Mount Charleston: An alpine getaway from Vegas

Experience the mountains while visiting Las Vegas! Mount Charleston is a year-round adventure playground – one that’s exciting, affordable and very close.

Mount Charleston in summer

Mount Charleston in summer. Photo courtesy of the Las Vegas News Bureau

Located about 42 miles from the Strip via U.S. Highway 95 north and State Route 157 west, the scenic area is set in the Spring Mountains, which are part of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest – better known to locals as Mount Charleston. Outdoor enthusiasts of any season are fortunate to have these alpine peaks (which are snow-capped in winter) only an hour’s drive away from the desert.

“The most unique experience visitors will find up here is that Mount Charleston, though still located in Las Vegas, might as well be a million miles away from what people think Las Vegas is,” said Marc Nelson, the general manager of The Resort on Mount Charleston. “There isn’t the traffic of the Strip, the flashing lights of downtown or the issues with finding a parking spot. What you will find is crisp, clean air, star-filled skies, the animals we share the mountain with, peace and quiet.”

Nelson has been overseeing the rustic retreat for about 18 months, after previously managing its sister property, the Artisan, an art-themed boutique hotel in Las Vegas. He knew very little about the inspiring wilderness area before the position became available, but made several trips to Mount Charleston soon after.

“I found calmness and tranquility, something lacking from the hustle and bustle of the city,” said Nelson.

The Resort on Mount Charleston

The Resort on Mount Charleston. Photo by Andy Blanchard

On average, temperatures at Mount Charleston are about 20 degrees lower than in Las Vegas. There are gorgeous Ponderosa pines and fir trees wherever the eye can see. The highest elevation at Mount Charleston is 11,916 feet on Charleston Peak. The region is perfect for hiking, bicycling and picnicking during summer and fall as well as skiing in winter and early spring. You can also enjoy everything from a fine meal and a steaming cup of hot chocolate to an overnight stay and a spa treatment in The Resort on Mount Charleston. The lodge-style hotel even prepares boxed lunches for those looking to eat on the trail. It includes a submarine sandwich (turkey or ham), a bag of chips, a piece of fruit, bottled water and a snack for $14.95.

There are more than 50 miles of trails available at Mount Charleston. Among the best to explore – and chow down on your goodies – is Mary Jane Falls. At 1.2 miles each way, it’s not too difficult to conquer.

“Mary Jane Falls is one of the most popular trails up here,” said Nelson of the trek, which involves a 900-foot elevation gain. “It’s known for its steep switchbacks and rock steps to year-round cascading falls.”

During this time of year, however, the waterfall is more likely to be a trickle. It usually gushes in spring due to the melting snow.

The trailhead for Cathedral Rock at Mount Charleston

The trailhead for Cathedral Rock at Mount Charleston. Photo courtesy of the Las Vegas News Bureau

Cathedral Rock is another wonderful spot to climb amid Mount Charleston’s pine and aspen trees. This moderate trail measures three miles round-trip with an ascent of 1,000 feet. The gravel path ends on top of a rock outcropping, which makes for a fine place to eat – thanks to stunning views of the surrounding Spring Mountains.

Experienced hikers in search of a challenge should consider the Charleston Peak South Loop. It’s a 17-mile route with a whopping 4,190-foot elevation gain. Not only will you get to check out the highest peak in the region, but you’ll also pass through several lovely meadows.

“With fall almost upon us, the air will become crisper so a hearty stew will fill you up after a long hike up here on Mount Charleston,” said Nelson of the resort’s Mountain Meat Stew, which is made with buffalo and wild boar.

Other activities in the vicinity include horseback riding. Mount Charleston Trail Rides is a family-owned company that has been in business for more than 30 years. They offer horseback and horse-drawn carriage rides – along with sleigh rides when the ground is covered in snow. It’s an unforgettable experience to see the slopes of these majestic mountains atop one of their beautiful, well-trained equines. You can make reservations in advance by calling (702) 596-6715.

Or spend your “down” time at the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort. Established in 1963, this is the only ski resort in Southern Nevada. LVSSR sits at a base elevation of 8,510 feet and has an average annual snowfall of 140 inches. Although it’s small by most standards (with 11 runs, three chair lifts and one surface lift), when winter comes (the target opening date is set for Nov. 23) there’s something for every level of skier and snowboarder.

In the meantime, through October, visitors can enjoy sightseeing rides above the trees at LVSSR. One of the chairlifts operates on Fridays from noon to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The cost is $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 6 – 12 and free for kids under the age of 5.

The Fletcher Canyon trailhead at Mount Charleston

The Fletcher Canyon trailhead at Mount Charleston. Photo by Andy Blanchard

At the top of the chairlift is the beginning of an 18-hole disc golf course. This high-altitude game starts at an elevation of 9,300 feet and winds through some spectacular terrain. The price to play is $15 per session (which includes the cost of the chairlift).

A summer music series, “Music on the Mountain,” will be wrapping up on Sept. 8 with the Women of Da Blues concert. It has a lineup that showcases the Sheryl Justice Band, Mary Ball & the Mixx, Kelly Sheehan & Friends and Lady J Huston & The Fireballs. Gates open at 10 a.m., and the music begins at 10:30 a.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children under the age of 12. Guests can bring chairs and blankets for the festival-style seating. Free parking is available. For more information, call (702) 645-2754.

According to Nelson, there will also be live music and good times on Sept. 2 from noon to 4 p.m. at The Resort on Mount Charleston as part of their Labor Day Weekend BBQ. Get your fill of an all-you-can-eat feast that boasts hot dogs, turkey dogs, hamburgers, veggie burgers, grilled chicken, baked beans, corn, potato salad, coleslaw and assorted desserts. Admission is $15.95 for adults and $7.95 for children ages 12 and younger.  If you want to stay overnight, ask about the special “Room & BBQ Package,” which includes standard king or double queen accommodations and two tickets to the Labor Day Weekend BBQ.

“It has become an annual event,” said Nelson. “With live music and an incredible barbecue menu, it’s the perfect way to end the summer up here on Mount Charleston.”



I’m a Las Vegas native. By profession, I write at Mostly about the city’s hotels, but on other topics – gaming and transportation – too. I really love staying at hotels. And the ones here are among the biggest and best in the world. Some key things I’ve learned: Resort fees are inescapable (frustrating but true), a friendly attitude at the front desk may score you a great view and over-the-top room amenities – bath butlers, Japanese tea service, menus with “intimate” items – do exist. What else should you know about me? Well, I’m comfortable at a blackjack table. And I like eating late-night pancakes in hotel coffee shops. A lot. Follow Renee on Google+.