With its lush, pine-covered canyons and snowcapped 11,918-foot peak, Mount Charleston rises above the ordinary.
Mount Charleston is Southern Nevada’s tallest point — and one of its most beautiful spots. The peak is named after Charleston, S.C., hometown of several members of an Army survey team that mapped the area in 1906.
Charleston is part of the Spring Mountain Range, which has the steepest vertical rise of any of Nevada’s mountains, climbing nearly 10,000 feet.
The 45-mile drive from Las Vegas to Mount Charleston takes you from the flat, desert terrain of the Mojave Desert to barren, rocky heights where only bristlecone pines thrive. As you head north on U.S. 95 and west on State Route 157 (Kyle Canyon Road), the surroundings gradually change from creosote and Joshua trees to pinon and juniper woodlands, where sagebrush is the dominant shrub.
A few miles higher, the terrain becomes thick with ponderosa pine, fir, and aspen trees. Expressive rock faces peek out from the pine forests that at this time of year are dusted with snow.
Ahead is the Retreat on Charleston Peak (https://retreatoncharlestonpeak.com/), an elegant two-story lodge with a dance floor, gift shop, small casino and huge fireplace. The restaurant offers gourmet meals in a room that has a view of the surrounding snow-topped mountains.
Built in 1984 and renovated last year, the hotel has 63 rooms and a golf course.
Up the road is Mount Charleston Village, with a few residences and the U.S. Forest Service district office (the area is part of the 316,000-acre Spring Mountain National Recreation Area).
The Mount Charleston Lodge (http://mtcharlestonlodge.com/), located near the road’s end, offers a restaurant, lounge, horseback riding stables and more than a dozen log cabins.
Near this point, Kyle Canyon Road (State Route 157) intersects with State Route 156, also known as Lee Canyon Road. At the top of Lee Canyon, you’ll find something unexpected in Southern Nevada, Lee Canyon Ski Resort.
Lee Canyon offers a ski shop, chair lifts, a ski school, a dozen ski runs of varying difficulty, a restaurant, and a lounge (www.leecanyonlv.com).
In the warmer months, both Kyle Canyon and Lee Canyon offer several popular hiking trails that range from easy day hikes to more challenging treks. For example, at the end of Kyle Canyon, you’ll find a pleasant walk to Mary Jane Falls, an attractive cascade of water that usually flows in the spring and early summer months.
The hike through tall pine trees is relatively easy and includes a series of switchbacks. Hikers are rewarded with great views of the upper Kyle Canyon area. The Mary Jane Falls trailhead begins from a parking lot at the end of Echo Road.
Another short but worthwhile hike is the Cathedral Rock Trail. This moderately steep, winding trail leads through stands of white fir and ponderosa pine trees before reaching breathtaking sheer drops that afford views of the surrounding mountains.
The trailhead starts from the Cathedral Rock Picnic Area. For a slightly longer hike through the Ponderosa Pine forest, hikers can start at an alternate trailhead located immediately west of the Kyle Canyon/Echo Road intersection.
More experienced hikers can tackle the Charleston Peak National Recreation Trail, a 17-mile loop that begins at the Cathedral Rock Picnic Area and continues to the top of Mount Charleston before concluding at the Kyle Canyon trailhead.
The trail has an elevation gain of more than 4,000 feet and follows the ridges of the Mount Charleston Wilderness for much of the journey, which involves hiking at an elevation of more than 11,000 feet for about six miles.
The Bristlecone Trail, located at the end of Lee Canyon Road, is a more challenging hike that includes a little bit of climbing at a slightly higher elevation (nearly 10,000 feet).
The trail winds through one of the state’s largest bristlecone pine forests. While the bristlecones are not as ancient and gnarled as those found at places like Great Basin National Park in Eastern Nevada, there is something unique about trees that have lived for thousands of years.
For information about Mount Charleston go to www.gomtcharleston.com.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.