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Mount Charleston Wilderness Trails

Document Info: Hike and Trail    

Hiking the Mount Charleston Wilderness

Trails and Access

There are approximately 40 miles of trails. Significant elevation changes from trailheads to ridgelines. Springs are limited in number, and there are no running creeks. Equestrian use is possible, but there are no developed trailheads for loading or unloading.


Griffith Peak Trailhead - Mt. Charleston North - Mary Jan Trailhead - Trail Canyon - Bristlecone Loop Bonanza - Cathedral Peak.

Bristlecone Trail

This loop trail is located outside the wilderness area, making it accessible to mountain bikes. It offers scenic views of Lee Canyon Ski area, Mummy Mountain and serene aspen groves. The beginning of the trail winds through a picturesque forest abundant with white fir and large quaking aspen. Climbing out of the canyon, the vegetation becomes sparse as the trail reaches a stand of bristlecone pine. After a little over two miles on a foot trail, the trail follows an abandoned road. A short distance further, in an area resembling a parking lot, is the junction with Bonanza Trail. The trail then descends into a canyon, passing a small grove of aspen before eventually leading to a dirt6 parking lot. This parking area is accessed by a dirt road located 100 feet north of the McWilliams Campground entrance on State Route 156. Walk south up SR 156 to return to the upper parking lot of the ski area.

Trail access: Take SR 156 south to where it ends in the upper parking lot of Lee Canyon Ski Area. The trail is located to the left, at the end of the lot.

Cathedral Rock

The trail begins in Mazie Canyon amid ponderosa and white fir, but soon enters a stand of aspen. This is one of the most colorful areas in the summer when the wildflowers are blooming and the butterflies are all about. In the winter it is a major avalanche path where only aspen and brush survive the repeated snowslides. About halfway up the trail is a waterfall just off the trail to the left. There is a short, old road leading to it. Although three falls flow down early in the season, there is usually only a trickle by the end of the summer. As the trail ascends out of the canyon toward the back of Cathedral Rock, one gets a view of the avalanche chute below. When the trail reaches the saddle, keep to the right. The trail climbs a few short, steep switchbacks before reaching the summit. On top is a spectacular view of Kyle Canyon several hundred feet below. Closely supervise small children and watch your footing. The vertical cliffs below are dangerous and have claimed lives.

Charleston Peak

Charleston Peak is the most climbed major mountain in Nevada. From the peak, you can see over 100 miles, to Telescope Peak in the Panamint Range beyond Death Valley and to the Sierra Nevada beyond that. The main obstacle is that water is scarce. The springs for which the Spring Mountain range is named are on its borders. The steepest going is not near the peak, as one might expect, but at the start of the trail, where it climbs out of Kyle Canyon, and at the end, where it drops. Most people walk only the north or the south half of this 17-mile loop. However, the full circuit shows the differences between the two halves. The northern half is poorly maintained, and there is but one small spring along its length to serve both hikers and wildlife.

Fletcher Canyon Trail

This trail gently meanders through pinion and ponderosa pines, manzanita, and mountain mahogany. A variety of cacti can be seen in the canyon. The trail makes an easy ascent up to a peaceful spring where wild roses, ferns and elderberries thrive. The more adventurous hiker can continue up the canyon another half mile to the end. Those wearing shorts may wish to be cautious of stinging nettle along the way. After one quarter of a mile it becomes necessary to do some light rock scrambling to reach the end of the canyon. The water flows in the upper end of the canyon in the springtime during the snow melt. At one place it runs down a "chute" carved in the rock by water erosion.

Trail access: Take SR 157 west to Kyle Canyon. Drive half a mile past SR 158. There is a small turnout on the left for parking. The trail follows the closed-off road to the right.

