Charleston Peak South Trail

HARD 76 reviews
#3 of 13 trails in

Charleston Peak South Trail is a 16.5 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Las Vegas, Nevada that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from May until October. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

DISTANCE
16.5 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
4,993 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Out & Back

dogs on leash

backpacking

birding

camping

hiking

horseback riding

nature trips

trail running

walking

forest

views

wild flowers

wildlife

rocky

snow

no shade

The South Loop Trail starts off at an easy pace as it heads SW. The grade increases rapidly as the trail turns easterly and passes to the east of Echo Cliffs. As the trail turns back SW, it passes through the two sets of cliffs. To the north is Echo Cliffs; to the south is an unnamed cliff range. Also to the south is Springs Fork, one of many springs in Mt. Charleston. It's a short quarter-mile trek to the springs. The trail follows a series of switchbacks as it climbs the backside of Echo Cliffs. There's a great overlook at the top of Echo Cliffs (two miles from the trailhead); Kyle Canyon, Mummy Mountain, and Cathedral Rock can be viewed from this overlook. The trail leaves the overlook and heads west with a gradual incline. It crosses drainage and starts a series of switchbacks that leads to the South Rim Plateau. Many of the switchbacks on the north end offer grand views of Kyle Canyon, Cathedral Rock, and Mummy Mountain. The landscape changes into a meadow before reaching the plateau. The last 100 yards are steep, but the view of Griffith Peak helps ease the pain. Upon reaching the plateau, a sign indicates the distances to Charleston Peak, Harris Saddle, and back to Kyle Canyon (the trailhead). The elevation is 10,700 feet; the distance to this point is four miles. The trail heads west and soon enters a delightful meadow. This part of the trail is referred to as The Meadows and is a favorite spot for campers. The grade is slight with a few downhill sections. Charleston Peak comes into view several times during the ramble through the meadow. The Meadows gives way to a grove of timber as the trail heads west and the grade increases. The trail hugs the ridgeline for more than half a mile, offering remarkable views of Kyle Canyon, Mt. Charleston Lodge, and State Route 157. Directly across the canyon is Mummy Mountain, and to the (west) left is North Ridge Rim. The trail turns away from the ridgeline and heads SW before it climbs to another ridge. Off to the left is an unnamed peak that many hikers mistake for Mt. Charleston. The trail rises to a saddle and Mt. Charleston ridgeline comes into view. The trail heads NW toward the summit and away from the false peak. About 150 yards past the saddle a faint path to the south (left) travels down to Peak Springs. There's a sign marking the turnoff, but it's easily missed. The half-mile trek down to Peak Springs is very steep and you lose 900 feet in elevation. The hike back up to the trail is a killer, but if you need water Peak Springs is a reliable source. Due to the wind and elevation, the landscape becomes harsh. Bristlecone pines are reduced to twisted dwarfs. You're above 11,000 feet at this point, but luckily the incline is moderate. Charleston Peak looks more like a ridge than a summit from this angle. Just off the trail to the right are the remains of a 1955 plane crash. The last half-mile to the peak is a steep 20% grade. Just before the peak the trail forks. Both trails go to the peak; however, the main trail is less steep. The wind can be harsh above the treeline. Bring a windbreaker. It's important to drink plenty of water before this final ascent. One cause of altitude sickness is a lack of water! Congratulations, you're standing, or lying down questioning your sanity, at the highest point in southern Nevada. Take a moment to experience the silence, breathe the clean air, and be thankful you're in good enough shape to stand at the peak. The summit offers a fantastic 360-degree view of southern Nevada, eastern California, and southern Utah. An Army box contains a sign-in book. A dug out fort that holds 10 people is a favorite resting point before starting back down. You can return the way you came up or make a loop by hiking down the North Loop Trail to Trail Canyon.

8 days ago

Kicked my butt. We only went as far as the first summit, which was about 5 miles (total of 10). Hard hike. No joke. I loved it, I’m glad I went. I’m glad I pushed myself.

hiking
23 days ago

AllTrails shows a quite similar elevation/distance for this trail (Mt Charleston South Loop) and the Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon. Do not be fooled. This hike is challenging, but if you can hike the Bright Angel Trail in one day, then you'll have no problems here.

