Sunsets and Birding at Pabco Trailhead

Las Vegas Wetlands Park view from the Pabco Trailhead
Las Vegas Wetlands Park view from the Pabco Trailhead
Photo by Osie Turner

With the sudden change of season this week, now is a great time for waterbird sightings and possibly some visiting birds on the tail end of the fall migrations. One of the best spots to birdwatch and catch a diverse range of scenery has got to be the Pabco Trailhead. This location is almost a neighborhood secret because there has not been a lot of development done to the trail yet, and it is exactly this lack of improvement that makes it unique.

Click here for a Custom Map showing the recommended route for this scenic trip.
(Map provided by RoadTripAmerica.com and built by Tom Herbertson.)

The Pabco trailhead is mentioned on all of the official Clark County Wetlands Park brochures as a stop along the Wetlands Loop Trail, but not much is really said about it otherwise. The actual trailhead is mainly a parking lot, restroom, and a nice amphitheater overlooking the Las Vegas Wash. The trail is not marked and looks more like a service road, which it doubles as in this area. You can follow the trail either east or west from the parking lot; in my opinion, west is the more interesting choice.

Following the trail eastbound will take you to the Wells Trailhead—a scenic picnic area in the easternmost tip of the wetlands park just before Lake Las Vegas. Walking this direction keeps you a little further form the wash and is more limited in city views.

One of the aforementioned sunsets, taken last week.Photo by Osie Turner
One of the aforementioned sunsets, taken last week.
Photo by Osie Turner

Going west, however, will take you to a wide expanse of the wash with abundant birdlife and a great view of the city and mountains. There is a fairly thick patch of trees just past the parking lot, followed by small sand dunes on one side of the wash on the other. Most of the strip is visible from there, but the real treat is that the sunsets here are spectacular. The different natural features can all affect your perception of it; through the trees, over the mountains at Southern Highlands (which seems far closer than it is from there), and Frenchman Mountain on the other side of the wash all light up in deep reds and contrasting hues of blue as the sun dips below the horizon.

There are two sizable levees along the way to slow the water as the wash narrows. In between them, the wash is more like a small lake and all manner of ducks and waterfowl will be found there. The embankments are wide and stable enough to walk out onto, and possibly even all the way across to the other side, but that is very dangerous. Any misstep and you are swept away in a strong current heading to Lake Mead. I have walked out a short distance on the second one and found it to be both exhilarating and frightening. The sound of the water flowing through the rocks inches below my feet was at first exciting, but became more and more eerie. Think of the Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, except I was not imagining the sound… I’m sure of it!

If you follow the trail west far enough, it will take you behind the Sam Boyd Stadium and connect to the Duck Creek Trail. One could continue on to the visitor’s center at the main area of the Wetlands Park. It is about two miles from the Pabco Trailhead to the edge of Duck Creek, and some guesswork is involved as the trial is not always clear in some parts.

A few ducks on the Las Vegas Wash.Photo by Osie Turner
A few ducks on the Las Vegas Wash.
Photo by Osie Turner

Usually the area around Pabco is quiet and deserted, but it is not unusual to encounter runners, dog walkers, or other nature lovers. The late afternoon is probably the busiest time there.

To get to the Pabco Trailhead, take Galleria Drive east from either the U.S. 95 freeway or the Galleria Mall. Turn left on Weston Ridge Street and take it all the way to the end. Go straight at the stop sign at Russell Road and you will end at the parking lot.

There is a great checklist for the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve that can be used along the loop trail as well since the preserve is a stone’s throw away. Visit lvwash.org for more information on the Las Vegas Wash and trail systems.

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