Mt Charleston Peak Hike South Trail

Mt Charleston Peak Hike – South Loop Trail

In This Guide
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions & Hike Video
  • Mt Charleston Peak Trail Maps
  • Prepping For the Hike
  • How to Get to the Mt Charleston Peak Hike
Distance17.5 miles (28.2 km)
Hike Time8-9 Hours (Total)
DifficultyVery Hard
Total Ascent (?)4,890 feet (1490m)
Highest Elevation11,916 feet (3632m)
Fees & PermitsFree
Dog FriendlyLeashed
Park ContactSpring Mountains National Recreation Area
Park Phone702-872-5486

The Mt Charleston Peak hike takes you to the highest point around Las Vegas, at 11,916 feet. This guide to Charleston Peak follows the South Loop Trail, a tough 8.5-mile climb with half the hike done above 10,000 feet in an alpine wonderland. It’s got scenery that rivals any National Park, and it’s all under an hour from the Las Vegas Strip. This underrated hike needs to be on your bucket list; it’s one of my favorites.

When to Hike Mt Charleston Peak

Mount Charleston From Kyle Canyon
Mt Charleston is covered in snow for much of the year. Photo thanks to Stan Shebs.

If the weather is not cooperating or deteriorates, hike to the summit on another day. It’s not worth risking your life.

How to Get to the Mt Charleston Peak Hike

Mt Charleston Wild Horses
Keep your eyes open for wild horses on the drive to the trailhead. I see them fairly often. Photo thanks BLM.

The Charleston Peak is trailhead is only 45 minutes from downtown Las Vegas in the scenic resort town of Mount Charleston, NV.

After turning off the main freeway you’ll take Rt 157 for about 20 miles, climbing about 5000 feet up Kyle Canyon. This stretch of road goes through the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (part of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest) and takes you from the Mojave Desert to the alpine environment of the Mount Charleston Wilderness. The area is home to 50 sensitive and endangered plants and animals, some of which are only found in this part of the world (see the Fletcher Canyon hike).

You’ll also pass the Spring Mountains Visitor Center on the way to the trailhead, which is worth a stop if you have the time.

There are no gas stations in Mount Charleston or on Rt 157.

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You’ll get some nice views of Charleston Peak in the distance as you drive up Rt 157.

Parking is free at the first lots in the Cathedral Rock Picnic Area. There is a fee area further on in the parking lot. Do not park in the fee area, the gates get locked when the park closes. Parking fills up quickly in summer and on weekends.

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Here’s the official trailhead. Park in the (free) closest lots.
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There are bathrooms across from the official trailhead, as well as some great views of Mummy Mountain.

Gear for the Hike

This is a serious hike and I recommend being prepared. I take plenty of extra layers for the summit, 3-6L of water, food, and survival gear to spend the night. Trekking poles are also helpful on the hike. Don’t follow the advice of some of the Yelp reviewers who recommend “a windbreaker and bottle of water.” You need real hiking gear here.

Here’s the gear that I personally use, have tested, and recommend for this hike*.

Osprey Talon

Osprey Talon 33

My best lightweight pack for hikes between 3-10+ hours. I use mine with the 3L water bladder from Osprey.

Women’s Reviews

Men’s Reviews

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

Garmin InReach Mini

You can text, SOS, and get weather in the backcountry where your cell phone doesn’t work. Literally a life-saver.

Lowest Prices

My In-Depth Review

La Sportiva Spire

La Sportiva Spire GTX

Modern materials mean you get the protection of a traditional hiking boot (waterproof, etc.) with feel of a sneaker.

Women’s Reviews

Men’s Reviews

Black Diamond Trekking Poles

Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles

If you’re not using poles yet, you should be. This model takes a beating, is light, and is super comfortable.

See The Reviews

Socks Sock Liners

2-Layer Sock System

I use a light inner toe sock and then a top-quality outer sock to prevent blisters.

Injinji Sock Liners

Darn Tough Socks

Probar

Nutritionally Dense Superfoods

Probars are great: no preservatives, vegan, low-GI, compact, and tasty. Put good fuel in your body.

