping, sightseeing, and fishing along Lake Mead and in the Colorado River. The geology of this sandstone-limestone-granitic-metamorphic faulted-twisted-contorted-eroded land, while nearly impossible to comprehend in total, is stunningly stark and beautiful. Three major ecosystems (Mojave Desert, Great Basin Desert, and the Colorado Plateau) meet here, providing a varied and diverse flora and fauna.
Link to hiking, camping, and driving adventures in Gold Butte or a map of the area. Link to Official Gold Butte boundary map (PDF, 0.9 mb).
Dinosaur track in Gold Butte sandstone
Much of Gold Butte is relatively low desert (the elevation of the lake surface is about 1,200 feet), and temperatures often are about 10 degrees higher at the lake than they are in Las Vegas. In these areas, dry-land activities generally are restricted to the cooler months (e.g., October through May). There are, however, higher mountains (to 8,100 ft) that provide a respite from the summer heat. As elsewhere in the desert, winters can bring snow and bitter cold temperatures.
Gold Butte includes two designated wilderness areas: the Lime Canyon Wilderness Area (23,233 acres) and the Jumbo Springs Wilderness Area (4,631 acres) that were designated in 2002 under the Clark County Conservation of Public Land and Natural Resources Act of 2002 (Public Law 107-282). Several other parts of Gold Butte were considered for inclusion in wilderness areas, but opposition by Republican members of congress have blocked conservation efforts. Over the years, even the local community has come to understand the value of wilderness in preserving their own way of life, and a local, grassroots organization (Friends of Gold Butte) was established to work towards protecting the entire area from indiscriminate and damaging use by the establishment of a National Conservation Area (like Red Rock Canyon NCA).
Falling Man Petroglyph: Native American rock art
GETTING TO GOLD BUTTE
This land is wild and remote, and it offers outstanding recreational experiences, but make no mistake: this is wild and remote country where visitors are on their own. Be prepared to take care of yourself.
Gold Butte is located northeast of Las Vegas. To get there, drive north on Interstate-15 for about 70 miles to Exit 112 towards Riverside and Bunkerville (Table 1, Site 0684), which is about 5 miles before the town of Mesquite. Exit onto Highway 170 and drive south about 3 miles to the Virgin River Bridge.
Cross the bridge and immediately take a hard right turn onto the unmarked, but paved Gold Butte Road (Site 0686). Watch for a sign to Meadowland Farm. Note that the slope of the road makes the turn look like a pullout rather than an intersection.
Follow the paved Gold Butte Road southwest along the river about 6.5 miles until it abruptly bends (Site 0687) southeast and leaves the river. Stay on the rough paved road as it runs south towards the heart of Gold Butte. At 19.7 miles out, the unmarked Black Butte Road forks right just before a sandstone crag and runs southwest to the Falling Man area.
Eroded sandstone: natural rock art
Continuing on the Gold Butte Road, the pavement ends (21.1 miles out) at Whitney Pocket, a popular camping area. It takes about 2-1/2 hours to get to this point from Las Vegas, counting time to top-off the gas tank at Glendale.
At Whitney Pocket, the unpaved Gold Butte Road forks (Site 0462) three ways. To the left, Arizona Road heads east, passes several campsites, and eventually climbs over the mountains into Arizona. To the right, a dirt road runs through a day-use parking area and down to a couple of campsites. The main road, now the unpaved Gold Butte Road, continues straight south.
From Whitney Pocket, continuing south on the unpaved Gold Butte Road for 3.9 miles brings visitors to Mud Wash North Road (Site 1649) and the turnoff to Little Finland. At 7.0 miles out, the road passes Mud Wash Road (Site 0807), the turnoff to Devil's Throat (take the time to see it; it's only 0.25 miles out). Both of these roads can be used as part of the Gold Butte Backcountry Byway.
Continuing south on the unpaved Gold Butte Road, the main road stays right at St. Thomas Gap Road (9.0 miles out; Site 0796) and again at Devil's Cove Road (16.6 miles out; Site 0797).
Hikers atop Billy Goat Peak
Continuing south on the unpaved Gold Butte Road, the main road eventually crosses a cattle guard at about 19.8 miles out that announces entry into the Gold Butte Townsite area. To the left, Voight Well Road loops into (Site 1650) and out of (Site 1651) this eastern section of the Townsite area.
At about 20.2 miles out, the unpaved Gold Butte Road arrives at the first (Site 1648) of two roads left into the main Gold Butte Townsite area.
In another 100 yards, the unpaved Gold Butte Road ends at a 4-way intersection (Site 0806). The left is the second turn into the main Gold Butte Townsite area. The right, Red Bluff Spring Road, runs north into the distance as part of the Gold Butte Backcountry Byway. The main road continues southwest as Scanlon Road, but it gets rough pretty quickly.
Gold Butte is always open.
There are no concessions in Gold Butte (i.e., no food, no marinas, no boat tours, no gasoline, no designated campgrounds, no nothing).
Twenty-one Goats petroglyph panel
Car camping in Gold Butte is unregulated, but be sure to choose an existing or low-impact site and practice your Leave-No-Trace skills.
There are two popular camping areas at Gold Butte. The first is Whitney Pocket, which is at the end of the paved road, and the second is Gold Butte Townsite, which is 20 miles past the end of the pavement. There are a plethora of other camping opportunities in Gold Butte.
Scattered throughout the Gold Butte region are wide spots and short spurs along the major roads that make generally quiet campsites. For those seeking even more solitude, there are many wide spots along minor roads that make nice campsites.
Backpacking is unregulated, so backcountry permits are not required. When backpacking, be sure to choose a low-impact campsite and hone your Leave-No-Trace skills.
Stormy campsite at Gold Butte Townsite
Other than the standard cautions about hiking in the desert, ...this area generally is safe, but there are many old mines and this is wild and remote county, so even under the best of circumstances, help would be long in coming. Given that, exercise extra caution when hiking and give yourself a little wider margin of safety. Don't push it.
In case of emergency, cell phones generally work north of Whitney Pocket, but don't count on them. Farther south, cell coverage is spotty and unreliable. For example, I once called my wife from far southern Gold Butte, but a few minutes later, I could get no cell signal at all.
Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back. Satellite phones or personal locator beacons are a good idea.
SOME RULES AND REGULATIONS
This is BLM land, so there are few regulations. However, vehicles are restricted to designated roads and trails; Pack it in, pack it out; and don't mess with the rock art or other historical artifacts.
For details on these issues and other information, visit the Lake Mead website. Driving maps are available online of the Lake Mead section of Gold Butte.
Table 1. Highway Coordinates based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.
||Gold Butte Rd at End of Pavement
||Gold Butte Rd at Whitney Pocket
||Hwy I-15 at Hwy 170
||Hwy 170 at Gold Butte Rd
||Gold Butte Rd at turn away from river
||Gold Butte Rd at St Thomas Gap Rd
||Gold Butte Rd at Devil's Cove Rd
||Gold Butte Rd at Red Bluff Spring Rd
||Gold Butte Rd at Mud Wash Rd
||Gold Butte Rd at Gold Butte Townsite Rd East
||Gold Butte Rd at Mud Wash North Rd
||Gold Butte Rd at Voight Well Rd E
||Gold Butte Rd at Voight Well Rd W