The first thing people should be aware of is the lack of parking. I even got dinged with an $80 parking ticket all because I happened to get there slightly later than a few other hikers. It was my first time there and these people know the parking is inadequate. Handing out $80 parking tickets to people who drove a long way and have no idea where additional parking may be is completely and totally immoral especially considering they do nothing to make parking more accessible.

In fact, the parking in such a high volume area is such a pain in the ass that I do not recommend this hike at all. If you can park, it will be great, if not, it will be awful.

The hike itself does not play games and will thrust you directly into steep elevation climbing. This is a good thing as it will demonstrate what to expect for the next 2-3 hours. Before long, you will hit the Mt Charleston Wilderness which is a beautiful forested area with spectacular views. The steep grades will continue until you get to the top of this forested area where you will find that the elevation levels out as the path splits between the easy peak (Fletcher Peak??) and the harder, longer Mt Charleston loop.

The meadows of dead trees will continue a few miles and provide a bit of a break. Before long the elevation picks back up and you will need a little reserve in the tank to make it up the last mile. There will probably be a crowd of people at the peaks, and someone appropriately added a Vegas Golden Knights flag to the summit.

All in all, this is a pretty awesome mountain for Vegas locals to have around for quick access to natural splendors. It is unforgiving and not recommended for out-of-towners because you may struggle to find parking. If you drove a long way to get here, then you are better off driving a long way to climb a different mountain that is not so crowded.

hiking
30 days ago

I've done most Mountains around the Vegas valley, but none compare to what this brings to you. It's a long, windy(mostly starts at the junction between Griffith peak and Mt. Charleston), ride up there. The continual incline,makes sure you get your butt kicked thru out the entire summit. The weight we had on our backs with snacks and water didn't help either. Overall this is my biggest accomplishment as far as hiking, and I am very proud i was able to do it in one day, without camping up there.

hiking
1 month ago

My girlfriend and I started at 8 am on 6/12/18 and reached the summit at 12:37 pm (4 hrs and 37 min.) We spent 10 minutes on top (had enough energy for snowball fight) before heading back down. Took 3:50 to make it back to the parking lot. 8 hour and 26 minute journey. Tough day, but great feeling of accomplishment.

backpacking
1 month ago

The scenery was gorgeous, and the continual incline is unforgiving with packs, lol. We weren’t able to make it to the Charleston summit this time; we camped at the trail junction between the peak and the trail to Griffith. Definitely would like to return one day without so much gear so that we can finish the hike. :-) very different hike that I’ve been on since moving back to Las Vegas

hiking
1 month ago

I'm going to give a New Englander's perspective for anyone traveling from that area.
The hike itself is spectacular. Shortly after you start, you find yourself weaving through a couple of massive cliffs. I tried to get good pictures but they were just too big. If you aren't acclimated, you'll probably be breathing heavy early on as you work towards the cliffs. That's when the switchbacks start...
For those used to White Mountain hiking, you'll be confused why you aren't suffering like you normally do, for most of the hike, the difficulty with altitude is more than offset by the switchbacks.
Once you reach the ridge, the views are amazing, much different from the whites because you can see down to the desert floor to the east and west. I thought it was surreal how much empty space there is. For about two miles the ridge is a nice leisurely stroll even though you are at about 10,700'. Then you start ascending to 11,300' as you wind around a prominent hump and get disappointed that it is not in fact Charleston Peak. At this point for me, the slight grade didn't help. I was in full struggle mode for every step.
Be prepared to suffer for another 1.5 hrs. first you descend to about 11,100' and start weaving your way back up. the trail splits left and right, I stayed left and would probably recommend it since I never saw the other side rejoin. This is where the trail became much more exposed than I anticipated. If you are scared of heights you will struggle a little (I'm very afraid). The trail is carved into the side of some kind of rock slide that is pretty steep in a few places. I found that when looking ahead it looks worse than it is when you actually travel through it. But in any case, you see the peak for a while and wind around. At this point I was moving in slow motion. Altitude definitely matters above 11,000'. The way down is easy once you get through the exposed part. Took me 5.5h up with lots of stops for pictures and 4 to go down with one stop to backtrack and find my cell phone. This is comparable to how I go vs AMC book time, so for those familiar with that, you can still use as a benchmark.

