Mt Charleston Peak Hike – South Loop Trail
|In This Guide|
|Distance||17.5 miles (28.2 km)|
|Hike Time||8-9 Hours (Total)|
|Difficulty (?)||Very Hard|
|Total Ascent (?)||4,890 feet (1490m)|
|Highest Elevation||11,916 feet (3632m)|
|Fees & Permits||Free|
|Park Website (?)||Spring Mountains National Recreation Area|
|Stay In Touch||Newsletter - Instagram - YouTube - Facebook|
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
- You want to hike Mt Charleston when it’s snow-free, which is usually May to October. The best months are June and September.
- In the winter the summit can have extreme conditions with snow and ice turning the normally easy trail into an advanced mountaineering experience. Hikers have died of exposure here, even on the lower slopes; you need to take the conditions seriously.
- If it’s a shoulder month and you need to figure out the snow situation, you can see Mt Charleston from most of the Northeast parts of Las Vegas, some areas in Southwest Vegas around South Rainbow Blvd and 215, and also from the top of the short Lone Mountain Trail hike.
- There is also a snow report website here, but I can’t verify it’s accurateness.
- July and August is the monsoon season, which can produce violent thunderstorms, especially in the mountains. This hike goes along an unprotected ridge and should not be attempted if thunderstorms are in the forecast.
- It’s generally pretty windy on the second half of the hike. Prepare for a bad hair day.
- The Charleston Peak hike usually takes 8+ hours, so leave at sunrise so you don’t get stuck out after dark. You can also camp on the hike; more on that later.
- Even if the weather is cooperating, make sure you check out the summit forecast. The weather in Mount Charleston is often very different than it is in nearby Las Vegas. In general, the trailhead is 10-20F cooler than Las Vegas, and the summit can be another 10-20F cooler (if not much more in bad conditions).
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
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.
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.
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.
If you want to check if there’s snow on your hike, read this guide.
I try a lot of hiking boots and shoes, and there are some great options out there, but the La Sportiva Spire is the best combination of comfort, protection, low-weight, and durability. They are waterproof, and the high cuff keeps debris out without the need for a gaiter. Time tested over thousands of miles. Use them with a two-layer sock system to end blisters for good.
Reviews & Lowest Prices: Women – Men
On a medium or longer hike I recommend a pack like the Osprey Talon 33 (men) or Osprey Sirrus 36 (women) which is a little bit larger. These packs are on the upper end of the (35L) daypack range, but they only weigh a small fraction more than a pack with less capacity. Having the extra space gives you more flexibility and means you don’t have to jam things in there. I use the space for things like extra layers in the winter, extra water on desert hikes, and even a tent & sleeping bag on overnights.
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Mini fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing. Read my review and see the lowest prices and reviews at REI (or Amazon).
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated January 2020.See All of My Best Gear Picks Here
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 a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.
Camping on Mt Charleston
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:
- There are two flat areas at switchback turns on the climb up Echo Cliff, starting after about 3 miles. They offer nice views of Mummy Mountain and flat areas for a tent.
- The meadow area after you reach Griffith Peak Junction (after around 5 miles). Don’t camp at the junction, as it’s often very windy. Continue on the Meadow proper and find a flat, sheltered areas along the way. Camping up here is one of my favorite things; it’s can get chilly but the views and stars are incredible.
- You can also sleep on the summit in a pit that’s about 10 feet wide by 4 feet deep. It’s nice to get out of the wind but very rocky and not flat.
If you don’t want to camp in the backcountry, you have some options.
- Fletcher Canyon Campground
- Hotels like the Mt Charleston Lodge (I’ve stayed here a few times and it’s a great old classic place with a friendly staff.)
- (Free) backcountry BLM camping along Rt 157, with a good option being the dirt side roads about halfway on the drive.
- Stay in Las Vegas. It’s really close and the drive is easy.
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.
Mt Charleston Peak Hike – South Loop Trail Map Downloads
Download the Hike GPX File
View a Printable PDF Hike Map
South Loop Trail Hike Brief
- The official name for the summit is Charleston Peak, and the name of the town is Mount Charleston (Village). People also call the peak Mt Charleston.
- Charleston Peak, at 11,916 feet, is only the 8th highest in peak Nevada. However, it’s the 8th most prominent peak in the lower-48, which gives it some great views. It is the highest peak in Clark County (Vegas) and in the Spring Mountains.
- Near the summit you can see wreckage from a CIA plane crash that occurred on November 17, 1955. Fourteen men lost their lives when the C-54 military plane carrying them crashed into the summit during a blizzard. The men were traveling to Area 51 where they were working on the U-2 spy plane. I marked the wreckage site in the GPX file with a waypoint if you’d like to take a look. There is a memorial to them and other silent heroes of the Cold War at the Visitor’s Center.
- You don’t have to worry about bears.
- You don’t need a permit.
Mt Charleston Peak Hike South Loop Hike Directions
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