Vegas is known for a lot of things, but I’d venture to say most don’t associate it with a great outdoor’s scene. That’s fair – down in the valley for ~4 months out of the year the entire “outdoor” experience you want to have is probably between your air conditioned car, your air conditioned office, and your air conditioned house. Sometimes an air conditioned restaurant or shop, just to try out other people’s air conditioning.
But hidden about an hour away from the strip along Highway 95 is a very pleasant escape called Mount Charleston. I’ll admit living here for 4 years before venturing up there with some friends on a whim, and in the last few months I’ve enjoyed several great hikes along some of the trails. The nice part about Mt. Charleston in summertime is that you get about a 20+ degree “discount” from whatever it is in the valley. 100 degrees at home? Make it high-70’s on the mountain. A great escape!
I’ll start by recommending this quick link from Mt Charleston Resort: Hiking Mt Charleston
Here are the trails I’ve done so far:
Mary Jane Falls
On the other end of the difficulty spectrum from Sawmill Trail is Mary Jane Falls. Don’t get me wrong there’s no climbing involved, but the hike is definitely more challenging. The main trail runs a brief stretch casually uphill before turning into a burst of uphill switchbacks. However – the payoff at the top is a beautiful waterfall (at least, it was during our visit in Spring). Even found some snow up there! Yes – snow just outside of Las Vegas. It happens.
For this hike there were 4 of us – 3 adults and my son Charlie. Definitely recommend having a similar ratio, so we could hand-off Charlie from time-to-time. The climb is tough, but add in a 30lb. toddler and you’ll definitely be taking some breaks.
Mary Jane Falls Trailhead of Google Maps – It’s got a good parking lot and restrooms at the base.
This is probably my favorite trail so far, in terms of duration, difficulty, and scenery. You get a lot of variety including open stretches of forest, some dense shrubs & bushes, and beautiful canyons. There are a couple trickier parts requiring to climb over objects or squeeze through narrow pathways surrounded by shrubs, but overall it’s a moderate climb. There aren’t much in the way of views – the hike is the view itself. The canyon ends cleanly, but for those willing to adventure, there are even more boulders to climb up and over to see the canyon from a different perspective.
Fletcher Canyon Trailhead on Google Maps – The parking lot is across the street from the trailhead. Keep a look out for pedestrians crossing the road!
This is our most recent hike! My son and I took this one on Labor Day weekend, 2017. Again – about 100-degrees in the valley and about 80-degrees up on the mountain. A little warm, but definitely suitable weather for trudging up the mountain. A nice feature of this trail is that most of the signs were intact and legible. I wasn’t too worried that we were getting off the beaten path.
This trail was very nice and very popular! Obviously families were looking for something to do during the long weekend. But as is usually the case on hiking trails everyone was very friendly and courteous – we had no problems passing or allowing ascending or descending traffic. The hike itself was solid – gradual switchbacks leading up the mountain on a well marked trail with some beautiful views along the way. At the peak – a great payoff with a view down the entire valley.
Cathedral Rock Parking on Google Maps – Again, we went on a holiday weekend so it was very crowded (arrived about 9:30am). Would definitely recommend!
So this one is a little tricky given that there are actually several trails that weave around the same neighborhood. The signage is OK, but not great. The trail itself is clean, easy-to-follow, and easy to climb. No switchbacks or trouble to be found, though one stretch can be a little steep. This is a great starter hike – but be warned it’s not as high on the mountain as many of the other trails so it’s hotter during the daytime.
Sawmill Loop Trailhead on Google Maps – We started on “Yellow” and then wound up on “Blue” – before cutting across to the Forrest Trail to catch back up to the parking lot. Like I said – a little confusing if you’re not prepared for it.
So, we’ve checked a few trails off the list – but I’m hopeful there are many more to come! I’m eager to check out Little Falls (by way of Cathedral Rock), as well as trying out Mummy Springs and Bristlecone. Stay tuned! Have you hiked Mt. Charleston? Let me know what you think, especially if you have recommendations for things I might not be thinking about.