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A Challenge Hike: The Loops of Mt. Charleston

Mount Charleston, also known as Spring Mountain Recreational Area is a cool getaway beloved by many Las Vegas locals looking to hike. Mount Charleston is perhaps most known as a popular winter destination as the peaks fill up with snow offering wintertime activities such as skiing/snowboarding, sledding, and providing a beautiful snowy backdrop for family holiday cards.

But some would argue that Spring and Summer provide the best opportunities to really explore the beauty of the mountain. With a wide variety of hiking trails available for all skill levels, Mount Charleston offers year-round fun. 

For this neon to nature itinerary, Las Vegan Trent Keenan offers advice on enjoying a few of Mt. Charleston’s most advanced, but also most rewarding hikes, known as The Loops of Mt. Charleston. 

Get to Know the Mountain

Charleston Peak is the 8th highest mountain in Nevada with the peak sitting at 11,916 ft. The loops of Mount Charleston (North Loop and South Loop) take you to the summit, and while they can be very challenging trails, the reward is well worth the effort it takes to get there. It’s important to note that either trail can also be done as an out-and-back, but combining the two trails makes a loop and one unforgettable experience with a full view of the mountain. 

Sunrise at Mount Charleston
The hike Trent took along this trail at Mount Charleston shows green trees blue sky.

Gear Up!

Get ready for a long day, as the hike is about 16 miles with an elevation gain of about 4,500 ft. It takes about 10.5 hours to complete and is a more advanced trail, so make sure you bring lots of energy too. 

Keenan recommends making sure you have the following items to take with you on the trail:

  • • Backpack
  • • Snacks
  • • Water (Camelback with 4-6L recommended)
  • • Light Jacket
  • • Trekking Poles (optional, personal preference)

Getting There

While you can start at either the North or South trail, Keenan recommends starting with the South Loop trail. Note – while the trails are called a loop, they actually start/end at two different locations. You may want to bring two cars, and leave one at the starting point and the other at the end point. Or you can opt the 1-2 miles down the road between the two trailheads.

Your adventure begins at the Cathedral Rock Trailhead/Parking Lot,  approximately 43 miles from the Center Strip. The trail for South Loop starts out with about 4 miles of switchbacks until you reach a ridge where you have the option to continue on the loop, or go to Griffith Peak. You’ll want to follow the South Loop trail here, and make sure you do stay on the trail as it can be easy to get lost.

A wooden trail sign at Mount Charleston

The "Hidden" Gem

As you near the top of the peak, you will find remnants from a plane crash in 1955. As the story goes, 14 people were on a plane carrying classified information and documents from Area 51 when the plan veered off course (probably due to high winds) and crashed into the mountain. While the classified information, and bodies, were removed, the wreckage remains as a stark reminder of the harsh conditions of the mountain. This incident led to the creation of Nevada’s only National Memorial, which sits at the base of the mountain.

Loops at Mt Charleston
At the peak of Mount Charleston Trent takes a pic of the book that is in metal box for people to write something. Trent wrote 7-22-22 Made It wit a smiley face.

On Top of the World

Getting to the top of the peak is hard, but once you do it you’ll feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. Alongside the wreckage just below it, the Peak offers the best place to take photos or selfies. There is also a flag pole, a guestbook to sign commemorating your feat, and a box where you can leave stickers & trinkets for future visitors.

When you’re ready to head back home, continue clockwise down the North Loop to Trail Canyon. When you start to see more people, you know you are getting close to the end of the trail. 

Keenan said Besides the beauty surrounding you, the enjoyment of this trail is personal growth as you push yourself through. The best time to hike this trail is between Memorial Day and Halloween, and noted pre planning with weather checks is a must. He once hiked it in July when it was 32 degrees and snowing at the peak.

Trent holding a flag that says "Live a Great Story" in front of the American flag on the Peak of Mount Charleston. It's a blue cloudy sky day.

Trip Snapshot

Location

Mount Charleston – South Loop starting at Cathedral Rock Trailhead

Distance from The Strip

43 miles, approximate

Directions from The Strip

I-15 North

U.S. Route 95 North 

Take Exit 96 towards NV-157/Kyle Canyon Rd. 

Drive approximately 20 miles to your destination

Services

The trail does not have any services, but the mountain does have a resort you can stop at for restrooms, food, etc.

Cell reception

No – very spotty.

Trent Keenan is a Professional Land Surveyor and founder of Diamondback Land Surveying who also enjoys running, hiking and photography.   

 

Let our tourism experts guide you with more Things To Do in Las Vegas Territory.

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