hiking
2 months ago

I hiked this trail on 4/14/2018 and trail conditions then were not favorable. The first 2.5 miles were snow free, after that microspikes/crampons were highly recommended and trekking poles. My buddy and i are pretty experienced hikers who have climbed multiple high altitude peaks even with snow, but even then, there were portions of the trail that were just completely covered with thigh high deep snow. We made it pass the saddle and continued for another mile with Charleston in plain sight, but unfortunately due to time we had to turn back. Had it not been for time we surely would have summited, going again this weekend. Awesome trail though, just a bit long.

hiking
2 months ago

May 7, 2018. Hike got snow-covered about 3 miles from trail head. Nice hard and beautiful hike. Recommend wait 30 days unless using traxx and poles. Will be back.

hiking
2 months ago

Attempted this trail yesterday (04/25/18) with a goal of making it to Griffith Peak (total = 4.0mi one-way), and unfortunately only made it to 10,000' before I had to turn around (vertical 1000' / 0.7mi short of Griffith Peak). While the first ~3mi on the trail were mostly clear of snow (with some patches of 6-12"-deep snow on thinner parts of the trail over hills, which should be considered very carefully), the last mile of the trail's switchbacks are pretty heavily loaded in deep snow. At one point, the tracks I was following made by previous hikers became too unclear, and I decided to play it safe and turn around. It is worth noting that I passed a few other hikers coming down who had made it to Griffith, but each of them noted some trail-finding would be necessary as the upper portion of the trail was unclear to them, too.

Aside from the snow, this trail was beautiful -- steep and challenging, especially when considering the altitude (you'll be going above 10,000' if you do the whole thing, and starting at 8000' in the parking area), but really wide-open scenery with tons of great views and lookouts that get better and better the further you ascend. Highly recommend. Bring poles and consider microspikes, if available for the snowy patches, and definitely take your time and be safe with the snow. As always, avoid altitude sickness by staying well hydrated (water with electrolytes!) and fed.

3 months ago

I couldn’t do this hike unfortunately- upon arrival the cathedral rock picnic area is closed for the season & that’s where you’re supposed to start. Just a heads up!

camping
4 months ago

I haven't done this hike, but can you camp on the trail?

backpacking
4 months ago

This was a very tough hike. Very long distances so make sure you are in shape if you want to do this hike. Also , wear the right clothes and make sure to pack alot of food and water! The scene is gorgeous and makes it worth it !

hiking
8 months ago

Lots of nice views along the way (plenty that are about as good as the views from the summit IMO). Definitely a must do if you are into suffering... first time I've hiked more than 4-5 miles in a day in probably 7-8 years... 9hr 30min from car to car including the detour to Griffith Peak and breaks - linked to the north loop trail on the way down and connected via the road at the base. Worth doing at least once. I'll have to forget about how my knees feel today before I do something like this again...

hiking
8 months ago

Beautiful hike. Really enjoyed it. Fairly difficult. Started at 10 am and finished about 5pm (7 hours). Last mile or so is pretty rough. Really had to dig in to get up there but totally worth it. Quick trip to the parking lot. Not too cold. Long sleeve shirt will suffice if you are not a wimp. Bring lots (3-4 lifters) of water, hopefully in a camelback. Also bring some snacks and maybe a gatorade for cramps if you get any. All in all beautiful hike. Much harder than Griffith peak.

hiking
9 months ago

Bring lots of water, a full meal, good shoes, good socks and an extra pair, and expect it to get very cold and windy.
If you can make it to the summit then this is something you must experience. The first few miles are colorful plants and pine trees. The Meadows offer a beautiful long distance view followed by miles of trees that were burned a few years ago. The final mile before the summit is difficult but worth it.
The way back down is much easier.

hiking
9 months ago

Only did a little of this trail - too late in the day to go further. Loved the part I did and hope to be back to hike more of it. Had trekking poles and was glad I did. It's steep.

backpacking
11 months ago

Challenging yet rewarding hike! The first 4.5 miles is an aggressive uphill climb to the ridge, but after that the trail smooths out along the ridge and meadow. Be sure to save some energy for the last climb up to the peak! I made this an overnight trek and camped out on top of the meadow. Plenty of space to set up camp and incredible sunset and stargazing!

