Mt Charleston – Vegas Summer & Winter Retreat
The sun is beating down and the heat is unrelentingly over 110 day after day. That’s Las Vegas in summer and the only escape is the air conditioned halls of hotel-casinos, movie theaters or hibernating in your own living room. But you can jump in the car, head up 95 to the Mt. Charleston turnoff on Rte 157, speed through the high desert, and climb steadily and swiftly to the mountain retreat of Mt. Charleston only 45 minutes from the Strip.
The area is technically part of the Humboldt-Toiyaba National Forest, Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (SMNRA). Before you get too excited over the romantic descriptions of Las Vegas’s own Alpine Village, be prepared that it is not Switzerland by any stretch of the imagination. The forest is a little dried out, although the trees are tall and fairly dense. At 8,000 ft, the temperature is easily 20-30 degrees cooler than the Valley which feels very nice in August, thank you very much.
About half way to the top on Kyle Canyon Road, you will pass the Hotel on Mt. Charleston, a newly remodeled Aspen style hotel, event and conference center with a water element in front and views of the high desert from the bar. It is cooler here than the Valley, but still very distinctly desert terrain. A picturesque church is just across the road, complete with tall white steeple. Soon after you pass the Hotel, you are at the turn to drive over to the winter sports area where you can actually ski in the colder months after Christmas.
There are a couple of camping grounds on your way to the summit, lying just off the road in the very narrow valley that supports all the resident population of the vaguely defined area known as “Mt. Charleston.” As always in the land of dry vegetation, there is signage warning of the level of fire hazard. The fire station located next to the Old Village affords some protection.
Several settlements crawl up the hills and huddle along Kyle Canyon Road snaking its way up the incline. Some are very high-priced ($1 Million +) with fantasy architecture of mountainous style while others are packed into tiny communities like Old Village, complete with its own Lilliputian school and long communal row of mailboxes. Don’t be looking for bargains here. Entry level seems to be about $400K and that is for a fixer-upper on a postage stamp lot. There is a lot of real estate for sale though, so who knows what kind of bargain you could pick up in these distressed times.
At the top of the road is Mt Charleston Lodge with American fare and a decent bar that specializes in exotic coffee drinks. Those are for the winter months when you can actually experience snow, downright cold temperatures and appreciate a crackling fire in the orange, cone-shaped fireplace centered in the dining room. An outside deck welcomes you on warmer days with views stretching down the steep, green gorge to the brown Las Vegas Valley far in the distance. Small tables laden with handicrafts invite your attention as you enter into the A-frame lodge.
There is usually plenty of parking in front, although on any given weekend, the slots can be filled with Harley’s. This is not a biker bar, though. We’re talking about that generation of Hog lovers that first developed their affinity back in the 60’s.
The Lodge rents cabins which nestle nearby on the edge of a ravine. With log siding, green metal roofs and country décor, they are a great place to spend a few days with family and friends, hiking on the adjacent trails, relaxing in the oversized spa-tubs, lazing around the fireplace (gas) or hanging out at the Lodge Bar. Our family celebrated a downright nippy Thanksgiving with a home-styled meal in the restaurant and long relaxing evening watching silly old videos and sipping hot rum.
Activities in the area include hiking, horseback riding, skiing, camping, "spa"ing, resting, eating, drinking etc. Check out hikinglasvegas.com for more on area trails.
For list of camping sites, go to totalescape.com
For more info on SMNRA and recreational possibilities, go to fs.fed.us.