See the Probar Flavors

Make sure you have all the right gear before hitting the trail!HikingGuy Best Gear List

* No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an REI link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

Camping on Mt Charleston

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There are a lot of options if you want to make this a backpacking trip or stay near the trailhead. This is my very sweet view from a room at the Mt Charleston Lodge, a great base to explore the trails in the Mount Charleston area.

You can easily turn this South Loop Trail hike into an overnight backpacking trip. The land is run by the Forest Service, so you can technically camp anywhere you want as long as it’s 200 feet away from springs and trails. If you’d like to camp on the hike, my picks are:

If you don’t want to camp in the backcountry, you have some options.

Mt Charleston Peak Hike South Loop Trail Maps

This route follows the South Loop Trail to Charleston Peak, and you return the way you came. You can also hike on the North Loop Trail to the summit, or combine for a full loop hike. If you do the South/North Loop combo, there is about a mile of road that you’ll need to hike on to return to your car at the end.

If this is your first time doing the hike, I recommend doing the out-and-back route on the South Loop Trail (as described here) and leave the full loop for subsequent hikes.

Click To View Map

Mt Charleston Peak Hike – South Loop Trail Map Downloads

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Here’s what I use to navigate my hikes. I recommend a combination of paper and electronic options with backups.

Gaiagps

Gaia GPS

Gaia GPS is a planning and navigation tool that you can use on your phone, tablet, and the web. I use it on my phone when I need to interact with the map and know where my position is on it. I use it at home on the computer to plan routes. You can overlay maps such as public lands to find out free places to camp. It’s a powerful tool.

HikingGuy Discount on Gaia GPS

Fenix Nav

Garmin Fenix Watch

This thing does everything: maps, GPX tracks, compass, barometer, altitude, heart rate, blood oxygen, fitness tracking, sleep tracking, and the list goes on. I keep a GPX route on the watch so I can quickly glance down and make sure I’m in the right place.

Fenix Prices & Reviews

My In-Depth Review

Topo Map

Topo Maps & Guide Books

Don’t be caught out if your batteries die. Take a topo map with you on the trail. Some people also print my guides out for use on the hike.

I also highly recommend taking a map and compass navigation course. It’s a few hours, it’s fun, and it could save your life.

Map and Compass Navigation Basics Classes

Don’t just rely on a cell phone, especially if you are hiking in the backcountry.

Mt Charleston Peak Hike South Loop Trail Elevation
The nice (and painful) thing about the South Loop Trail is that you do a lot of the climbing in the beginning of the hike, climbing over 3000 feet in about 4 miles, leaving a more gradual hike (at altitude) for the second half.
Mt Charleston Peak Hike South Loop Trail 3d Map
This view really shows you how the climbing is distributed on the hike. You do the bulk of the climb in the beginning, and then you have a more gradual time when you’re up above 10,700 feet. The last section to the summit is tough, with gradients up to 20%.

