By Tom Pfaendler
Someone once told me that they had hiked the White Rock Loop Trail two times. “The first time and the last time.”
OK, sure. It’s six miles long and a darn good workout. But I’d be hard pressed to come up with a hike that I like much better! It has a hidden forest, rugged mountains, high vista scenery and low desert exploration, all rolled up into a gorgeous half-day adventure. Simply put, it’s everything that you want in a Red Rock hike.
The trail can be accessed from three parking areas: Upper White Rock Springs, Lost Creek and Willow Springs. Remember, this is a big loop so the parking decision isn’t as critical as say, Potato Knoll.
However, I would recommend starting around mid-morning from the White Rock Springs parking lot. That way you won’t be hiking into the sun all day, and you can lunch at the Willow Springs picnic area.
The Upper White Rock Springs parking area is located about six miles around the scenic loop drive, just past the High Point Overlook. You’ll need to follow a rocky dirt road for the better part of a mile to get to the trailhead. Be sure to take some snacks and ample water. Two of those sports-sized bottles per person should be about right. Lock up your car, use the restroom and do some nice long stretches. Apply a glob of sunscreen, put on your big floppy hiking hat and you’re ready to go!
From the parking lot you can flip a coin to decide which way to hike, clockwise or counter-clockwise. My coin toss always comes up clockwise, so we’ll set off to the west, through the split-rail fence and downhill along a bumpy old jeep road toward Willow Springs. You’ll quickly come to a trail sign that offers a nice side trip down to the “Guzzler,” a man made water catchment that is a pretty spot for a picnic (I’m always thinking about food) but it will add another mile, so keep that in mind!
The old road continues west along the foothills of White Rock Mountain, eventually turning into a footpath and leading down through a colorful wash and then climbing up again to an area still scarred from an old fire. After a modest hill-climb, you’ll be back on top, with a nice view of the Calico Hills and Las Vegas in the distance.
As you approach Lost Creek the trail narrows and leads through a dark red Chinle formation. Here you’ll see some huge barrel cactus and even a few sandstone boulders dappled with red spots. These spots are iron concretions. The sandstone eventually erodes from the harder iron-rich spots, dropping little round stones, which strongly resemble marbles. It can take hundreds of years to make a marble, so remember to take only pictures!
The path continues past an ancient roasting pit, a pictograph site and into the Willow Springs picnic area. After a relaxing stop in Willow Springs, continue hiking up the old Rocky Gap road until you reach a sign directing you north toward La Madre Springs. Keep a sharp lookout for bighorn sheep, as this is one of the best places at Red Rock to see them. Here, you can raise your water bottles in celebration because you’ve made it halfway around the loop!
The scenery changes dramatically now as you approach the north side of White Rock Mountain. You’ll leave the desert and enter a forest of juniper and pine trees, completely hidden from anyone but hikers.
This “back-side” trail is one of my favorite places at Red Rock. It’s a secluded, green forest quietly resting under the magnificent craggy north side of White Rock. I am always amazed at the difference between the north and south faces of this mountain. Now would be a good time to slow down to a stroll, letting your senses dance along with the breeze, and softly connect with this ancient forest.
You’ll come to a little sign marking the trail to La Madre Springs. That’s another good trek, but probably too much to include as part of your loop hike today. Turn south instead and follow the path through the trees toward the mountain. The trail climbs gradually out of the forest and eventually leads to a high “saddle” to the east.
From this ridge you’ll have an amazing view of the hidden forest and North Peak to the west, the sweeping face of the La Madre range to the north, Turtlehead Peak and the Calicos to the east. (By the way, this saddle is another legendary picnic spot.) From here it’s all downhill as the trail comes around the east side of the mountain and down through a broad gravel wash, eventually leading to the Upper White Rock Springs parking lot, and your car!
The White Rock Loop Trail is wonderfully scenic and diverse. There’s enough of an elevation gain to make it interesting and the length is perfect for a day hike. The only flaw being that almost half of this trail follows old roads, which are rocky and distracting.
The loop loses a point for the roads but still rates an easy eight boots out of ten.