Approach***On 07-29-08, wbjcbj added the following:
"Big problem with the South Loop Trail.. if you park at the lower lot (outside the park boundary) you will see a sign "S. Loop Trail .3 mi" telling you to go left at the top of the stairs. WARNING, this is the LAST sign you'll see and if you follow your instincts you'll be going up the WRONG trail to Cathedral Rock instead. This is a bad oversight on the part of the park management. We continued on this trail until it dead ended beyond Cathedral Rock. By then we knew we were on the wrong trail but continued anyway going up a very steep (almost dangerous) inclines that had been traversed by only a few people who, undoubtedly, had been misled like us and were determined to get to the top. Route markings were occasional piles of rocks and mild signs of foot traffic. Only the most experienced hikers should attempt going up this way and certainly not come down via this route(!) We lucked out and made the right choices at a few junctions where we had to decide to go left or right when facing a vertical wall of rock. This unmarked path brought us to the top of the ridge between Griffith and Charleston about a half mile west of the junction of the ridge trail and the correct trail up the mountain. The best way to be sure you're on the correct trail is to not enter the South Loop Trail at the lower lot. If you park at the lower lot, walk up through the park gates and take the trail that is clearly marked "S Loop Trail" which is a different entrance than the Cathedral Rock entrance. They are about 100 feet apart. DO NOT get sucked in to entering via the lower lot. You will get lost, just like 3 other hikers did this morning. One turned back when faced with the 40 degree incline, us and two other very experienced European hikers continued straight up. No switchbacks here. Every step had to be calculated."
The South Loop Trail is already described in nice detail on the Mt. Charleston page. I'm not gonna beat a dead horse - I'll keep it short and sweet.
From the South Loop trailhead, follow the well-maintained and very well-traveled South Loop trail for about 4 miles as it travels about 3500 vertical feet up to the ridge crest above. After the first mile or so, you will come to the area of Echo Cliffs. Although in spring and summer you will typically hear the sounds of running water and birds chirping and be intrigued by the small caves in the cliffs, in winter, the steep gully you will traverse across can become a potentially dangerous avalanche crossing.
Once past Echo Cliffs, the trail continues on in a nice fashion through beautiful ponderosa forest and past expansive overlooks down into Kyle Canyon growing further and further below.
Before long, you will have reached the ridge crest. You will know you are there when you arrive. There's a sign pointing you to Mt. Charleston to the north and Griffith Peak to the south, the terrain is finally level (more or less), and there's a nice grove of bristlecones there for you to relax and grab a quick snack.
From here, you're only 15 minutes or so from the summit.
Route DescriptionUpon reaching the ridge crest, Mt. Charleston is 4 miles to the north and Griffith Peak is 1/4 mile to the south.
From the sign, the South Loop Trail continues to the north toward Mt. Charleston, and the Harris Springs Trail heads to the south and then toward Griffith Peak's western slope. Follow the Harris Springs Trail to the south. Griffith Peak is dead ahead.
Follow the trail until you hit the base of the mountain, where the trail starts to head toward the right and around the west side of the peak. Leave the well-trodden trail and head straight up a use trail toward the summit above. You can't miss your objective. Just go up.
The summit is marked by an ammo can register sitting atop a metal pole.
Essential GearSummer / Fall - The usual hiking stuff. Temperatures in the higher elevations can be considerably cooler than in the Vegas valley below. The northern exposure along most of this route might call for you to bring along an extra layer or so. Bring plenty of water. You may find the occasional water source, but don't count on it...
Winter / Spring - Although crampons and ice axe may be need, particularly later in the winter season and into Spring, snowshoes generally prove to be more useful.