Griffith Peak Trail

This trail offers an interesting variety of vegetation along with spectacular views of Las Vegas, Lake Mead, Pahrump, Lovell Canyon and Kyle Canyon. The trail begins an easy ascent through pinyon pines and scrub oak as it follows an old road for the first two miles. Back in the 1940s, when the road was being built by the CCCs, President Roosevelt came to inspect the construction site. When the foreman was asked what the road's designation was, he said he did not know. The president immediately ordered all construction stopped. Shortly after leaving the road, the trail becomes steeper. It meanders through white fir, ponderosa pine, and grassy meadows with colorful flowers. While climbing higher, the vegetation becomes more sparse as the trail reaches the bristlecone pine forest. After 5 miles, it reaches the junction with South Loop Trail. To the right, the trail descends into Kyle Canyon to Cathedral Picnic Area. The trail which continues straight ahead leads to Charleston Peak.

Lee Canyon

The second major established trail begins near the ski area parking lot in Lee Canyon and wanders north for about 6 miles over and past a number of 10,000 foot limestone peaks. It ends at the former Bonanza Boy Scout Camp, accessible by a road leaving US 95 about 20 miles north of the Kyle Canyon exit.

Mary Jane Falls Trail

This trail follows a closed-off road through an area that used to be a campground. It passes three roads that fork to the left. Keep straight and to the right. The trail travels through tall ponderosa pines, white fir, aspens and mountain mahogany. As the last one-third mile ascends steep switch-backs, one gets impressive views of the opposite side of the canyon. Early in the winter, water can be seen flowing down Big Falls. Below the southern ridge of the canyon are twisted limestone strata thrust up 50 million years ago. Two springs cascade down steep-terraced cliff walls at Mary Jane Falls.

There are two caves with water dripping across their entrances near the bottom. The best time to view the falls is early in the season. The best time to see the caves is in the summer after the ice has melted.

Trail access: On state route 157, travel 2 miles west of the ranger station to Echo Road. After .35 mile, take the left fork off Echo Road and continue up until the road ends.

Mummy Mountain

Another major peak in the area is Mummy Mountain. Clearly visible on the Kyle Canyon approach road, one can pick out the upturned "feet" and the building "belly." A cross-country route to the flat crest of its narrow ridge branches from the North Loop Trail section and offers beautiful views to either side. The views of Mt. Charleston's rugged and contorted east face and the Kyle Canyon cliffs are especially dramatic.

Mummy Springs Trail

At the trailhead is what may be the largest bristlecone pine in this mountain range. The bristlecone pine is the oldest living thing on earth. Some have lived for 4,000 years.

Mummy Springs Trail descends through a bristlecone forest to a year-round spring. The air temperature tends to be cooler on this part of the mountain, therefore the snow melts off slightly later than in the North Loop section. The spring is frequented by a diversity of wildlife which thrive in the Spring Mountain Range. If approached quietly, one may encounter an eagle, deer, or mountain lion. Quaking aspen, gooseberries, and ferns are among the many kinds of plant life found here. One of the most beautiful times to view the spring is in the autumn before the snow falls. The frozen water flows over the rock, resembling draperies found in cave formations.

Trail access: via the North Loop Trail. This trailhead can be reached by traveling north on state route 158. Drive past the road to Hilltop Campground, then park in the second turnout to the left. The Mummy Springs trail junction is about three miles in on the North Loop trail. The spring can also be accessed by hiking in from Trail Canyon about 3.5 miles to the junction.

North Loop Trail

North Loop Trail winds up the mountainside through ponderosa pines, mountain mahogany, currents and white fir. After 1.5 miles is a flat ridge which offers good views of Las Vegas and a few campsites. The trail continues up several switchbacks before reaching a summit. It then descends through a bristlecone pine forest toward the foot of Mummy Mountain. At 2.7 miles it reaches the junction of Mummy Spring Trail. There are several scenic views of Kyle Canyon as the trail continues descending toward Trail Canyon. At four miles is the junction of Trail Canyon trail. North Loop trail continues to the right, Trail Canyon trail is to the left and travels two miles into Kyle Canyon. Trail Canyon is frequently used as a shorter way to reach the peak. The next half mile North Loop makes a steady ascent to Cave Spring. There is water running into a horse trough below a cave-like area used for camping.

