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Mitchell Caverns Trail
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Mojave National Preserve
Providence Mountains State Park

Mitchell Caverns
Mitchell Caverns NOTE: Mitchell Caverns is closed due to budget issues in California, but rumor has it that the caverns will reopen during late spring or summer of 2017!
Mitchell Caverns
Hiking out to the caverns (view S)

Overview

This is a great 2-hour ranger-guided nature walk to explore Mitchell Caverns. The trail runs out an easy 0.5 miles to the entrance to the caves. The tour then goes underground for about an hour to see and learn about the interesting, unusual, and well-preserved cave formations. The entire tour lasts for about 2 hours.

During winter (Labor Day to Memorial Day), tours run three times per day on weekends and state holidays (10:00 am, 1:30 pm, 3:00 pm) and once per day during the week (1:30 pm). During summer, tours run at 1:30 pm daily. Tour fees are based on age, ranging up to $5 per adult. Tours are limited to 25 people and are often full during holidays. For information on reservations and the most-current schedules and fees, visit the Providence Mountains State Park website.

Link to map.

Mitchell Caverns
The eyes of the mountain (view S)

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this is a pretty safe hike, but be careful on the trail and watch your head in the cave. There are stairs and tight places inside the cave

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, this is a short guided hike, so just bring what you need of the 10 Essentials.

Mitchell Caverns
Cave shield and stalactites

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located in Mojave National Preserve, about 2.5 hours south of Las Vegas.

From town, drive out to Mojave National Preserve Hole-in-the-Wall Visitor Center (Table 1, Site 502), which is about 85 miles from town. From the Visitor Center turnoff on Black Canyon Road, drive south for 9.7 miles to a T-intersection with the paved Essex Road (Site 845). Turn right and drive west for 6.1 miles to the end of the road (Site 503). Park in the large parking area by the campground or the small parking area by the ranger station. Park here; this is the trailhead.

Mitchell Caverns
A tight spot

The Hike

Join the tour by the ranger station (Table 2, Waypoint 1) where the rangers give an orientation talk. Rangers explain the geologic history of the area and how the caves formed, explaining that there are actually two limestone caves (El Pakiva and Tecopa) that are now linked with a man-made tunnel. They talk about human history and use of the cave, including use by prehistoric, historic, and modern peoples. They will also talk about the wildlife (including unique species) in and around the caves. After the talk, the ranger leads the group south on the well-maintained trail across the hillside towards the caverns.

The vegetation along the trail is relatively lush, higher-elevation Mojave Desert Scrub with creosote bush, Mojave Yucca, cactus, and other species. The elevation is high enough that Juniper Trees survive in the canyon at the mouth of the cave.

Mitchell Caverns
Don't bump your head!

The rocks along the trail are limestone and dolomite, but higher up, the rocks are volcanic. The limestone generally was laid down as flat layers of deep-ocean sediment, but a volcano pushed up through the layers, melting and tilting the limestone. The dark-colored peaks above the trail are the remains of the volcano. There are good views of the contact between these two types of rock along the trail. The rangers will fill in details of the geologic history.

Just before getting to the cave, the trail rounds a little ridge where there is a great view of "the eyes of the mountain," the double opening of El Pakiva cave. Just a few steps beyond the curve, you can see the remains of an old cave on the uphill side of the trail. This cave might have been part of El Pakiva cave, but here the roof collapsed and walls completely eroded away. All that remain are formations that made up the floor, including the concentric rings of several columns and some flowstone.

Mitchell Caverns
A large column

With the orientation talk and several brief stops along the way, it took our group about 1 hour to get from the ranger station to the cave entrance (Wpt. 2). Inside the cave, the trail is paved and easy, but there are some stairs and narrow parts, so watch your head; the trail is not fully accessible.

The cave formations are spectacular with many stalactites, stalagmites, and columns as would be expected, but there are also many "erratic" formations including cave shields, straws, popcorn, and other formations that grow against gravity. The rangers use lighting to spotlight and highlight various formations.

Interesting animals live inside this cave and nowhere else on earth. Unique animals include the cave stinkbug and cave pseudoscorpion. Many other creatures use the cave too, including Townsend's Big-eared Bats (a species of concern). These cute little bats have ears that are about 1 inch long (on a 4-inch body), and they can roll up their ears to keep them warm while sleeping.

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

Site Location Latitude (°N) Longitude (°W) UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (feet) Verified
0502 Hole-in-the-Wall Visitor Center 35.04221 115.39490 646403 3878704 4,260 Yes
0503 Mitchell Caverns parking area 34.94341 115.51171 635911 3867581 4,314 Yes
0836 Black Cyn Rd at Hole-in-the-Wall Rd 35.04185 115.38989 646860 3878671 4,213 Yes
0845 Essex Rd at Black Canyon Rd 34.90858 115.42343 644034 3863842 2,887 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) Verified
01 Ranger station Trailhead 635837 3867590 4,300 GPS
02 Cave entrance 635890 3867100 4,300 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 170315

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