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Old Bristlecone Trail
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Spring Mountains (Mt. Charleston), Lee Canyon
Old Bristlecone Trail
Bristlecone Trail Upper Trailhead
Upper Bristlecone Trailhead (view SW)

Overview

The Old Bristlecone Trail, sometimes called "No Name Trail," climbs onto the crest of the Spring Mountains Range connecting the Bristlecone Trail with the Bonanza Trail. The Old Bristlecone Trail was built by the USFS many years ago, but it has been abandoned and is no longer maintained; still, it remains a nice trail that is easy to follow.

The Old Bristlecone Trail is a 1.4-mile trail segment; that is, it does not connect to a trailhead, so there are various options for using it during a hike. As described here, the hike starts and ends at the Upper Bristlecone Trailhead, making a 5.7-mile loop.

Starting on the Bristlecone Trail, the Old Bristlecone Trail forks off and climbs to the crest of the range, follows the crest north, then descends the Bonanza Trail back to the Bristlecone Trail and returns over Bristlecone Trail. For details of those trails, click the respective links.

Link to map.

Bristlecone Trail
Hiker departing Bristlecone Trail at curve

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ... this is a fairly safe hike. However, the Bristlecone Trail is the only loop trail located entirely outside the Mt. Charleston Wilderness Area, so it is open to mountain bikes and hikers need to watch for bikes careening down the trail. The trail is moderately strenuous, so take it easy at this elevation if you've just come up from the desert. This hike might be a little long, but otherwise it is fine for kids.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, even though this hike isn't too long, be sure to bring the 10 Essentials.

Getting to the Trailhead

The trailhead is located up in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (Mt. Charleston) in Lee Canyon, about 1-1/4 hours northwest of Las Vegas. From town, drive north to the Upper Bristlecone Trailhead. Park here; this is the trailhead.

Old Bristlecone Trail
Trail junction obscured by sticks and branches (view W)

The Hike

From the Upper Bristlecone Trailhead (Table 1, Waypoint 01), the fenced Bristlecone Trail runs up the little ridge above the paved road heading back towards the ski area. At the edge of the ski area, the trail turns southwest and starts up a canyon through a mixed forest consisting mostly of Ponderosa Pine and White Fir with some Quaking Aspen.

After about 0.68 miles out, the trail passes two short switchbacks (Wpt. 02), then continues southwest heading up the canyon beneath groves of Quaking Aspen.

At the upper end of the aspens, the Bristlecone Trail curves right, crosses the mouth of a side canyon (Wpt. 03), and continues north across a hillside. At the side canyon, the Old Bristlecone Trail turns left to head west and up the canyon.

Old Bristlecone Trail
Trail junction obscured by sticks and branches (view W)

 

The Old Bristlecone Trail actually makes a triangular intersection here, so there are two forks that both lead up the side canyon. However, the USFS is discouraging use of the Old Bristlecone Trail by obscuring both forks of the trail junction with lots of sticks and branches laid in the trail. Step carefully and leave the sticks the way they are. I've been told that the sticks are to help novice hikers stay on the Bristlecone Trail, but it seems that a simple sign might work better.

The Old Bristlecone Trail runs west in the bottom of the canyon. The trail generally is obvious, but parts have been washed out and there are a few logs and rocks to step around.

Heading west up the canyon, hikers can look ahead through the trees and see that the canyon bends to the right (northwest).

When the canyon bottom bends right (Wpt. 04), a faint side trail continues straight and climbs steeply up the hillside to a saddle overlooking Wallace Canyon; however, the Old Bristlecone Trail turns right to follow the main canyon.

Old Bristlecone Trail
Trail junction obscured by sticks and branches (view W)

Now running northwest, the trail remains near the bottom of the canyon until reaching a switchback (Wpt. 05) to the right. Some hikers cut the switchback (up and across the slope to the left), but it is better to practice LNT techniques and stay on the built trail.

A bit farther up the canyon bottom, the trail passes another short switchback to the left, then continues up the canyon. When it looks like the trail is cresting out on the ridge, the trail only gets steeper and climbs to the true crest (Wpt. 06) at about 9,700 feet.

Signs on the crest announce the boundary of the Mount Charleston Wilderness Area. Just to the east, a big boulder (Wpt. 07) makes a nice place to stop for lunch with a bit of a view to the east. There is some view to the west too, but generally the views are limited by the dense forest of Bristlecone Pine trees.