The trail continues climbing amongst aspens while traveling through an old burn area. It eventually ascends to where the only trees are bristlecone pines. Winding along the rocky canyon walls, it reaches the east face of Mount Charleston Peak. Switchbacks climb barren rock a half mile before reaching the summit. On top of Charleston Peak is a magnificent view. One can see nearly 300 miles in each direction on a clear day.

Trail access: Travel north on state route 158. After driving past the road to Hilltop Campground, park in the second turnout on the left.

Robber's Roost Trail

This is a short loop trail that climbs up a canyon to a couple of caves. It then winds through a forest of pinion pines and mountain mahogany before returning back to the main trail. Legend has it that Robber's Roost was a hideout for bandits during the days of the old Mormon Trail. The caves not only offered shelter, but also an excellent vantage point for spotting would-be attackers. The canyon had the advantage of terminating near the caves, thus giving the outlaws the ability to easily fence off the back of the canyon as a corral.

This corral was a place where robbers could exchange their trail-weary horses for fresh, strong ones. Many times the bandits concealed stolen goods and livestock at Robber's Roost; booty that had been snatched from travelers en route to California and Utah.

Trail access: Travel 3.2 miles north on state route 158 (Deer Creek Road) from state route 157 (Kyle Canyon Road). On the right is a parking area and the trailhead is on the left.

South Loop Trail

South Loop trail makes a steep ascent out of the picnic area as it winds toward Echo Canyon. It soon passes through an avalanche chute of quaking aspen. This is a brilliant place in the autumn when the aspen leaves turn orange and gold. The trail continues a steep ascent up Echo Canyon. After a mile, it begins climbing numerous switchbacks leading out of the canyon and up to the southern ridge. There are many spectacular views of Kyle Canyon along the way. To reach the ridge, one must hike 4 miles and make a 3,000-foot ascent. The next two miles is relatively easy, as the path travels through meadows of grasses and flowers. There are many scenic views of Lake Mead, Las Vegas, Pahrump and Kyle Canyon. Ancient bristlecone pines are the only trees that grow at this altitude. Several excellent campsites are located along this section of the trail. After six miles, the trail begins to gain altitude once more. As it climbs close to the timberline, the vegetation becomes more sparse as the trees become twisted dwarfs. After 7.5 miles, the trail makes a steep ascent toward the peak. Fierce cold winds whip across the barren rock. At the top of Mount Charleston Peak is the most awe-inspiring view. One can see nearly 300 miles in each direction on a clear day.

Trail access: Travel west on state route 157 until it enters the Cathedral Rock picnic area. Park in the first parking area to the left. The South Loop trailhead is the second trailhead to the right. The gate to Cathedral Rock picnic area is open from 8 am to 8 pm in the summer.

If hiking to the peak and back in one day, be sure to get back to your car before the gate closes.

Trail Canyon

This trail travels up a canyon through tall ponderosa pine, aspen, mountain mahogany, and currants. A number of small caves dot the limestone walls along the way. After following an old road for 1.2 miles, it narrows down to a foot trail. Eventually the trail climbs out of the canyon, heading toward the northern point of Cockscomb Ridge where it reaches the junction of North Loop trail. The trail to the left leads to Charleston Peak. About a half mile up from the junction is a popular campsite where a cave-like ledge is used as a sleeping shelter. There is also a spring which runs into a horse trough, which has been carved out of a large log. The trail to the right leads to Deer Creek Highway.

Trail access: Travel 2.1 miles west of the ranger station on state highway 157. When the highway curves left, keep going straight onto Echo Road. After traveling .35 mile, turn right at the fork, remaining on Echo Road. Continue a short distance further until it makes a right U-turn, becoming Crestview Drive. The trailhead and parking area are located on the left side of the curve.