This is the quickest route to the summit.
From Las Vegas, the trailhead is reached by about 90 miles of paved road, followed by 23 miles of minimally maintained dirt road. Any sturdy car can handle the dirt road, except perhaps in bad weather. A four-wheel-drive vehicle with an experienced driver might get about 1/2 mile closer to the peak. Keep in mind, however, that this is area is very remote and the dirt road is lightly traveled. If you break down, you'll probably be hiking 23 miles back to the paved highway.
The hike itself is about a mile, climbing no more than 1000 feet of elevation, and taking about 1 to 2 hours up and 45 minutes down. (The exact distant depends on how far you can drive on the 4WD road.)
UPDATE - SEPT 2015: The dirt road from US-93 to the trailhead has deteriorated considerably in recent years. The first 18 miles are very sandy and deeply rutted. You need an SUV or other high-clearance vehicle. Do not stop your car in the sand or you might never move again. At 6 miles from US-93, you may encounter a wire gate. You can legally pass it, but you must leave it in the same position you found it, which can be a challenge.
REPEAT: YOU MUST HAVE AN SUV OR OTHER HIGH-CLEARANCE VEHICLE. A sturdy car might be able to make it, but there is a high risk you'll scrape the underbody of your car or get stuck in the sand. Don't risk it! 4WD is desirable but not necessary, as long as you keep moving on sandy stretches and don't stop.
BE PREPARED TO HIKE 23 MILES TO SAFETY IF YOUR CAR BREAKS DOWN OR GETS STUCK.
The following directions were valid in 2015...
From Las Vegas, take I-15 north (in the Salt Lake City direction). Go about 15 miles and take the US-93 exit. Head north on US-93 for about 75 miles until you pass a shallow lake on the left (Lower Pahranagat Lake). Watch the milepost markers along the side of the road. Look for Milepost LN-32, which is near the Wildlife Refuge headquarters. About 2/10 mile after Milepost 32, there is a gated dirt road on the left. The gate may be open or closed, but it should not be locked. (If you find a locked gate, it is probably not the right one -- There are several other gated roads in this area.) Turn here, and reset your odometer. (photo of start of road
Immediately after entering the dirt road, you may see a symbolic "No Vehicles" sign. This sign refers to a side road to the right, and not the main road you are on. Continue on the main road across a narrow strip of the wildlife refuge into the desert hills. This is now public (BLM) land. At about 5.5 miles from the paved highway, slow down! There may be a primitive barbed-wire cattle gate across the road at about 5.9 miles. You have the right to pass this gate, but you need to leave it in the same position you found it. Disengaging and reengaging the gate could be the most difficult technical challenge of your trip. Study the gate carefully before you try to open it, and try to put it back the same way.
Proceed on the main road for 18.7 miles from the paved highway. Along the way, be on alert for stray cattle and the cattle gate. The road heads southwest at first, then at 8.5 miles, the main road takes a sharp and unexpected turn to the right (northwest). (Do not keep going straight, or you might get stuck in sand.) Along the next 10 miles, you will pass several side roads (mostly leading to water troughs). If you come to any ambiguous fork, keep left.
At 18.7 miles, the main road turns hard right, with a smaller road going straight. Keep going straight ahead on the smaller road. This road is no longer graded and could be damaged. It is likely to be covered with snow or mud in winter and may be impassible then (photo of snowbound road
). At mile 22.2, you will come to Badger Spring, where there is a cattle trough and the remains of a developed spring. Shortly after Badger Spring, the road degenerates and becomes impassible for most vehicles about 1/2 mile beyond the spring. Park anywhere that doesn't block the road. The "official" trailhead is no longer accessible by car unless you are an extreme 4WD-er, but there is a new unofficial trailhead just below it where most cars park. There are comfortable parking spots here for about 4 cars.
The official trailhead is a clear in a saddle where there is a wooden monument. It is about 100 yards up a washed-out road from the place you park. Th trail begins at the saddle, heading up a ridge to the south on a primitive dirt road. The trail is evident from use and from intermittant trail markings. Many people have attempted to mark the trail over the years, but no one marking system is complete. A good rule of thumb is to never proceed from your current position until you see the next trail marker.
From the saddle, a newly blazed 4WD road goes left up a ridge. Extreme drivers who have somehow managed to make it to the official trailhead can keep going to cut a further 1/4 mile off the hike; others can hike. Eventually, the drivable road ends, and you must proceed on foot. Look for various trail markers and evidence of previous foot traffic. From this point the trail gets steeper and steeper and eventually turns to scree. This stretch of the hike can be very strenuous and painful for anyone who is out of shape or dwells at sea level. (You are starting from 7000 feet.))
As you climb the steepest part of the scree slope, watch for a point where the trail bears to the right for an easier route. You are only going about 2/3rd up the first slope, then the trail cuts right and the worst of the hike is over. You will stay at a fairly steady elevation to the right to a lower saddle, then continue up the next ridge. If you lose the trail (which is likely after the second saddle) your goal is to reach the highest point in the area. If you follow your nose and just try going up, you shouldn't go wrong, but be careful to note the route by which you came so you can retrace your steps going back.
When you can't get any higher, you have reached the summit. There will be plenty of evidence of previous visitations, and you will have a full view in all directions. (Also a new "weather station" installed in 2011.)
Your greatest risk of getting lost is on the return leg, so pay careful attention to the topography and follow the trail markers.
Bring binoculars or a telescope to view the base. If you expect to take photos of it, you will need a high-power telephoto lens to capture any detail.
4WD drivers intending to push beyond Badger Spring should bring one or more full-size shovels for possible road repair. A camp saw might also be helpful for clearing brush.
There is Verizon cellphone service on the peak and on portions of the first 18 miles of the approach road. Cellphone service is unlikely at the trailhead.
The weather is ideal for camping in the summer, with pleasant days and cool nights. Desert conditions are mitigated by the 7000-foot altitude. At other times of year, temperatures can get very cold at night and possible very windy.
This is public land and you can legally camp virtually anywhere along the route (as long as you are away from any cattle water trough). The official and unofficial trailheads are the preferred camping spots because there is plenty of flat space. Camping here lets you arrive on the summit very early in the morning, which is the best time to view the base.
You can also camp at the summit, if you insist on hauling your camping gear up there, but beware of lightning and possible high winds. If the exposure makes you uncomfortable, there are more protected camping spots just before the peak -- but unfortunately out of view of the base. People without experience in backpack camping shouldn't try it here. It is much more comfortable to camp at the trailheads near your car.
There should be adequate firewood in the area. Be sure to bring a saw to cut it.