HIKING: Mt. Charleston, a Vegas Summer Escape

It's July here in Vegas, and we have finally hit those temperatures that everyone just loved to warn me about earlier in the season. I keep trying to explain that the dry heat of Vegas, even when it gets past 100 degrees, will never be as horrible as an 85 degree day with humidity on the East coast. I got my hair done yesterday, and the stylist was from Nevada, with a sister that just moved to New York City. "She says sometimes it feels like you can't breathe the air!" the stylist exclaimed to me. Yes. Yes, that is true.


Still, it does mean that, unfortunately, all those hikes that were 25 minutes from my front door, whether it was the varied rocky hikes at Red Rock Canyon to the west, or the valley wetlands and parks in the east near Henderson - they are all waaay too hot. However, there is one summer escape, an oasis closer than the three and half hour drive north to Zion National Park: Mt. Charleston.

A google map image with the route from central las vegas to Mt. Charleston
Driving route to Mt. Charleston

Mount Charleston isn't just referring to the peak - there's an entire little town there, population about 400, also called Mount Charleston. Additionally, I've learned that when locals say they're going to Mt. Charleston, they really could mean anywhere in the Spring Mountains Recreation Area. There are 16 trailheads, multiple peaks, and a plethora of different routes. I'm in a few hiking groups on social media, and I saw that someone actually just created a new trail last week, so truly, the possibilities are endless with the right skill level. The recreation area also boasts several campgrounds, and plenty of dispersed camping. Check out https://www.gomtcharleston.com/ for up to date info. The weather is usually wildly different in this area than it is in Las Vegas, and people can be caught without the proper equipment and clothing.


A large mountain and alpine forest with a road
Mt. Charleston - Arriving at Mary Jane Falls trailhead

I met today's hiking partner, Andy, recently because we were both working on van conversions. His is almost finished, however, and it is way more involved than than mine. A sprinter van, whereas my conversion Vangela is a simple cargo van. He picked me up on a Sunday in June in said van, and we drove the 50 minutes to the Mary Jane Falls trailhead. This is a 3.6 mile out and back trail with an elevation gain of 1,135 feet. When I choose trails, I often forget to really absorb the information about the elevation gain. ****** I hear that number, but it doesn't often factor into my decision making. Andy had suggested the trail (for exactly the eye-rolling reason you might think), and I was unsure, because I really wanted to do something longer. But that elevation gain I wasn't processing gave me the extra difficulty I was looking for!


A reddish brown dog stands on top of a rock in a forest
Mary Jane Falls - The third companion

The hike starts off in Kyle Canyon with a slight incline on a gravel and dirt trail through an alpine forest. This was originally a road for a campground that was washed away by a flood and never rebuilt. As you gain elevation up the one side of the mountain, there is a gorgeous view of a second mountain right next to you. Soon the trail turns into a series of switch-backs that take you further up at a steeper ascent. Make sure you don't miss them - there is a sign at the base before they start- if you continue straight you'll end up on another trail! The other mountain mirroring the one we were climbing becomes rockier, revealing its limestone face and folded geographical features. Although our surroundings didn't change too much, the upward climb provided us with ever more stunning panoramic views.


A rocky path lined by fir trees
Mary Jane Falls - Starting out

A rocky mountain with an alpine forest on it
Mary Jane Falls - The mountain across from us

A man in a tie dye shirt pointing to the valley below with an alpine mountain forest in the background
Mary Jane Falls - Going up the switchbacks

A limestone mountain cliff face with sparse fir trees
Mary Jane Falls - Limestone cliffs

Once you reach the end of the trail, there is a cliff face with a cave, and the falls run over the cave. May is really the best time to see the falls, as they come from ice melting in the higher elevations. In fact, we could still see some snow drifts on further peaks in the distance. On the day we were there, though, the falls were barely a trickle. However Andy, ever the optimist, pointed out that the height they dropped from was actually quite impressive.

A rock wall with a cave and small waterfall
Mary Jane Falls

If you look at the photo above, you'll see the rock face looks wet on the right hand side. That's where the falls were originating from. They were so sparse I couldn't actually get them to show up in a photograph.


Man looking out over a vast mountain landscape
Mary Jane Falls - View from underneath the falls area. Notice the snow patches on the mountain.

This is an out and back trail, and the "back" part went much faster than the climb. Before we started our journey downward, we spent some time near the base of the falls, where there was lush grass and a profusion of wildflowers due to the falls. The trail was not too heavily trafficked, but we definitely saw other hikers regularly. This was on a weekend afternoon, so the extra humans are to be expected. Overall, this was an pleasant escape from the city. It was like a Sunday drive, nothing too thrilling but so nice to get out.


Have you done this hike before, or is there a similar one in the area you like better?


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