June 23, 2022 - 7:02 am
Updated September 29, 2022 - 6:52 am
As temperatures soar and scorch our concrete jungle, the forest shade and cooler air of the nearby Spring Mountains offer a reprieve. And the investment isn’t too terribly taxing: make sandwiches, fill up water bottles, pack camp chairs and drive 45 minutes. The payoff can be huge: temperatures at least 20 degrees cooler, a chance to find calm in the forest, an opportunity to get some exercise, and gifts of spotting gorgeous wildflowers and charming wild critters.
The Spring Mountains National Recreation Area has something for everyone. Hiking at Mount Charleston can mean everything from an easy stroll at a scenic site like Deer Creek picnic area to an uphill battle on the North Loop Trail to bask in stunning scenery with ancient bristlecone pines and make elevation gains worthy of bragging rights.
In the easy-hiking, senior- and kid-friendly category are Acastus Trail, Lower Bristlecone Trail, Lee Meadows as well as Sawmill, Deer Creek and Cathedral Rock picnic areas.
Lee Meadows and Lower Bristlecone Trail are the perfect pairing if your party includes members of multiple generations looking to connect with nature on a walk among ponderosa pine, white fir, pinyon pine, Utah juniper and quaking aspen. Packing camp chairs and picnic blankets is a smart idea, so everyone can enjoy brunch or lunch together and then some can relax while others head off to hike.
Lee Meadows, a half-mile stretch that’s grassy and mostly flat near the end of state Route 156, is close to a small parking lot for Lower Bristlecone Trail. That proximity is ideal for anyone wanting to turn a family picnic into a scenic workout. What’s even better is that the trail starts out as a wide dirt road, and hikers have the option of turning around at any point. Although friendly terrain makes the Lower Bristlecone hike an easy one, many people will still feel winded because of an elevation gain of about 6,000 feet after their ascent from the desert floor.
For anyone in the picnic party seeking more cardio and scenery, the Bristlecone trail continues for a total of 6½ miles and ends at the Upper Bristlecone trailhead and a parking lot adjacent the Lee Canyon ski resort. Unless those completing the Bristlecone Trail have a second car parked near the ski resort, they will need to walk back down to their car at Lower Bristlecone parking lot or to their parking spot along the highway parallel to Lee Meadows.
Many of Mount Charleston’s most popular and more challenging trails are found along state Route 157 on the Kyle Canyon side. To counter crowded summer conditions, early morning arrival times mean more parking availability with cooler temperatures as a bonus.
Fletcher Canyon and Eagle’s Nest trails are two manageably challenging paths that yield wildlife and wildflower sightings to complement the simple reward of putting one foot in front of the other on the dusty paths. Elegant red-and-yellow columbines and Palmer’s penstemons grow against the towering gray walls of Fletcher Canyon, and Eagle’s Nest offers probable glimpses of broad-tailed hummingbirds and Woodhouse’s scrub-jays.
Hikes on the challenging side but worth the work for their spectacular scenery and glimpses of butterflies, birds, ground squirrels, lizards, weird insects, deer and wild horses include Trail Canyon (steady and strenuous elevation gain of 1,500 feet; 4.4-mile trip), Mary Jane Falls (crowded, rocky and challenging elevation gain of 1,100 feet; 3.2-mile trip), Cathedral Rock (pleasant and straight-up elevation gain of nearly 1,000 feet; 2.8-mile trip), South Loop (easier start but ascent becomes increasingly difficult; views of forest scars from 2013’s Carpenter 1 fire; mesmerizing stands of aspen; find your perfect turnaround point on this lengthy trail) and North Loop (Deer Creek Road parking lot; mountain panoramas; up-close looks at ancient bristlecone pines; find your perfect turnaround point on this lengthy trail).
No matter the trail chosen on a sizzling summer day, Mount Charleston means cooling off and getting a calming dose of nature only 45 minutes from most Las Vegas homes. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, snacks and high-altitude attitude for adventure, discovery and relaxation.
After an extended closure during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway in Kyle Canyon is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The center includes educational displays and a gift shop, and is staffed by friendly people sharing Mount Charleston information. Programs about ecology and history take place on site.
More information and maps related to hiking, picnicking and camping in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area are available from the U.S. Forest Service at https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/htnf/recarea/?recid=65168 and the Southern Nevada Conservancy at https://www.gomtcharleston.com.