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The Ruby Crest Trail stretches for 38 miles across the crest of the Ruby Mountains, from Harrison Pass in the south to Lamoille Canyon in the north. The elevation ranges from 7,200 feet to 10,900 feet, and the route leads through high-desert scrubland, aspen forests, alpine woodlands, exposed ridges, and glacier-carved valleys. There are a half-dozen alpine lakes and a handful of picturesque mountain streams along the way. Ten peaks over 11,000 feet provide dramatic views and help some identify this range as the "Nevada Alps."
For most users, this trip's crux is an 11-mile stretch with no reliable water source between Overland Lake and North Furlong Lake. Any trip planned here must account for this dry stretch.
This hike can be done either northbound or southbound. Lamoille Canyon is 1,500 feet higher than Harrison Pass, so northbound travel gains a bit more elevation overall. This description covers a northbound trip beginning at Harrison Pass.
0.0 Beginning at Harrison Pass, the trail follows a 4wd road for 2.8 miles to the signed "start" of the trail. Some may opt to drive this stretch, but the road is rough and requires high-clearance and four-wheel drive. It is *not* Subaru friendly!
The trail continues to follow a double-track that slowly deteriorates to something few would want to drive in any kind of vehicle. Good thing too, because this stretch is no longer open to legal motor vehicle travel. Depending on the season and recent rain or snow, you may find water in a few small drainages as the trail traverses the open western slope of the range below Green Mountain.
At mile 5.8, the trail reaches the end of the old two-track on a point that separates the Green Mountain Creek and Gilbert Creek drainages. There's an old and rarely used fire ring here. Heading downhill from here, you cross the wilderness boundary and pass the signed junction with the Gilbert Creek Trail at mile 6.8.
After a mile of moderate ascent, at mile 7.8, the trail intersects McCutcheon Creek. This is a wide open drainage with several possible camp spots. A grove of aspen provides shade but is overgrown, so camping must occur in the unsheltered area below the grove.
The next segment climbs 600 feet, reaching the saddle between McCutcheon and South Fork Smith Creek at mile 9.7. From here, it's a steep and steady descent dropping 1,500 feet in under two miles to the excellent camping area at S Fork Smith at mile 11.5.
It's just over a mile from South Fork over a ridge and down to Middle Fork at the 12.8 mark. There are no good camping options at Middle Fork, though water is plentiful. From Middle Fork, it's a big 2,300ft climb over 3.5 miles to the pass above Overland Lake at mile 16.4. This pass marks a significant shift in scenery, from open meadows of shrubs and aspens to a rocky alpine environment. It's a mile to the lower end of Overland Lake, 800 feet below. It's a popular place to camp for a reason. Overland Lake is at mile 17.4.
With views to the north and east, the trail descends further and swings into the upper Overland Creek basin, crossing below a waterfall at mile 18.7. At 8,900 feet, this is the lowest elevation for the rest of the trail. Continue contouring up toward the crest, reaching the first little saddle with a view into Long Canyon and a potential dry camp spot at mile 21.9. An additional further climb through a few switchbacks puts you at the top of the first of four high points along the actual crest at mile 22.7 (elev 10,207).
The next 5.5 miles traverse the open stretches along the crest, dipping down into little saddles between peaks 10,756, 10,768, and finally Wines Peak at 10,900 and mile 28.0. Views along the way feature Long and Mahogany Canyon to the west, the valleys to the east, and the numerous peaks of the Rubys both north and south. There's a potential camp below the summit of 10,756 at about mile 25.0.
Wines Peak is worth the short side trip as you can't see down into North Furlong Lake from the trail itself. From the peak, the trail descends 1000 feet in a mile and a half to the junction with North Furlong Lake at mile 29.7. This is a popular area to camp, and water can be found nearby.
From the North Furlong junction, there's a short climb before the trail traverses around to Kleckner Creek at mile 31.7. Some may opt for the short trip over to Favre Lake from here.
