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Fall 2013

From Vegas Lights to Mountain Heights

An image of red rock

Las Vegas is known for its extravagant casinos and bustling nightlife, but few people are familiar with the gorgeous landscapes situated just 45 minutes from the center of the Strip. Perfect for hiking, these locations offer a wide variety of sights and experiences for everyone—from the amateur climber to the experienced trekker.

Mt. Charleston

Northwest of Las Vegas lies Mt. Charleston, a towering conglomeration of rock and weathered sand. This mountain is perfect for those looking for a diverse hiking adventure. Hikers wanting a lengthy challenge can try the North Loop Trail, which weaves its way over and around the steep mountainside for more than 20 miles. Those looking for a lighter hike can simply tackle part of this trail. Consider starting at the north end; about three miles in is the Raintree, a 3000-year-old bristlecone pine. Mt. Charleston can get rather cold and snowy by late fall, so it is better to hike this area before mid-October.

Near Mt. Charleston are two other popular trails. Cathedral Rock is a fairly strenuous one-and-a-half-mile hike that is perfect for those looking for a relatively quick way to get a gorgeous view of the canyons below. Also nearby is Mary Jane Falls. The hike to this location is also fairly arduous, but it leads to gorgeous limestone cliffs with trickling spring water and shallow caves. These two hikes are fairly steep, but the views at the end are well worth the effort.

Red Rock Canyon

The sun casts a striking shadow against a cliffside in Red Rock Canyon.

To the west of Las Vegas lies Red Rock Canyon, an expansive national park filled with dozens of hiking opportunities. Fall is the perfect time to hike this canyon—after summer’s exhausting heat and before winter’s icy chill.

The Icebox Canyon Trail gives hikers a break from the beating sun. It traverses a narrow canyon amidst trickling water and jutting rock. The sun rarely reaches into this two-and-a-half-mile slot canyon, so it is a perfect escape from the heat.

Another popular desert trek is the Calico Tanks Trail. This relatively mild two-mile hike takes visitors from sagebrush-ridden ground to quarry stone and sandstone. It culminates in serene pools of water hidden by the steep, brush-red cliff side.

The best view in Red Rock is from the top of Turtlehead Peak. This six-mile climb is fairly difficult, but it is still accessible to amateur hikers. The trail concludes at the peak, the highest elevation in the park, with a stunning panorama of the canyons below and Las Vegas in the distance.

You may just find yourself wondering why the mountains near Las Vegas aren’t as renowned as the city itself.

—Cory Christensen