Continuing over the saddle (Wpt. 06), the Old Bristlecone Trail heads north. Generally staying on the west side of the ridgeline, the trail offers a few nice views to the west. The gentle grades make for easy hiking, and the good-quality trail permits sightseeing while walking.

Old Bristlecone Trail
Ahead, the canyon bends to the right (view NW)

The Old Bristlecone Trail contours across the west side of a tall knob on the ridge, then returns to the crest and intersects the Bonanza Trail (Wpt. 08). As with the Bristlecone Trail, this trail junction is obscured with sticks and branches, and thus ends the Old Bristlecone Trail.

Now on the Bonanza Trail, the hike turns right (southeast) to descend four long switchbacks back to the Bristlecone Trail (Wpt. 09). At this trail junction, hikers can choose to walk in either direction: left to the Lower Bristlecone Trailhead or right to the Upper Bristlecone Trailhead.

Turning right on the Bristlecone Trail towards the Upper Bristlecone Trailhead, the trail runs south on old Scout Canyon Road until the road ends (Wpt. 10). The built trail then continues south across hillsides, passing the Bristlecone highpoint (Wpt. 11) and the rocky ridge (Wpt. 12) with stately (if dead) bristlecone pine carcasses, to descend back to the start of the Old Bristlecone Trail (Wpt. 03). From there, the Bristlecone Trail turns east and runs back to the trailhead (Wpt. 01).

Old Bristlecone Trail
Hikers at the bend in the canyon (view NW)
Old Bristlecone Trail
At the bend, Old Bristlecone Trail stays in the wash (view NW)
Old Bristlecone Trail
Trail junction in evening light without shadows (view NW)
Old Bristlecone Trail
Hiking up the canyon-bottom (view NW)
Old Bristlecone Trail Old Bristlecone Trail
Old Bristlecone Trail
Stay on trail (right) at switchback (view NW)
Old Bristlecone Trail
Nice trail (view NW)
Old Bristlecone Trail
Note cut logs from when the trail was maintained (view NW)
Old Bristlecone Trail
Looking back towards Mt. Charleston summit (view S)
Old Bristlecone Trail
Seems that the trail is cresting out ...
Old Bristlecone Trail
... but it is not
Old Bristlecone Trail
Steep trail climbing onto the crest (view NW)
Old Bristlecone Trail
Hikers on the crest (view NW)
Old Bristlecone Trail
Wilderness boundary sign on the crest (view W)
Old Bristlecone Trail
Survey marker on the crest (view down)
Old Bristlecone Trail
Faint track leading south along the ridgeline (not a good route)
Old Bristlecone Trail
From the crest, looking back down the trail (view SE)
Old Bristlecone Trail
Nice place for a snack and a bit of a view (view E)
Old Bristlecone Trail
Saddle (view W)
Old Bristlecone Trail
Trail continues over the saddle and turns north (view NW)
Old Bristlecone Trail
Hiker heading north on the contour (view N)
Old Bristlecone Trail Old Bristlecone Trail
Old Bristlecone Trail Old Bristlecone Trail
Old Bristlecone Trail Old Bristlecone Trail
Old Bristlecone Trail
Hiker arriving at Bonanza Trail; Old Bristlecone Trail ends (view N)
Old Bristlecone Trail
Hiker by wilderness sign at the Bonanza Trail (view NE)

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

Wpt. Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi) Verified
01 Upper Bristlecone Trailhead 618755 4018565 8,690 0.00 0.00 Yes
02 Switchback 618063 4017976 8,895 0.68 0.68 GPS
03 Trail Junction 617571 4017766 9,102 0.42 1.10 GPS
04 Trail Junction 617337 4017742 9,219 0.18 1.28 GPS
05 Switchback 617153 4017937 9,395 0.23 1.51 GPS
06 Saddle 616864 4018156 9,716 0.33 1.84 GPS
07 Overlook 616873 4018164 9,726 0.01 1.85 GPS
08 Trail Junction 616554 4019087 9,751 0.67 2.52 GPS
09 Trail Junction 617104 4019061 9,276 0.79 3.31 GPS
10 Scout Canyon Road End 616947 4018735 9,345 0.23 3.54 GPS
11 Highpoint 616940 4018506 9,400 0.19 3.73 GPS
12 Rocky Ridge 617238 4018415 9,375 0.22 3.95 GPS
03 Trail Junction 617571 4017766 9,102 0.69 4.64 GPS
02 Switchback 618063 4017976 8,895 0.43 5.07 GPS
01 Upper Bristlecone Trailhead 618755 4018565 8,690 0.66 5.73 Yes

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 140205

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