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Natural Bridge and Bridge Spring
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge
Parking adjacent to Nelson Road (view N)


This pleasant route runs for 0.8 miles through a geologically interesting area to a spring and a natural bridge. The route starts on a use-trail (or on a short dirt road for less adventuresome drivers), crosses a couple of low ridges, drops into a wash, and runs down a shrub live oak-filled canyon to the bridge. The spring seems to provide a small amount of water, and the bridge spans the canyon. The bridge is about 25 feet long and about 10-feet thick at the center -- quite impressive. I wouldn't drive out there just to do this hike, but if I were in the Nelson area, I certainly would take this short hike to see the bridge.

Link to map or elevation profile.

Natural Bridge
Trailhead at end of rough road (view NW)

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this hike is safe and easy, but for those of us more familiar with walking on rough (almost sticky) limestone and sandstone, the water-polished volcanic rock in the canyon is surprisingly slick. There is no need to climb anything, but be extra careful scrambling around the smooth boulders in the wash.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, this hike is fairly short, so just bring what you need of the 10 Essentials. This hike is just outside the El Dorado Wilderness Area, so pay extra attention to respecting the land.

Natural Bridge
Start of route (view SE from ridge above trailhead).
Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located south of Las Vegas near the town of Nelson, just outside the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and adjacent to the El Dorado Wilderness Area.

From Las Vegas, drive south on Highway 95/93 towards Boulder City. Past Railroad Pass (Site 914), turn right onto Highway 95 towards Searchlight and drive south for about 10 miles to Nelson Road (Highway 165) (Table 1, Site 913). Turn left onto Nelson Road and drive east for about 9.5 miles to the trailhead turnoff (Site 910). Watch for a "steep downhill road ahead" symbol sign, and then a narrow dirt road angling to the left and cutting up a hillside where the paved road goes into a road cut and starts down the steep hill.

Natural Bridge route
Start of the wash (view NE)

If you miss the turn, the road crests the hill in the roadcut and descends straight into Nelson (Site 912). In Nelson, turn around and drive back to the top of the hill. From the first intersection (and the first curve) in Nelson, it is 1.4 miles back to the trailhead turnoff.

At the trailhead turnoff, either park off the pavement (Site 910) or drive up the fairly rough road for 0.17 miles to the end of the road (Site 911); don't try to drive up the very steep side of the ridge past the circle. Park here; this is the trailhead.

Natural Bridge route
Wash through volcanic rocks (view NE)

The Hike

From the trailhead at the end of the dirt road (Table 2, Waypoint 01), a use-trail angles up and across the steep hillside to a saddle (Wpt. 02) on the low ridge behind (east of) the parking area. The vegetation community here is unusual; it is dominated by Mojave yucca and California buckwheat, and little else.

The top of the ridge is a good place to stop and get orientated for the hike. Looking east from the saddle, you can see a white dome-shaped ridge on the horizon (see banner photo). The bridge is in the canyon on the right (south) edge of the dome. To get there, the use-trail cuts south to circle around the head of a wash, crosses a ridge, drops into another wash, and follows the wash to the bridge.

Natural Bridge route
Boulder at the head of the canyon (view SE)

Continuing from the first saddle (Wpt. 02), the use-trail turns southeast and runs along the east side of the ridge to a flat area (Wpt. 03) where you can look down and see the paved road and Nelson. At this point, the use-trail bends to the east, crosses a wash, and cuts up the far hillside on a more obvious use-trail.

The use-trail continues southeast for a short distance, then curves to the left and starts up towards the crest of the next little ridge to the east (Wpt. 04). The trail continues over the ridge and drops into the next wash at a point marked with a cairn (Wpt. 05). This wash runs all the way to the bridge.

Natural Bridge

On the ridges, the vegetation is sparse, but more diverse than at the trailhead. Along here, the shrubs include species such as creosote bush, Nevada ephedra, and indigo bush; plus some bitterbrush in gullies. There are also several species of cactus here, including teddybear cholla, buckhorn cholla, strawberry hedgehog cactus, and beavertail cactus.

