Trail of the Month: May 2023
“Riding a bike is liberating, and the RMLT offers the safety and freedom to have that experience.”
—Heather Fisher, Save Red Rock founder and local cyclist
Vegas’ gaming culture casts a long shadow. For years, saying “I’m from Las Vegas,” was met with a curious stare, a lingering unspoken why? The answer is in the vistas from the River Mountains Loop Trail (RMLT). The 35-mile paved path zips through a wild fusion of landscapes—craggy mountains, rugged desert and majestic lake views—on the east side of the Vegas Valley, connecting Boulder City, Henderson, Lake Las Vegas, the Lake Mead National Recreation Area—and much more.
For John Holman, a local avid outdoorsman, the trail is a favorite place to find tranquility. “The natural beauty of it—how the geology changes from one end to the other—you need to experience it.”
A few miles into the 12-foot-wide trail, towering snowcapped Spring Mountains to the northwest dwarf the Vegas Strip’s cityscape. Since 2012, it’s been a destination for locals and visitors—cyclists, runners, inline skaters and walkers. There’s even a 15-mile parallel equestrian trail. The path wanders through tunnels, drainage canals and up steep inclines—serious athletes show up to train, while others come seeking serenity. The trial encircles the River Mountains, home to the largest populations of desert bighorn sheep, and—as part of the Mojave Desert—trail goers may also see jackrabbits, lizards, snakes and desert tortoises scramble through the rocky terrain.
“Riding a bike is liberating, and the RMLT offers the safety and freedom to have that experience,” said local cyclist and Save Red Rock founder Heather Fisher.
Fisher has often made the 45-minute drive from her home, with four kids in tow, to ride the trail. She and her husband celebrated a recent anniversary with a staycation at Lake Las Vegas. A ride around RMLT and a relaxing afternoon by the hotel pool, she said, is five stars.
With many parking options along the route, the trail is easy for most residents to access. Coming from the Vegas Strip or the Valley’s westside, the Railroad Pass trailhead is a popular jumping-off point and the trail’s mile 0 start.
A Gateway to History and Adventure
From Railroad Pass, for about 1 mile, the RMLT parallels the Nevada Southern Railway, a weekend-only tourist attraction. Nearly 100 years ago, the Union Pacific Railroad used these tracks in the construction of the Hoover Dam; the connecting Historic Railroad Trail travels through five tunnels created during the dam’s construction in the 1930s. Mountains of rock were blasted to make way for rails that delivered building materials to the worksite. Today, it’s a wildly popular trail with stunning Lake Mead and Hoover Dam views.
“It’s especially good for users to see old, unused rail facilities converted to usable trails,” said Ron Floth, co-chair of the River Mountains Loop Partnership.
At mile marker 30.5, a spin down Yucca Street leads to the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Boulder City where, in addition to exhibits and its open-air pavilion, train rides are offered Saturday and Sunday. According to Floth, plans are in the works for a new trail connector leading to the museum, starting at the Bootleg Canyon Stonehenge Trail near the Nevada State Veterans Home. “It will also give trail users access to businesses in the adjacent museum complex,” he noted.
Other connections include the Burkholder Trail that links up with the Lake Mead Parkway Trail and the city of Henderson. And, at marker 9, the Wetlands Trail Connector leads to the Clark County Wetlands Park and bike path—nearly 14 miles of dips, climbs and stellar nature preserve views. “It’s a super fun experience for kids,” said Fisher.
The spiciest section of the trail, Three Sisters, starts at mile 6.5. The Sisters, a trio of climbs stretching about 1.5 miles with grades up to nearly 8%, require bursts of power—here you’ll see some out-of-the-saddle spin-class style maneuvers, and hear a few grunts, as riders work to top out.
Inspired by Connection
In 1996, after summitting Fortification Hill in the Lake Mead area, Southwest Gas Hikers Club members kicked back on their tailgates and sipped cold beers. “We started talking about things like connectivity,” said Holman, who worked for Southwest Gas at the time.
The group imagined a long-distance trail to make nature, recreation and communities more accessible. That conversation would change the fabric of southern Nevada.
By late 1997, after discussions with federal land managers, local jurisdictions and user groups, it was clear that out-and-back style trail wouldn’t cut it. “A loop made sense—there was infrastructure to do it, and we had all of these connectivity opportunities and possibilities,” said Holman.
Federal and state agencies, local jurisdictions, the Southern Nevada Railway, Southwest Gas and other private partners who believed in this vision formed the River Mountains Trail Partnership. Holman led the advisory council for nearly 14 years.
In the early 2000s, the RMLT’s first segments were paved. By 2007, the trail was linked to the Historic Railroad Trail, and three years later, the RMLT was added to the National Trails System. In 2012, the trail had its official opening.
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into it,” Holman said. For him and other early trail visionaries, the motivation was adventure and a way to give back to the community.
Today, the RMLT has exceeded its goal. As interest in outdoor recreation has skyrocketed in the last decade, southern Nevada has become a hotspot and the RMLT its shining star.
“The trail increased Boulder City’s tourism, especially with the addition of special events,” said Roger Hall, director of Boulder City’s parks and recreation department. Events like the Las Vegas Triathlon and Six Tunnels Marathon are big draws.
The trail has also inspired business development. Darryn Padfield, co-owner of River Mountains Bike Shop, said he opened his business, located just a stone’s throw from the trail in Henderson, to serve RMLT users. At first, the bike shop mainly catered to tourists, but now he finds that his customers are an even split of visitors and residents with the trail motivating locals to get out and explore nearby communities.
A Lasting Legacy
Before the RMLT was even complete, it was reconciling the tension of Las Vegas’ dichotomy. The Valley is known for its car culture and sprawling highways. Yet it’s also home to many who seek adventure and solace in the great outdoors.
“The success of the River Mountains Loop Trail partnership was exciting to the local jurisdictions—and would further an interconnected system,” said Alan O’Neill, former superintendent of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. “When you look back at the RMLT, it was the stimulus for what’s been done and developed today.”
The RMLT partnership led to the first Regional Open Space and Trail Summit and a workgroup that’s developed more regional trail systems, like the Las Vegas Wash trails and the Union Pacific Railroad Trail. The trail also inspired the west valley’s soon-to-be-built Red Rock Legacy Trails, an effort led by Fisher, which aims to decrease traffic and increase safety and sustainability in the Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
“There are so many people who are visiting the area today because of the trail,” enthused Floth. “It’s been a real success.”
Related: Top 10 Trails in Nevada
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