Trails Of Nevada: Historic Railroad Trail - NOVICE
When searching for great hikes in the Las Vegas area the possibilities can be a bit overwhelming. So where do you start? What trails make for the most dramatic bang for your time? And what else should you know?
I began my search close to Lake Mead where the Lake Mead Recreational Area, a recognized national park area, listed numerous trails just waiting to be conquered. One of the most compelling I seemed to circle back to time and time again on my search was the Historic Railroad Trail, a trail following the originally train lines toward the Hoover Dam. This path was used in the transportation of the supplies to the Dam workers and was a pivotal point in the creation of the great wonder. Long since passed its prime, the tracks have been removed, however the tunnels themselves still remain in tact and now make for some of the best and most unique views of Lake Mead for those willing to make the trek.
I would consider this hike a novice hike. Trailhead is open and clear and the path only gets more improved from that point. Heading through the 5 tunnels the most narrow point of the path you will encounter is approximately 10 feet from mountain to edge making for clear passing lanes along the trail, excellent conditions for bike paths and safety for children of all ages.
From the trailhead entrance to the first tunnel is approximately 1 mile, though I will say it seemed much less when actually on the hike. Views quickly skew your perception of distance as you find yourself in awe of the beauty of the mountains around you. Dark volcanic stones line the mountainside to your right while the vastness of one of the more narrow section of Lake Mead to your left stimulate your attention.
On this particular day, a day in late December, the weather was perfect and light winds made for desirable afternoon conditions. I will say however that we did find ourselves a bit chilly in the shadow of the mountain on a few of the passes, resulting in a light jacket.
Upon arrival to the first tunnel it was unlike anything you would imagine based on the photos available as the sheer size of the tunnel was overwhelming. For those with an active imagination you can quickly flash back to the times in the 30’s when the holes were blasted through the mountainside.
As you walk through and notice the structural pieces still in tact, many used to assure no interruption in the 24 hour a day construction project that was ongoing for 4 years. It amazes how through the darkness of the tunnel you visualize the process itself and can almost hear the sound of the locomotive still trolling through. Many say to have head this sound in the evenings, actually moving through Tunnel 1 specifically.
After reaching Tunnel 1, additional tunnels are spread within visual distance of one another. Each shaped a bit differently and allowing in less light. Tunnel 2 and Tunnel 5 each have had to be repaired due to fire of original structures and have a different look from that of 1, 3 and 4. Tunnel 5 was the first to have burned with a great fire in 1978, this fire resulted in it being sealed off until 2001. Tunnel 2 was then set afire in 1990 by an arsonist but secured and reopened shortly thereafter.
The trail has numerous small off trail options not marked on your official map. While use of these comes at the risk of the individual, some of these short juts provide views even more spectacular. We took a small outward path which navigated around one of the tunnels on our return from the 5th tunnel. Near Tunnel 3, this section turns off the return path toward Lake Mead and has a small crag to trek upward with what seems to be natural steps. This portion of the journey I would not say is for everyone as it is not flat and even like the actual trail itself. This portion is not ADA or bike accessible.
We found a perfect spot atop the crag to have lunch, the brisk winds were cool and calming, the rocks themselves were a bit chilly and slightly rugged to sit upon but the 360 views of the mountains behind us and the lake in front of us made for a calming place for meditating and relaxing.
Upon leaving, unlike many trails where one side is more upward and the other is more downward, this path was completely even all the way back to the trailhead. Notable points of interest along the way are the massive concrete plugs from the original dam project, abandoned in the crevasse of one of the mountains after being replaced by a more modern technology, numerous plaques noting information about native vegetation and animals known to inhabit the area.
Round trip from trailhead to Tunnel 5 and back is around 4.5 Miles, but for those intimidated by distance, the nice thing about this trail is there is no requirement to complete the entire course just to return to your car. Our total trip was approximately 2.5 hours, including our stop for lunch on the off trail path. On average this trip from start to finish is just under 2 hours.
Tips for This Trail:
Comfortable Shoes - Avoid shoes which allow gravel or rock to pass through, path has a dusty rock that is fine and can easily slide into smaller holes in shoes making for an uncomfortable hike.
Pack A Snack - On cooler days and warmer days alike always have a small snack for your hike, this power packs your energy. Make it a point to have this snack mid hike to keep your energy high for the return.
Layers - Make sure you bring layers for the path. In the shaded areas sometimes it is a bit cool so prepare for this. Likewise in the warmer months it is very warm in the non-shaded areas so you want to prepare for these as well with layers which can be removed.
Sunblock and lip protection - In warmer months the sun can be brutal and quickly catch you off guard. Make sure to use a sunblock before leaving the trailhead to protect yourself from trapping heat in with a sunburn.
Water - Always pack at least 1 liter of water per mile if possible. Though this is a more even hike with less components to tax your body, conditions outdoors can vastly effect your body and quickly create dehydration. If you leave anything in the car, make sure it isn’t your water.
Watch For Animals - In the mountains you can encounter any number of animals so it is a must to always be mindful that you are in their territory. In the rocky regions especially snakes can be an issue! Make sure to check into the Visitor’s Center and find out what to do in case of an animal encounter.