South Loop Trail Hike Brief

Mt Charleston Peak Hike South Loop Hike Directions

Video Directions

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Turn By Turn Directions

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There are a few unofficial cutoff trails but the main start is by this stone wall in the parking lot, across from the bathrooms.
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Here is the official start of the trail from the parking lot. The trail doesn’t correspond to all OSM map trails, so just a heads up if you’re using your own map.
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Hike up the well-worn trail for a minute or two until you get to the next trail junction.
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Bear left and keep hiking. The trail to your right will take you to Cathedral Rock.
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Here’s a closeup of the trail sign at that junction. Your next turn is at Griffith Peak Junction in 4 miles.
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Shortly after that junction, you’ll see the fee area parking and picnic tables down to your left. Keep hiking straight.
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After 5 minutes of relative flat, you start the climbing.
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The scenery is incredible. In front of you (and to the left) is a sheer limestone cliff. To the right is Echo Cliff, which you’ll be ascending to the ridge. The burned trees that you’ll see along the route are from the Carpenter 1 fire in 2013.
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Eventually the steep, straight trail gives way to wide switchbacks that offer nice views back toward Mummy Mountain and Cathedral Rock. There are some sporadic orange blazes on the trail.
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There are some stair sections here as you keep hiking up, with Echo Cliffs in front of you.
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The trail makes it’s way up into the avalanche chute ahead, crossing several drainage routes as it does.
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When you reach the base of Echo Cliff you’ll start the last series of switchbacks before you get to the ridge.
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About half-way up the switchbacks you’ll reach Echo Overlook. From here you have about 2 miles and 1,500 feet to the ridge at Griffith Peak Junction. There is a flat area here where you can put a tent down. You’ll get incredible views of Mummy Mountain, Kyle Canyon, and Cathedral Rock.
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Keep moving up the switchbacks, which have sporadic blazes.
Deer Watching South Loop Trail
If you feel like someone is watching you, it might be true. Keep your eyes open for mule deer, which I see fairly frequently here.
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As you get higher you’ll start getting views of Charleston Peak in the distance. It seems so far away at this point. Just remember that the second half isn’t as tough as the first.
Mt Charleston Peak Hike Directions 20
Another blaze signaling a switchback. Pay attention to the trail. It’s easy to miss a switchback if you’re working hard.
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The trees thin out and the trail heads through a meadow. You might be able to spot glimpses of Griffith Peak in the distance. And again, more switchbacks, so pay attention.
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There are some last steep sections through the meadow as you approach the ridge.
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MADE IT! Congratulations, you made it to Griffith Peak Junction. It’s a nice place to catch your breath if the wind isn’t insane. You’re at 10,700 feet now. At this junction you will hike to the right to continue on the South Loop Trail.
Mt Charleston Peak Hike Directions 24
Here’s a closeup of the sign at this junction. If you want to bag Griffith Peak, it’s about 0.5 miles. If you continue on that trail it will lead to the Harris Canyon trailhead in 5 miles. Otherwise save your strength and continue on the South Loop Trail towards Charleston Peak.
Mt Charleston Peak Hike Directions 25
There’s an immediate little climb and then….
Mt Charleston Peak Hike Directions 27
… a nice downhill as the South Loop Trail goes through a section called the Meadows.
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The views to the west open up nicely in the Meadows. You’ll see down into Pahrump, NV, Death Valley, and on a clear day, onward to the Sierras.
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The Meadows section of the South Loop Trail offers gentle up and down, with lots of great places to camp (but no water sources).
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The South Loop Trail goes through some old bristlecone pine forest and gradually climbs. The burn damage that you see along the way is from the Carpenter 1 fire in 2013.
Mt Charleston Peak Hike Directions 30
After the forest the trail starts to hug the ridge with great views, including Mummy Mountain as seen here. There are flat areas here where you could camp, wind permitting.
Mt Charleston Peak Hike Directions 31
From this section of the trail you can see down into Kyle Canyon, Rt 157, and the area where you started the hike.
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The trail drops down to the west a bit as it goes through some Bristlecone pines.You’ll start to see a peak in the distance which is easy to mistake for Mt Charleston (but isn’t).
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You climb up to what you might think is the summit, but is actually just a ridge on the trail. Climb up the rocky area to the saddle and continue NW towards the actual peak.
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Once over that rocky point you’ll have consistent views of the real Charleston Peak summit in the distance. Almost there.
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At the trail fork, hike to the left to continue on the South Loop Trail. If you’re in desperate need of water, I’ve heard there is a reliable source at Peak Springs, about 0.5 miles and 900 feet down just after this section. It’s reliably marked on topo maps. Do yourself a favor and just carry the water you need.
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The trail regains the crest at the site of the C-54 plane crash wreckage. The actual wreckage is off the trail. I’ve marked the waypoint in the GPX file.
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The trail winds it’s way around the western slope, above a steep bowl dropping down to the desert side. This is the last steep bit before the summit. It will be painful.
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And here you are, the summit! The weather station towers are the first thing you’ll spot.
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As you might have figured out already, the views are spectacular. You’re on the highest point in Southern Nevada, the prominence is outstanding, and so are the views. You can supposedly see for 300 miles from the summit. Keep your eyes peeled for Las Vegas to the Southwest and the Sierras to the West/NW.
Mt Charleston Peak Hike Directions 40
There’s a trail register at the summit as well.
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If USGS markers are your thing, there is an old and new one here.
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More shots of the great views. This is Mummy Mountain once again.
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Here’s the wind shelter on the summit. I’d say you could probably fit about 8-10 people (sitting) in there. It’s a nice place to rest if you want a respite from the wind.
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Once you’ve had your fill of the summit, head back down the way you came. The scenery is as spectacular going down as it is going up.
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See you out on the trails!

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.