Moderate, 6.3 miles.
Bristlecone trail is a moderately trafficked 6.3-mile (round trip) loop in the Lee Canyon area of the SMNRA. This trail can be started from two different access points – the Lower Bristlecone trailhead and the Upper Bristlecone trailhead. Both locations have parking, but neither have restrooms or are stroller/wheelchair friendly.
Starting from Upper Bristlecone trailhead, follow the clearly defined southbound path on a gradual ascent that is lined by white fir, bristlecone and ponderosa pines, and small fencing on either side. This fencing was placed to protect the surrounding habitat comprised of torrey’s milkvetch, a small fragile herbaceous plant that is important to the endemic and endangered Mt. Charleston Blue Butterfly. There are interpretive signs along the path with details about this host plant and restoration efforts. The fence ends 0.3 miles into the trail; continue along the clearly defined path that heads southwest through a quaking aspen grove. During certain times of the year (spring), hikers will cross a seasonal creek 0.4 miles into the trail, with a warning sign posted close by. From this point, the trail begins another gradual southwestward ascent on rocky terrain through thick forest. 0.5 miles into the trail hikers will again cross the seasonal stream, doing so twice, and eventually continuing on the path with the creek now on the right. 1.1 miles in, the trail veers right heading northeast now following the ridgeline, with the Mummy Mountains coming into view on the right. After following the ridgeline for 0.6 miles, hikers will approach a high point overlook with large bristlecone pines and limber pines becoming more prominent. Past the overlook, continue as the trail bends southwestward once again following a rocky ridgeline path. 2.5 miles into the trail, hikers will approach a junction with a sign pointing northwest for Bonanza trail and east for Lower Bristlecone trail. Continuing eastward, the trail widens and becomes less shaded as the path turns into an old service road. Follow this service road for a gradual 3-mile descent with grand views amid spectacular white fir, bristlecone and ponderosa pines.
At the 5.5-mile mark, the trail ends at Lower Bristlecone trailhead. To connect back to the Upper Trailhead and complete the loop, head south towards Lee Canyon Road (SR 156), then follow the road southwest for a final ascent along the pavement returning to the trailhead after 6.3 total miles.
Hiking at higher elevations can be difficult if not acclimated. Know the symptoms of altitude sickness and how to properly prepare. Always check the weather before heading out on the trails. Be prepared to be out of cell-phone range and have a backup plan. Ensure proper clothing and supplies for the trek, be it a day-hike or backpacking trip.
Leave No Trace:
GO Mt Charleston encourages folks to enjoy their public lands, while remaining mindful and following the seven principles of LNT:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare – Check the weather, pack proper equipment and guides, wear adequate clothing, have a back-up plan, research current conditions, closures, and regulations.
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces – Follow the designated trail and avoid cutting switchbacks. Backcountry camp on low-impact terrain. When in doubt stick to designated campgrounds and dispersed campsites.
- Dispose of Waste Properly – Pack it in pack it out! Pack out all garbage, including organic food waste such as citrus peels and pistachio shells. When backpacking, practice digging cat holes to dispose of human waste and carry wastewater 200 feet away from waterways.
- Leave What You Find – Take only pictures, leave only footprints! Leave cultural artifacts and natural objects for others to enjoy.
- Minimize Campfire Impacts – Make sure your campfire is dead out before leaving or sleeping, research local regulations about collecting firewood, and know current fire restrictions. When in doubt use designated fire rings.
- Respect Wildlife – Observe from a safe distance, never feed or approach wildlife, report impaired wildlife to Rangers and never attempt to move or help yourself.
- Respect other Visitors – Be courteous on the trails, control and pick up after your pets, consider whether your experience is affecting the way someone else enjoys the peaceful outdoors.
Learn more by visiting: https://lnt.org/why/7-principles/