The Top 10 Hikes in Mount Charleston, Nevada

Forests and Mount Charleston
marevos / Getty Images

Located a mere 35 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Mount Charleston is the best and closest place to escape the punishing summer heat of the city. Technically named the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, the region encompasses more than 315,000 acres of incredible natural diversity including seven distinct ecological zones from the desert floor to the snow-capped peaks of Mount Charleston. You’ll first drive through the desert shrublands of creosote bush leading to Joshua trees. Farther up, you’ll travel through a conifer zone of evergreen pinyon pine and juniper. In higher zones, the Ponderosa pines, white fir, and bristlecones dominate the landscape, with a bristlecone or two said to be over 5,000 years old. Past the tree line at 10,000 feet, you’ll reach the alpine zone, where only low grasses and shrubs survive. Because this part of the Spring Mountains is one of the most biodiverse parts of the Southwest, it makes for some of the most interesting hiking. There’s a trail for every skill and fitness level, and you can choose among zones depending on where you’d like to feel like you are that day—not so different from the rest of Las Vegas’ ethos.

Charleston Peak rises to nearly 12,000 feet in elevation and is the highest peak in Southern Nevada. Technically named the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area and sitting within the Spring Mountain range of the massive Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the forested mountain that lies only 35 miles northwest of Las Vegas is one of the most transporting places near the Strip. (Well, one of the most transporting natural places, that is; after all, Vegas does have scaled-down replicas of Egyptian pyramids, Venice, Lake Como, and New York City that are also transporting.)

There are over 60 miles of trails up and around Mount Charleston, most starting around 6,000 feet, and a few leading right to the top. Keep in mind that the conditions are more extreme than they might appear. Load up on sunscreen and wear a hat and long sleeves. And check for conditions in the winter, when some trails may close or become too difficult to navigate for day hikers. Here are some of Mount Charleston’s best trails.

01 of 10

Cathedral Rock Trail

view of dense forest on cathedral rock trail
J Ditzler / Getty Images
Cathedral Picnic Area Rd, Mt Charleston, NV 89124, USA

Scenic Cathedral Rock is a local favorite hike—a 2.7-mile trail that’s a moderate challenge for experienced hikers. The trailhead starts at about 7,600 feet above sea level and you’ll gain around 970 feet in elevation over the course of the hike, so for those who are accustomed to low elevations, this can pose a moderate challenge. It starts in the Ponderosa pine and white fir forests and graduates to aspen.

You’ll even find a waterfall just off the trail (via a short road) about halfway up. As you climb up out of the canyon toward Cathedral Rock, you’ll take a few short switchbacks before ascending to the summit, with its panoramic view of Kyle Canyon. Cathedral Rock is a convenient hike that’s well-marked and has a parking lot with bathroom access and a water faucet.

02 of 10

Mary Jane Falls

low-angle view of trees and cliffs
Krystel Pepito / Getty Images
6-34 Kyle Canyon Rd, Mt Charleston, NV 89124, USA
Phone +1 702-872-5486

One of the most popular hikes in Mount Charleston, Mary Jane Falls is a 3.2-mile round trip out and back trail that winds northwest from a trailhead in Kyle Canyon into quaking aspen, white fir, and Ponderosa pine trees, all surrounded by gray limestone cliffs. You’ll ascend over 1,000 feet to the actual falls, which flow during the spring snow melts, cascading over cliffs. Look for the two caves at the base of the falls, and don’t miss the little cave about 400 feet beyond the falls, which has a few little stalactites that are interesting to see.

Tip: The trail was damaged by hikers cutting the switchbacks about 10 years ago. A crew fixed them, but the switchbacks are still fragile, so stay on the trail.

03 of 10

Fletcher Canyon Trail

Mt Charleston Fletcher Canyon Hike
J Ditzler / Getty Images
Mt Charleston, NV 89124, USA
Phone +1 702-872-5486

This hike’s gradual uphill grade up a forested canyon to a spring is popular among hikers who want a beautiful nature walk, but not too much strenuous climbing. You’ll walk up through a shady pine forest along a mostly dormant stream to reach a Fletcher Canyon, a pretty slot canyon with water-polished, 200-foot-high walls. The hike is not dramatically strenuous, but you’ll see plenty of beautiful trees, including mountain mahogany, Ponderosa pines, pinyon pines, and white fir. From the end of the trail, you’ll catch good view of Mummy Mountain, the second-highest peak in the Spring Mountains range, named for its resemblance to a reclining Egyptian sarcophagus.

04 of 10

Mount Charleston National Recreation Trail / South Loop

Mt Charleston in winter
4kodiak / Getty Images
Cathedral Rock Picnic Upper Rd, Mt Charleston, NV 89124, USA

Serious hikers love the South Loop Trail, which ascends nearly 5,000 feet to take you to Charleston Peak, at 11,916 feet. The round-trip covers 17.5 miles in all and you'll do half the climb above 10,000 feet in alpine tundra, so this is definitely not a trail for the faint of heart. The hike starts from the Cathedral Rock trailhead, making a steep climb that crosses an avalanche chute lined with quaking aspen. You’ll reach the junction for Griffith Peak Trail, do a slow climb through a pretty meadow, then leave the timberline behind for a final, tough climb to take in the view from the summit of Charleston Peak. This is the hike that’s at the top of most locals’ bucket lists. It will take at least eight hours, so get an early start. The best months to hike it are June and September, but if you venture up other times, make sure it’s snow-free (usually May through October).