The final climb of the trail begins at Kleckner Creek and culminates at Liberty Pass 1,000 feet higher as you reach mile 34.0. Halfway up the climb, you will pass Liberty Lake, and the view back from above the lake toward Favre Lake and Lake Peak is spectacular. Some campsites exist near Liberty Lake, but the options are limited.
From Liberty Pass, it's less than four miles back to Roads End Trailhead. This section of the trail is popular with day hikers and can be busy. The northern slopes of Liberty Pass hold snow as long as any part of the trail and may obstruct the trail in some of the upper chutes.
You pass Lamoille Lake at mile 35.2 and the Dollar Lakes less than a mile later. A couple of Lamoille Creek Creek crossings cap off the trip as you finish the final two miles of trail. Up canyon views are stunning and explain why this trail is so popular.
Depending on the season, there may be runoff in numerous additional drainages. Still, reliable sources of water can be found year-round at McCutcheon Creek, North Fork Smith Creek, Middle Fork Smith Creek, Overland Lake, Overland Creek, North Furlong Lake, Kleckner Creek, Favre Lake, Liberty Lake, Lamoille Lake, the Dollar Lakes, and Lamoille Creek.
There is a concessionaire-run campground in Lamoille Canyon about 4 miles from the Roads End trailhead for before and after the hike. Some sites may be reserved on recreation.gov while others are first-come, first-served. This campground is often filled during the busy summer months. There is no other vehicle-accessed camping in Lamoille Canyon at the north end of the trail.
At the southern end of the trail, dispersed camping opportunities exist along the forest roads near Harrison Pass, including along the 4x4 road that makes up the first 2.8 miles of the trail. There are no services or water available near Harrison Pass.
Along the trail, there are numerous options for dispersed camping. The most popular locations are near water sources where the trail intersects: McCutcheon Creek, South Fork Smith Creek, North Fork Smith Creek, Overland Lake, North Furlong Creek (or down the spur to North Furlong Lake), Kleckner Creek, Favre Lake, Liberty Lake, Lamoille Lake, and the Dollar Lakes. There are no facilities anywhere along the trail. Some dispersed sites feature user-created fire rings. Please research current fire restrictions before heading out. Parts of this range have been affected by a wildfire in recent years.
For those wishing to split up the dedicated crest portion of the hike with a night of dry camping, there are very rough sites where the trail reaches the saddle above the upper end of Long Canyon about 4.5 miles north of Overland Lake. Also near the summit of peak 10,756, which is about 3 miles south of Wines Peak. These two locations are very primitive but feature some flat ground and a few rare trees to provide shelter.
Fishing and Wildlife
The lakes and streams along the crest trail are popular among anglers. The upper elevation streams still hold populations of threatened Lahontan and Humboldt cutthroat trout, though the lakes and streams are dominated by rainbow, brown, and brookies after years of stocking.
The Rubys are home to bighorn sheep, mountain goats, deer, mountain lions, marmots, pikas, beavers, and the himalayan snowcock -- a bird introduced to the range in 1963. There are no bears or moose, so personal safety and food storage precautions require only common preparation.
Season and Timing
The Ruby Mountains receive ample winter snowfall, and the snowpack lasts well into early summer. Depending on the winter snow amount, the earliest this trail can be traversed usually falls from late June to late July. As soon as enough snow has melted to make passage easy is an ideal time and provides a water source (from snowdrifts) along the ordinarily dry crest. Late summer, the trail will have less water, but September and October trips can be enhanced by the abundance of aspen turning autumn gold or the chances of early season snow across the peaks.
Weather conditions in the mountains change quickly, and this range is no different from others in the West. Thunderstorms with heavy rain, dangerous lightning, high winds, hail, freezing temperatures, and snow can occur at any time of year. Be prepared.
While most users make this a multi-day backpacking trip, the trail is in excellent shape and easy to follow, and some experienced trail runners opt to make the traverse in a single day.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
This is a moderately difficult hike.
This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.