The North Loop Trail is typically used as part of the descending leg in a loop hike of Charleston Peak. (See the South Loop Trail for more information.) Although the trail covers the same total elevation gain as the South Loop Trail, the North Loop is steeper at higher elevations and is thus more tiring when ascending.
The full North Loop Trail runs for 10.3 miles, but most hikers use only the top 6.5 miles of it, returning to Kyle Canyon via a 2-mile connecting trail called Trail Canyon. There appears to be no compelling reason to use the full North Loop Trail, as this would extend the hike by two hours, involve an additional 1000' feet of intermediate climbing and descending, and require you to spot a second car at the remote trailhead. The shorter route is painful enough.
If you use the shorter North Loop/Trail Canyon combination, the total elevation change is about 4500 feet -- from 11,918' down to about 7500' -- with a summit-to-trailhead distance of about 8.5 miles.
Here is the official Forest Service trail description, which describes the full trail in the upward direction...
North Loop Trail winds up the mountainside through ponderosa pines, mountain mahogany, currents, and white fir. After 1-1/2 miles is a flat ridge which offers good views of Las Vegas and a few campsites. The trail continues up several switchbacks before reaching a summit. It then descends through a bristlecone pine forest toward the foot Mummy Mountain. At 2.7 miles it reaches the junction of mummy Spring Trail. There are several scenic views of Kyle Canyon as the trail continues descending toward Trail Canyon. At four miles is the junction of Trail Canyon Trail. North Loop Trail continues to the right, Trail Canyon trail is to the left and travels two miles into Kyle Canyon. Trail Canyon is frequently used as a shorter way to reach the peak. The next half mile North Loop makes a steady ascent to Cave Spring. There is water running into a horse trough below a cave-like area used for camping. The trail continues climbing amongst aspens while traveling through an old burn area. It eventually ascends to where the only trees are bristlecone pines. Winding along the rocky canyon walls, it reaches the east face of Mount Charleston Peak. Switch-backs climb barren rock a half mile before reaching the summit. On top of Charleston Peak is a magnificent view. One can see nearly 300 miles in each direction on a clear day.
Travelling in the other direction, from the summit down to Kyle Canyon, the trail is a very impressive set of switchbacks, followed by cliff-hugging ledges. Here, the trail is a wonder of engineering, and you may question the trail's ability to get you back into Kyle Canyon far below. Wonder soon gives way to fatigue, however, as the trail seems to go on forever, seemingly far beyond your intended destination. Do not fear, however, since the Trail Canyon cutoff is clearly marked and you won't miss it. Trail Canyon takes you 2 miles downhill to a paved road -- probably in deepening darkness. Unfortunately, if you have parked your car near the trailhead for the South Loop Trail, you still have another mile to go. Continue downhill on the paved road for about a half mile until it joins the highway. Here, turn right and climb uphill for another half mile to reach your car.
No special equipment is required in season, but be prepared for extreme changes of weather and possible frigid conditions or harsh sun near the summit.
There is a developed spring at about the mid-point of the full trail, probably intended for horses. (Horses can reach this far up on the trail but not to the summit.) The water quality of the spring is unknown, so filtering is advisable.
Reaching the Trailheads
Should you need to reach the "true" trailhead for the North Loop Trail, it is clearly marked on State Route 158. From US-95, take State Route 157 about 17 miles to Route 158. Go roughly 5 (?) miles on 158, past the Hilltop Campground, and look for a trailhead sign on the left.
To reach the Trail Canyon trailhead, follow the directions for the South Loop Trail, but when Route 157 turns sharply to the left, follow the smaller road that goes straight, Echo Road. Stay on the paved road for about a half mile until you see the trailhead sign on your left.
Although most hikers feel compelled to include the North Loop in their itinerary, you may find it less painful to both ascend and descend by the South Loop Trail. At least this will save you the mile-long road connection at the base. While the North Loop is spectacular near the summit, the bulk of the trail is fairly uninteresting woods that seem endless.
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