hiking
11 months ago

If you're planning on hiking this out and back in one day - start early. Bring plenty of water, energy snacks and invest in a good pair of hiking boots and socks as you'll be asking your feet to do a lot - almost 17 miles. From upper parking lot trail head to the summit and back it took me 9.5 hrs including breaks and 1/2 hr lunch at the summit. Definitely, a challenging hike in terms of stamina and fitness, but well worth the effort.

hiking
11 months ago

incredible journey takes you through several different ecosystems including a burn zone, ancient bristlecones, alpine meadows, aspen groves and juniper forests. Worth the effort.

hiking
Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Great hike worthy of it's rating. It was rather busy but not bad considering it was the 4th of July. Great crowd though. The last mile or so was very difficult for me. I probably would have given up had it not been for the encouragement from all the other hikers. Well worth it. Very glad I didn't give up. Will definitely do this one again.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Hiked this back at the start of June. The snow was still patched in some spots but the trail was mostly clear. Beautiful views throughout the hike with plenty of places to stop along the way. Despite the extremely windy summit, there's a pleasant dugout at the top that shelters you well. Just watch out for little red spiders! Hiked On: 11 JUN

hiking
Saturday, May 27, 2017

Great hike but too much snow to pass in regular hiking shoes at about the 2.5 mile mark. Need to give it another month or so before it will be passable to the summit of Griffith and Charleston. Hiked on 05/27/17.

hiking
Sunday, March 12, 2017

Hiked this back in September '16 the day it reopened from the Carpenter 1 fire. Spectacular views but you have to work for it. There is also no water source so be prepared! The first few miles are a little tough up to the junction of Griffith Peak and South Loop with lots of switchbacks but many nice places to stop and relax and take in some sites. The meadows and previously burned forest set a wonderful backdrop to this long hike. You'll also get to pass the 1955 plane crash site the last mile or so to the peak, don't miss it, it's worth the stop. Weather was wonderful but it can be very windy at the peak. Don't forget to stop at the lodge and have a bite or celebratory drink after. They also have small cabins to rent with big tubs for that soak after all those miles.

hiking
Friday, January 27, 2017

amazing hike, saw several mule deer, took most of the day up and back, bring lots of water and snacks, great place to escape the vegas heat in summer

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Hiking

cross country skiing
Saturday, January 30, 2016

My crazy huskey and I love the trails here

hiking
Sunday, June 14, 2015

Beautiful place to hike, it's definitely a nice contrast to the bustling city of Nevada. I recommend Mary JANE Falls, nice water fall and a moderate hike.

hiking
Friday, June 20, 2014

South Loop trail is closed for at least a year, due to fire.

hiking
Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Good trail but they keep moving the trail head back due to construction. This is a good trail but getting longer every time I hike it. The new construction looks like it is coming along but still sucks hiking past all this construction equipment with the heat and diesel smell. The trail head is bumped back to echo TH now. The upper portion is awesome with several overlooks and sweeping views of the valley. The meadows provides a grate place to camp out and the wind break at the Griffith intersection is awesome when getting up there late. I do like this trail but I would do Trail Canyon to NLT if going to the top.

nature trips
Friday, November 23, 2012

4 of us (females only) packed in a Botanist's equipment on horseback to 11,427' so just shy of 400' below the peak. The trail was in good condition other than the 2nd switchback above the rock waterfall where a large tree is down across the trail. A hiker can scramble over the tree or go just below it but because of the slope on the downhill side we had to go above it with the horses, wasn't fun. The rest of the trail was fantastic which isn't the reports that Forest Service had gotten. They'd been told that there was water damage from recent rains which we didn't find to be the case on the trail tread.
The views are breathtaking and I see why this is such a heavily used trail by the numerous hikers we passed on the way in and out. Word of caution, make sure to take a map to get you from the parking lot to the south loop, we came from the Trails Canyon parking lot where horse trailers can park and because of the construction going on at the lower day use area it can get a little confusing to turn on the right trail. It's lacking in some signage at this point but we were told it's being worked on.

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