When I touched down in Las Vegas for the first time, I was genuinely surprised to see mountains ringing the city. Now, I suppose I should have known that Sin City was circled by peaks, but it had just never occurred to me. I honestly thought Las Vegas was a sandy place with dunes a la the deserts of North Africa, and I’m supposing the fact that Vegas was home to casinos called The Sahara, The Aladdin, The Dunes, and Desert Inn for decades prior to my arrival may have also helped me to this conclusion.
Well, the tallest of those mountains looking down on Las Vegas is Mt. Charleston. And when I ended up living in Las Vegas a few years later, the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area Mt. Charleston is located in became my favorite place to breathe in some refreshing mountain air, hike, smell some pines, and not hear anything resembling the sound of a slot machine.
Mt. Charleston is truly one of Las Vegas’ best kept secrets (besides of course where the mobsters buried all those bodies back in the day), and a trip there while you are in town will allow you to catch your breath after a – hopefully – long winning streak. So, here’s my mini-guide to Mt. Charleston.
Why Go to Mt. Charleston?
The tallest peak in the Spring Mountains, the area around Mt Charleston is regarded as a ‘sky island’ as it juts up dramatically from the desert floor below. Not only does this lead to a diverse range of flora and fauna you won’t see in the dry desert, the temperature there is also typically 20-30 degrees cooler than it is on The Strip, despite the fact that it’s only a short drive from Las Vegas. You can imagine how good it feels at Mt. Charleston when Las Vegas is boiling in the summer, and in the winter, there’s a very good chance of being able to play in the snow and ski there.
In a nutshell, going to Mt. Charleston just feels like a whole other world from The Strip. Majestic mountains covered by Pines, Aspens, and Ponderosas, awash in hiking trails, wildflowers, wildlife, and waterfalls.
How to Get There
Mt. Charleston is around 35-45 minutes from The Strip, so there’s no need to beat around the bush here; you are going to need a car to see it. Rental car is obviously the best option, as daily deals can be had from the numerous rental car agencies with outlets on The Strip. If you are rolling in dough from the night before at the casinos, you could always take a cab.
What to Do
Hiking is the most popular thing to do at Mt. Charleston, with trails for all skill levels. Mary Jane Falls is perfect for beginners and families, as it’s only an hour long and rewards you at the end with a seasonal waterfall. A slight step up is the 3 mile return journey Cathedral Rock trail (pictured directly above), with steep ascents and stunning views over Kyle Canyon.
Furthermore, scenic driving and picnicking among the chipmunks, deer, wrens, and hummingbirds that call the mountain home are also fun ways to spend the day.
Where to Grab a Drink
The nearby Mt. Charleston Lodge is a warm and welcoming place with a fireplace and a sunny deck, perfect for a refreshing beer or hot chocolate after your drive or hike. If you decide to stay the night because you are having so much fun (a distinct possibility), they also provide two dozen cozy cabins.
This post originally appeared on TravelPulse