Turtlehead Peak, Sandstone Quarry Trailhead, Red Rock Canyon, Nevada
Turtlehead Peak - 4.7 miles
Sandstone Quarry Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||4.7 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||4,337' - 6,323' (6,323' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+1,986' net elevation gain (+2,078' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Turtlehead Peak - 4.7 Miles Round-Trip
Turtlehead Peak (6,323') is located 2.35 miles from Sandstone Quarry Trailhead in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. This short but challenging hike begins in the lower basin and climbs over 1500' in just 1.35 miles to the summit. Portions of the trail are ill-defined, and pass over steep loose rock and sand.
Turtlehead Peak is a stunning example of older limestone rock that's been thrust above younger sandstone layers, part of a series of thrust faulting events that occurred throughout western North America 65 million years ago. Visitors will enjoy diverse desert ecology and panoramic views across Red Rock Canyon on the hike to Turtlehead Peak:
The trail heads past the Calico Hills to remains of the Excelsior Stone Quarry, where you can examine large chiseled blocks that weigh several tons. Follow signs left across a small wash to the Turtlehead Peak – Calico Tanks Trail split (.2 miles : 4,362’).
Bear left through a diversely vegetated corridor between two major washes. Primary constituents include blackbrush, yucca, ephedra, desert sage and hedgehog cactus. A few large pinyon and oak trees dot the area, favoring outcrops that help funnel water to their roots.
The trail crosses successive washes to the right (.42 and .65 miles), the second and larger of which traces all the way up to La Madre Mountain. These entry and exit points may be unclear on the return. Travel clarifies on a short climb above the second wash (.65 miles : 4,558’) through the upper bajada.
Grades steepen considerably through 1 mile (4,755’) on a more direct heading up the SW flank of Turtlehead Peak. You'll gain useful topographical perspective on this rapid climb.
The trail edges to the left of a gully and braids / loses clarity in many places (1.5 miles : 5,215’). While there is a ‘main’ trail, it’s difficult to discern. Cairns and signposts offer guidance early on, but there are fewer as you progress.
Critically, stay left of and above the gully no matter which path you take, as the gully is cluttered with large boulders and brush that would require challenging and unnecessary scrambling. Be mindful of snakes as you pick your way up this very steep section.
The trail abruptly levels on the NW shoulder of Turtlehead (1.8 miles : 5,825’) with exceptional views of La Madre Mountain, Brownstone Basin and back across the Park. Turn right for a brief respite on a clearer trail that weaves through interesting spires and outcrops.
Here the trail wraps around the back (north) side of Turtlehead Peak on a more moderate grade 400’ below the summit (2.0 miles miles : 5,940’).
It’s not long before the trail braids again, and at some point you must pick one for the final push to the summit. Take your time, as the first options tend to be steeper.
Turtlehead Peak (2.35 miles : 6,323’) stands prominently over Red Rock Canyon with panoramas that include the Las Vegas valley, Calico Hills, La Madre Mountain (8,154’), Mt Wilson (7,070’), Rainbow Mountain (6,924’) and Bridge Mountain (6,460’).
The summit is broad and easy to explore. Look for the summit log, which is kept in a military-style canister. Return travel is no less clear than the way up, so proceed cautiously and follow visual and terrestrial clues to aid navigation.
- N36 09.748 W115 27.021 — 0.0 miles : Sandstone Quarry Trailhead
- N36 09.900 W115 27.047 — .2 miles : Calico Tank Trail split
- N36 10.059 W115 27.173 — .42 miles : Cross wash to right
- N36 10.229 W115 27.275 — .64 miles : Cross wash to right
- N36 10.486 W115 27.238 — 1.0 miles : Travel steepens considerably
- N36 10.825 W115 27.037 — 1.5 miles : Steep, faint trail; keep right of gulch
- N36 11.032 W115 26.920 — 1.8 miles : Reach north shoulder of summit and moderates
- N36 10.990 W115 26.813 — 1.95 miles : Trail turns up back side of summit
- N36 10.813 W115 26.762 — 2.35 miles : Turtlehead Peak (6,323')
- Early morning travel is advisable, as the summit will block direct sun during the most challenging sections. After a relatively easy first mile, the trail climbs over 1500' in just 1.35 miles to the summit.
- The trail loses clarity in many places as it follows the left side of a steep gully up to the shoulder of the summit. As a general rule keep to the left, and avoid dropping into the gully. The gully is cluttered with brush and requires significant bouldering - this can be avoided by staying on the desginated trail.
- The Sandstone Quarry Trailhead also accesses the Calico Tanks and Calico Hills trails. This busy area sees heavy traffic. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.
Rules and Regulations
There's a $15 Daily Pass fee to enter Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area | $30 Annual Pass | America The Beautiful Passes are also accepted
The 13 mile Scenic Drive is open year round, with varying hours:
- November - February: 6 am - 5 pm
- March: 6 am - 7 pm
- April - September: 6 am - 8 pm
- October: 6 am - 7 pm
Directions to Trailhead
Turtlehead Peak is accessed from the Sandstone Quarry Trailhead in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Sandstone Quarry Trailhead is located 2.5 miles from the Fee Station along Scenic Drive (right side).
The Scenic Drive is one-way; if the trailhead turnoff is missed, you must drive the entire loop and re-enter the park to reach it.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Visitor Center (8 am - 4:30 pm):
BLM Southern Nevada District Office