Desert National Wildlife Refuge (DNWR)

Desert National Wildlife Refuge (DNWR)

Page Type Page Type: Area/Range
Location Lat/Lon: 36.61817°N / 115.203°W
Activities Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Bouldering, Scrambling, Canyoneering
Additional Information Elevation: 9912 ft / 3021 m
Sign the Climber's Log


The Desert National Wildlife Refuge (DNWR) is the largest wildlife refuge in the lower 48. It encompasses more than 1.5 million acres (over 2,300 square miles). This is more than twice the size of Rhode Island. The refuge contains 6 major mountain ranges, the biggest one being the Sheep Range. It is home to desert bighorn sheep, mountain lions, diverse desert plants and much more. Elevations range from about 2500 feet in the low valleys to it's highpoint of Hayford Peak at 9912 feet. Joshua trees are common around 4000 feet. Above 6000 feet junipers and big sagebrush are common. Ponderosa pines and white fir dominate the landscape from 7000-9000 feet. Above 9000 feet bristlecone pines exist. The canyons within the Sheep Rage tend to be deep and rugged, many of them difficult to traverse with dry waterfalls.

The refuge was established in 1936 by executive order to protect and enhance desert bighorn sheep. Then during the early stages of World War II on western half of the DNWR, aerial bombing and gunnery range was established. This area of the DNWR is off limit to the public. This is part of the Nevada Training and Test Range where lots of Top Secret Military training activities take place today. Seeing and hearing fighters and military aircraft is likely when exploring the DNWR during the week.

Roads are primitive and ordinary passenger vehicles aren't recommended. There are many roads out here. The two main ones are Alamo Road and Mormon Road. These were wagon trails that were developed by pioneers as travel routes at the turn of the 20th century. Alamo Road runs along the west side of the Sheep Range and comes out on HWY 93 just south of Alamo. Right now though it is closed due to road conditions around Desert Lake. A high clearance vehicle is recommended when adventuring out here, though a 2WD can get you around to most places on Alamo Road and Mormon Road. Just use common sense when off-roading.

There are many amazing mountains within the wildlife range. The most popular are Gass Peak, Sheep Peak, and Hayford Peak. Many unnamed peaks encompass the range too. You might also get lucky if you hike during the week and see many aircraft fly over you on their way to train over the Nevada Test Site. I saw a B2 fly over while hiking Gass Peak once.

B2A B2 fly over.

Be Aware

If an emergency arises, call 911 if your cell phone has reception (do not count on it). Refuge headquarters is at Corn Creek (702-879-6110), but it is not always manned. The main office in Las Vegas is (702) 646-3401 during business hours. Otherwise you are on your own. Be prepared and self-sufficient since this country is very remote. Be prepared to survive on your own. This is a place I do not recommend to go alone, but if you do, let someone know your plan.

Joshua Tree and Gass Peak

Getting There

Map of Desert NWR
From Las Vegas take HWY 95 north. When you get to Exit 93 set your odometer to zero.

At 2.5 miles you will drive by the turnoff for Mt. Charleston. Keep going straight.

At 16.5 miles you will see the sign for Corn Creek Road. Start slowing down and get ready to make a right turn.

At 16.7 miles turn right at the turn off for Corn Creek Road.

At 17.5 miles is the DNWR visitor center. Park here and sign the sign in sheet. This helps the DNWR get more money.

At 17.6 miles is the sign with all the roads. Make a right turn onto Mormon Road or a left onto Alamo Road depending on where you want to go.

DNWR Road Sign

Red Tape

None. There are no concessions (i.e., no gas, lodging, food, campgrounds) on the Wildlife Refuge. Camping is permitted anywhere within 100 feet of a designated road as long is it is not within 1/4 mile of a water source. Campfires are permitted using dead wood.

However, there is no climbing allowed on the DNWR.

External Links

  • Nevada's Desert Naional Wildlife Refuge page
  • Jim Boone's Page on the DNWR
  • Desert National Wildlife Refuge
  • Nevada Wildlife Federation's DNWR page
  • Characterization of Desert Wildlife Management

  • Desert
    National Wildlife
    Reserve (Range)

  • Alamo Road

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    Southern NevadaAreas & Ranges