A particularly magnificent stretch of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, situated about 45 minutes from downtown Las Vegas. Encompassing more than 316,000 acres, this place is a mere 45 minutes away from the frenzied Strip and is a recreationalist’s dream. Within this national recreation area is the Mt. Charleston Wilderness Area, which was designated by the U.S. Congress in 1989. Spring Mountains National Recreation Area has two other wilderness areas: La Madre Mountain and Rainbow Mountain.
The Mt. Charleston Wilderness Area—57,478 acres of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service—includes the Spring Mountains Range and Mount Charleston, Nevada’s fifth tallest peak at 11,908 feet. Some refer to Mt. Charleston Wilderness Area as “Sky Island” because of its high elevation and isolation from the surrounding desert lowlands. Bristlecone Pines—the oldest living organisms in the world—are found here: the area has 18,000 acres of them, one of the largest Bristlecone Pine groves in the Intermountain West. The Mt. Charleston Wilderness Area also is home to 15 endemic wildflower plants as well as the Ponderosa Pine and White Fir, which are home to the Palmer’s Chipmunk — a species exclusive to the Spring Mountains. Rocky Mountain Elk also are found here, along with wild horses and burros, desert tortoises, deer, coyote, foxes, bobcats, songbirds, hummingbirds and various birds of prey.
The Mt. Charleston Wilderness Area is an excellent place to relax year-round, but especially during the summer months as temperatures tend to be significantly cooler due to the higher elevation. The rugged mountain scenery can be enjoyed with a relaxing drive, a scenic picnic, on the 40 miles of hiking trails, photography opportunities, wildlife viewing, or on the ski slopes. The mountain scenery extends across the crest of the Spring Mountains and includes an array of wide canyons and slot canyons, such as Fletcher Canyon, Robber’s Roost, and Mummy and Trough springs.
HIKING & HORSEBACK RIDING
Most of the trails in the Spring Mountains are open to horseback riders, although the U.S. Forest Service stresses that the trails are difficult. Good day rides include the lower section of the Bristlecone Trail in Lee Canyon as well as the Fletcher Canyon Trail in Kyle Canyon. Horseback riders can reach Charleston Peak via the South Loop Trail [also known as the Spring Mountains National Recreation Trail] or the North Loop Trail and Trail Canyon Trail. Horses should be in good condition and prepared for high altitude. All trails in both Lee Canyon and Kyle Canyon are considered challenging, and many are considered to be steep, narrow, covered with shale and lacking water. The areas below 6,500 feet in elevation offer numerous forest service roads and trails winding through pinion, juniper and other high-desert terrain. Riders should note that the roads and trails are also used by off-highway vehicles. Camping with horses is allowed, but weed-feed hay is required.
SKIING, SNOWBOARDING AND SNOWSHOEING
The Mount Charleston area also is home to the Lee Canyon, which offers numerous backcountry trails with fresh powder. The towering Spring Mountains reveal several trails and steep slopes that are excellent for both downhill and cross-country skiers.
The limestone cliffs of the Spring Mountains towering over the Las Vegas Valley make superb rock-climbing terrain. The mountain offers several climbing routes, including Angel Falls, The Hood [one of Mt. Charleston’s most popular and developed areas, with four caves and routes up to 5.14], Imagination Wall [with routes from 5.10 and 5.12] and Universal Wall [its ‘Hydra’ route is 5.11+.] YDS: 5.2 – 5.14+ Grade: III-V
ADMISSION AND FEES
Recreating at the Spring Mountains and Mt. Charleston is free!
From downtown Las Vegas follow U.S. 95 northbound to a well marked turnoff for State Route 157 West. Follow 157 approximately 20 miles into the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area. Keep your eyes peeled for free parking areas, and signage about this spectacular high desert recreationalists paradise. For more information on the area, or planning your visit, contact the United States Forest Office at (702) 872-5486.