McFarland Peak is a beautiful, rugged and imposing limestone peak hidden deep within the northern portion of the Spring Mountains of southern Nevada. Lying to the north of Mt. Charleston
, its nearest neighbors are Bonanza Peak
and Macks Peak
. Along with Bridge Mountain
, Muddy Peak
, and Moapa Peak
, McFarland Peak is considered one of the Vegas-area classics.
Although visible from highway 95 while traveling to the north of Las Vegas, McFarland Peak disappears behind ridges and other mountains as one enters the forest lands of the high mountains. The mountain is very much tucked away and out of sight in the backcountry of the range.
The seldom visited summit happens to be the 4th highest peak in the range as well as in the southern part of the state. Considered by many to be the hardest summit in the Spring Mountains, it is a very worthwhile objective for anyone wanting a peaceful, and relatively challenging, outing in the backcountry.
Although the Spring Mountains boast a number of nice (and frequently hard to find) springs, it is not known for its bodies of water. However, tucked away deep in the backcountry and easily missed is the range's only lake, actually a pond, officially named Clark Pond, an acre body of water that can be seen (though not visited) from one of the high ridges on the way to McFarland Peak.
I read somewhere once that it was estimated that fewer than a dozen people (not parties) a year tag the summit. This, of course, is what drew me to the peak.
Its easiest route, from the Bonanza Trail, is primarily class 1 with some class 2 & 3 toward the end and entails about 15 miles (roundtrip) of ups and downs with about 3500-4000 feet of gain.
A second known route, a cross country route different from the Cold Creek route mentioned below, coming out of Cold Creek, a small community located at the base of Bonanza Peak, is also used; however, I've never used it, and except for the fact that I know it to be shorter, more direct, and more challenging, I am unfamiliar with it.
*You might also check out a fledgling outdoor site (www.backcountry-explorer.com), which provides access to trip reports, beta, photos and other stuff covering hiking, scrambling, climbing and canyoneering around Las Vegas. A new hiking and scrambling guidebook, Rambles & Scrambles: The Definitive Guide to Peakbagging Around Las Vegas, is now available.
As stated above, McFarland Peak is generally accessed from the Bonanza Trail. The Bonanza Trail is a fine, and remarkably well-maintained, trail that connects the upper parking lot of the Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort with the community of Cold Creek. Although I've never done the thru-route, I'm told that the entire 16 mile stretch of the trail makes a fantastic backcountry outing. Closer to the Cold Creek end of the route, the trail passes within a short distance (100 feet) of the summit of Bonanza Peak.
Bonanza Trail from Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort:
Take Highway 95 north from Las Vegas to the Lee Canyon Road turn-off. The turn-off is about 45 minutes drive from downtown Las Vegas, depending on traffic and road conditions, and there is obvious signage for Lee Canyon and the ski resort. Don't confuse the Lee Canyon turn-off with the Kyle Canyon turn-off though. Kyle Canyon Road is the first turn-off along Highway 95 that takes you to the Mt. Charleston area. Lee Canyon Road is about 10 minutes later. Anyway, turn left (west) onto Lee Canyon Road from Highway 95 and keep driving. It's 19 miles to the ski resort. Along the way, you will pass through the nice Joshua tree forests of the desert before passing into the pinyon/juniper woodlands of the mid-range and ultimately to the ponderosa pine forests of the upper canyon. Not only that, but visible from the road (particularly the lower portion of the road nearest to highway 95) are the prominent peaks of the range (left-to-right - wish I had a picture) - Angel Peak (8,861 ft - antennas on top - off-limits due to being the location of the Spring Mountain Youth Camp, a juvenile correctional facility), Fletcher Peak
, Mummy Mountain
, Mt. Charleston, The Sisters
, Macks Peak, McFarland Peak (barely visible behind Mack's Peak), Bonanza Peak, and Willow Peak (9,967 ft - a nice winter summit, by the way). Anyway, once the area of the ski resort is reached, follow the road past the lower parking lot, around a sharp bend in the road, and up to the upper parking lot. The trailhead, which is actually the Bristlecone Trail trailhead, is your starting point. This is the route that will be discussed in further detail in the route section. It is considered the easiest route to the summit of McFarland Peak.
Bonanza Trail from Cold Creek:
Take Highway 95 north from Las Vegas past both the Kyle Canyon Road and the Lee Canyon Road turn-offs on the left. Your turn-off, the Cold Creek turn-off, will be the third turn-off on the left and about an hour north of downtown Las Vegas. You can't miss it - there are huge prison facilities on both sides of the Cold Creek road, immediately off the highway. Turn onto the Cold Creek road and follow it for 15-20 miles into the small community (no services). Stay on the main road until it turns into a dirt road near the base of Bonanza Peak (the large heavily-forested peak above the community; Willow Peak is also looming over the community to the north of Bonanza Peak, but you won't be confused since it was damaged by a large fire and is essentially treeless). Follow the dirt road for a couple of miles (the road deteriorates but is still passable to passenger cars) to an obvious parking area and a Bonanza Trail trailhead sign. Keep your eyes peeled for wild horses around the trailhead - they are everywhere. I think I saw 7 the one time I was there. This is the start of the hike from Cold Creek. I have never taken the trail past Bonanza Peak's summit area from this starting point, therefore, I will not be discussing this route further.
There really isn't any red tape. No permits are required to climb the mountain. Parking is free.
When To Climb
McFarland Peak can be climbed year-round. In the winter, there will be lots of snow and the approach will be long and sloggish. Not only that, but there's a particular gully before the summit that will be prone to avalanche.
McFarland Peak makes a fine summer outing, though.
The snow first starts to fall around the middle of October and tends to linger until June on northern exposures.
Backcountry camping is allowed without a permit, although wood fires are not. There are many developed campgrounds in the Mt. Charleston area. I'm not here to advertise them. They are generally walk-in and are all easily found when driving through the area. I can think of two off the top of my head in Lee Canyon, but none in the Cold Creek area.
You can contact the Kyle Canyon Visitor's Center at 702-872-5486 to obtain current conditions for the Spring Mountains.