In the wash, the route turns northeast and runs downhill, occasionally on a use-trail, but generally just in the wash or on the rocks along the edge of the wash. Initially, the landscape is fairly flat and open (Wpt. 06), but it is dissected by many little wash-lets and without an overall view of the landscape. On the way back out, I found this area to be a bit disorienting, so pay attention to the route on the way down the wash.

Natural Bridge route
Two boulders in the wash (view SE)

The route continues northeast, down the wash, until it jogs to the southeast and enters a fairly straight gully cut into the bedrock. By this time, it is obvious that the route is leading down the canyon to the south of the large dome-shaped ridge.

At the end of the straight gully, the route passes an unusually large boulder on the south edge of the wash (Wpt. 07) and starts down into the canyon. The boulder has been described as an Easter Island Headstone, and for hikers taking the direct route to Virlis-Fisher Arch, this is the turnoff.

Natural Bridge route
Bridge view from near the two boulders (view SE)

In the canyon, the route follows the wash past many shrub live oak trees to Bridge Spring (Wpt. 08), which is high on the south hillside. The canyon bottom is choked with shrub live oak, skunk bush, and other shrubs here, and a use-trail cuts around the north side of thicket, bypassing the spot where water from the spring hits the bottom of the wash. Some of the rock through here has an unusual character: it looks like small, sharp edged, red stones set in a solid matrix of gray volcanic tuff.

Past Bridge Spring, the route passes a pair of very large boulders (Wpt. 09) in bottom of canyon just beyond a little pour-over. On the north hillside just a few feet beyond the boulders, hikers can look down the canyon and see Natural Bridge, which is about 150-200 feet out. This probably is the easiest place to get an overview photo of the bridge.

Natural Bridge route
Natural Bridge (view SE)

Scrambling around boulders in the bottom of the canyon, the route continues the last few feet down to Natural Bridge (Wpt. 10). The rock here is volcanic tuff: gray-brown and full of black flecks. The bridge spans the entire canyon, which is about 20-25 ft wide. The bridge is about 10-12 ft thick in center. Around the bridge, the vegetation is dominated by shrub live oak on the sides of the wash and squaw waterweed (Baccharis sergiloides) in the wash.

After contemplating the geologic and erosional forces that created such a place, and enjoying the solitude, return to the trailhead by retracing your footprints. I found myself a bit confused on the way out because of the terrain and lack of landmarks, so follow the wash and watch carefully for the cairn where the trail leaves the wash. If you get lost, just continue hiking west (towards the sunset), and you will hit the paved road.

Table 1. Highway Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site # Location Latitude (°N) Longitude (°W) UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (feet) Verified
910 Nelson Road at Natural Bridge turnoff 35.7298 114.8308 696188 3955953 3,482 Yes
911 Natural Bridge trailhead 35.7279 114.8295 696310 3955737 3,508 Yes
912 Nelson town 35.7098 114.8258 696689 3953746 3,035 Yes
913 Highway 95 at Nelson Road 35.8285 114.9365 686394 3966691 1,821 Yes
914 Highway 95 at Highway 93 (Railroad Pass) 35.9674 114.8938 689922 3982187 2,340 Yes

Table 2. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi)
01 Trailhead 696310 3955737 3,508 0.00 0.00
02 Ridge 696345 3955719 3,531 0.03 0.03
03 Trail junction 696394 3955674 3,493 0.04 0.07
04 Ridge 696498 3955638 3,531 0.10 0.17
05 Cairn in wash 696621 3955602 3,478 0.09 0.25
06 Open area 696669 3955661 3,468 0.05 0.30
07 One big boulder 697070 3955738 3,392 0.11 0.59
08 Spring 697244 3955690 3,375 0.13 0.72
09 Two big boulders 697321 3955671 3,394 0.06 0.77
10 Natural Bridge 697345 3955650 3,359 0.03 0.80

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 140513

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