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05 of 10

Trail Canyon

Mummy's Toe under a night sky with stars and clouds on Mount Charleston, Nevada
Florian Schipflinger / Getty Images
Trail Canyon, Mt Charleston, NV 89124, USA
Phone +1 702-872-5486

This is a strenuous, 2.2-mile uphill climb that runs up Trail Canyon for 1,500 feet to a spot beneath the “toes” of Mummy Mountain. The trail parking lot is closed during the winter season (although the trail can still be accessed from the Echo parking lot), and you’ll climb through Ponderosa pine, mountain mahogany, and toward a water tower into a beautiful grove of quaking aspen. During the spring, hikers cross a seasonal creek about a mile into the trail and ascend into a series of switchbacks.

Near the top of the canyon, the trail climbs along the edge of an old fire that swept through the top of the ridge of Mummy Mountain more than 50 years ago. You’ll eventually stop at Trail Canyon Saddle where the trail intersects the North Loop Trail. You’ll see the limestone cliffs that comprise the toes and underside of Mummy Mountain, Mount Charleston, and the desert below.

06 of 10

Griffith Peak Trail

Snow covered alpine terrain on Griffith Peak
robertcicchetti / Getty Images
Griffith Peak, Mt Charleston, NV 89124, USA

You’ll start climbing almost the moment you get on the Griffith Peak trail, which is 10 miles round trip, but you’ll hike through some of the most beautiful forestlands in the Spring Mountains and reach a 360-degree view at the peak. The other routes to Mount Charleston Peak are more strenuous; this is often regarded to be the prettiest. You’ll see shallow caves and jagged cliffs, and depending on the season you’re hiking it, you’ll see wildflowers and lots of butterflies. This hike joins up with the South Loop trail.

07 of 10

Desert View Overlook

Desert View Overlook

Michael Adams / Wikimedia Commons

Las Vegas, NV 89166, USA

If all you want is an easy stroll through some pretty scenery, the Desert View Overlook is your trail. Less than a half-mile round-trip, it’s wheelchair- and stroller-friendly, and located near the Deer Creek Picnic Area’s convenient restrooms. The walkway is paved and gradually winds down to viewing platforms with panels and benches where you can learn about the Mojave Desert and this area’s former life as a viewing area for bomb detonation during the Atomic Era. It’s a fascinating and easy way to enjoy this section of the Spring Mountains.

08 of 10

Pack Rat Route

2525 Kyle Canyon Rd, Mt Charleston, NV 89124, USA
Phone +1 702-872-5486

One of the best ways to see some history is to visit the Spring Mountain Visitor Gateway, where you’ll find The Silent Heroes of the Cold War National Memorial, built here to commemorate the thousands of people who died while working covertly for the United States government during the Cold War. The monument was built here because it's close to the crash site of a United States Air Force flight that crashed on Charleston Peak in 1955, carrying workers to Area 51.

You can read about the silent heroes and then hike the Pack Rat Trail that begins at the Gateway and has a view out to the crash site. The route is a fairly easy 1.4-mile round trip loop that starts in the Gateway’s amphitheater and travels toward a limestone escarpment toward small caves and a bench where you can sit and read the signs that give more information about the plane crash. Telescopes at the top give you a view of where it happened.

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09 of 10

Robbers Roost

NV-158, Mt Charleston, NV 89124, USA
Phone +1 702-515-5400

You’ll feel like an outlaw in this little outcropping of caverns 5 miles northeast of the summit of Mount Charleston. The trail to Robbers Roost caves isn’t long—only 0.2 miles out and back—but you’ll start with a shady ascent through a wooded area beside a mostly dry stream and take a fun scramble up limestone stairs and rocks to get to the caves. The eroded alcoves in a limestone cliff sit at an elevation of about 8,000 feet. Local legend has the caves being used as robbers’ hideouts in the 1880s for outlaws hunting travelers on the Old Spanish Trail, which ran from Mesquite to Las Vegas. While historians say this isn’t likely, it’s still fun to imagine you’re taking the same illicit refuge as a 19th-century bandit.

10 of 10

Charleston Peak via Deer Creek Trail

Mount Charleston
Karl Spencer / Getty Images
Deer Creek Trail, Nevada 89124, USA

Deer Creek Trail is the North Loop that leads to Charleston Peak. The 20-mile hike leads you through the greenest part of Mount Charleston, with incredible views of the forest and dramatic overlooks. Those who don’t enjoy cliff trails might want to choose the South Loop instead (you’ll get to the same place); this trail will lead you to a number of cliff edges. The dramatic route takes hikers past Mummy Mount up to 10,000 feet to the 3,000-year-old “Raintree” bristlecone pine before dropping down 1,000 feet to the junction of Trail Canyon and Deer Creek. Once you get near the top, at nearly 12,000 feet, you’ll make the final ascent via a series of a dozen punishing switchbacks. Once you reach the highest point in southern Nevada you’ll see a 360-degree view of southern Nevada plus eastern California and southern Utah. Don’t miss the opportunity to sign in at the Army box sign-in book and become part of history.

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The Top 10 Hikes in Mount Charleston, Nevada