It was still a burning 100 degrees in the Vegas valley in early September when we ventured up to Mt. Charleston for some hiking. We had been itching to go camping, but the Vegas heat had prevented that.
It’s widely accepted that up on Mt. Charleston (7-8,000 foot elevation hiking trails and 11,900+ foot summit) the temperatures are routinely 20-30 degrees cooler than in the Vegas valley – we would put that rule to the test today. Also, with our newly slimmed down camping kit, we were ready for some backcountry camping.
Mt. Charleston allows you to camp unimproved in the backcountry (away from campsites) as long as you aren’t immediately near a water source or trailhead. Today we were going to hike Mary Jane Falls and camp in the backcountry… with two kids, age 6 and 3! We had just slimmed down our camping gear to a near-ultralight weight kit — this meant I could fit all of our gear into my backpack, without overloading it or overweighing it.
As we arrived at the parking lot for Mary Jane Falls, we happily noticed the crisp mountain air with a light breeze – the temperature was a welcome 82 degrees – almost 30 degrees cooler than the valley!
We started hiking with our full pack of camping gear. I knew we would set up camp somewhere before the switchbacks ascend on this trail, I just didn’t know exactly where. So, as we hiked, I kept scanning the wooded area off to our left – I was looking for a flat area with a clearing. About a half-mile in, I found a perfect clearing with flat ground made of soil. We unloaded our camping gear here and quickly set up camp. Now, with my pack much lighter having downloaded the camping gear, we were ready to start the upward hike to Mary Jane Falls.
The switchbacks were steady, but not too steep that even the kids could keep up. As we climbed higher (the trail eventually reaches above 9,000 feet in elevation) the greater exposure provided some great views across Kyle Canyon, the tall bristlecone pine tree covered cliffs, and jagged limestone mountain peaks.
There are portions of the trail where the path narrows to near-single track, and there are areas where there is loose sand and rocks underfoot – so be careful and walk cautiously. As the trail curved around the mountain contour we began to make out the tall dark-colored cliff face of Mary Jane Falls.
The falls are tucked away in a corner crack of the cliff face, with the ice-cold smow melt water pooling below. I caught the kids dousing themselves under the waterfall. We continued on a path past the falls which led us to a large cave and a wide panoramic view of the valley below. Eventually, after enjoying the views, we hiked back down to our campsite. A deer followed behind us on the descent. All of thus hiking built up quite an appetite and we ravenously enjoyed a camp stove dinner of spam and rice. The evening offered temperate 50 degrees of cool mountain air to sleep in. You can camp during the summer heat… on Mt. Charleston.
View Mary Jane Falls, Mt. Charleston in a larger map