Camping near Las Vegas presents a dilemma in summer. In the desert, the heat makes summer the worst time of year to camp. Campgrounds in places like Red Rock and Lake Mead are way too hot to pitch a tent until fall. Even if you’re in an RV, the triple-digit heat isn’t any fun. What’s a dedicated camper to do? Head to the mountains, and look for a cooler climate.
The Spring Mountain National Recreation Area is simply called Mt. Charleston by the Las Vegas locals — Charleston is the mountain peak that dominates the area. The peak of Mt. Charleston is just under 12,000 feet (3,657 meters), and the area is generally 20 degrees cooler than the Las Vegas Valley. Seven campgrounds are located here: Dolomite, Fletcher View, Hilltop, Kyle Canyon, Mahogany Grove, McWilliams, and Old Mill.
Campgrounds at Mt. Charleston fill up quickly on the weekends. If you’d like to spend a few days enjoying mountain blue birds, hummingbirds, and pine-scented air, it’s much easier to find a spot during the week. Otherwise, head out very early on Friday.
Other things to remember if you’re camping at Mt. Charleston:
• Make sure your vehicle is fueled and that you have all your supplies before heading up the mountain. There’s no store or gas station at Mt. Charleston.
• Water is available in campgrounds during summer, but is not available after Labor Day in September.
• Watch out for fire restrictions. The hot, dry climate often means no campfires are allowed.
• Consider making reservations. This is the closest place to Las Vegas to get out of the heat, so campgrounds fill up quickly.If you’re camping at Mt. Charleston, you may want to get a few hikes in. Be prepared for steep gains in altitude on most trails. A trip to the peak of Mt. Charleston can be done in a day if you’re exceptionally fit and acclimated to the altitude, but many hikers elect to backpack in and spend the night rather than attempting it in one day. Round-trip to the summit is either 17 or 21 miles, depending on which trail you take.
For an easier hike, take the Fletcher Canyon Trail, which is at the bottom of Kyle Canyon — there’s virtually no altitude gain and it’s about four miles round-trip.
A hike to the top of Cathedral Rock is more of a workout, and you’ll get a great view of Kyle Canyon. While the trail can be steep in spots, it’s only three miles round-trip.If you get tired of camping, two lodges in Kyle Canyon offer food, rooms, and slot machines. After all, you might be camping, but you are still (almost) in Vegas, baby!