Las Vegas sizzles with excitement, but let's face it -- the summer heat can get out of control. Temperatures reaching 115 degrees. The 160th straight day of sun. Even the most ardent of sun worshippers are looking for a break and hotel swimming pools and air-conditioned malls just aren't enough.
Luckily just 35 miles northwest of Las Vegas visitors can find all the cool mountain breezes, fresh air and all-around scenic beauty of Mount Charleston.
Part of the Spring Mountain Range and Toiyabe National Forest, Mount Charleston ranges from 3,000 to 12,000 feet in elevation. It is Nevada's eighth-highest mountain peak and one of the Top 10 most topographically prominent peaks in the United States.
Featuring trees like juniper, mountain mahogany, Aspen and Ponderosa pine and animals such as wild burros, songbirds, deer and desert tortoises, Mount Charleston feels a million miles away from the city.
Get your hiking stick, bottled water and Timberland boots ready. The hiking trails at Mount Charleston (52 miles total) will amaze you.
Branch Whitney, author of "Hiking Las Vegas" and "Hiking Southern Nevada," has traveled numerous trails in Las Vegas for the past two decades. "Many tourists believe Las Vegas is surrounded by desert," Whitney said. "They will change their minds when they see waterfalls, forests and wildflowers as they hike in Mount Charleston."
She said tourists should check out hiking trails in Mount Charleston to escape the heat of Vegas. "It's 25 to 40 degrees cooler," she said, "and the hiking trails are not crowded like other areas."
If you're a beginner hiker, the popular Mary Jane Falls trail has a seasonal waterfall and even a cave. This kid-friendly, two-mile trail is only an hour long. Fletcher Canyon is another easy hike, featuring walls up to 100 feet.
Whitney said Big Falls and Cathedral Rock are great half-day hikes. "Big Falls has a seasonal 100-foot waterfall and Cathedral Rock has impressive views," said Whitney.
Visitors can spot animals they don't often see at the 10-mile Bonanza Peak trail where wild horses still roam.
The 17-mile Charleston Peak trail features meadows with rows and rows of wildflowers, while Griffith Peak offers views of Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon and Lake Mead. There are more than 200 campsites, 160 picnic areas and RV spaces available in the Mount Charleston area.
"Dolomite campground has lots of amenities and has cooler temperatures than most campgrounds in the Charleston area," said Whitney.
Located in Kyle Canyon at more than 7,000 feet, the 24 log cabins at Mount Charleston Lodge provide comfort for those seeking a more modern refuge without giving up the outdoorsy feel entirely. Each cabin comes with a spacious outdoor deck and a fireplace. The restaurant at the lodge is a favorite spot offering breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Here you'll find everything from burgers to elk chops. And don't forget to try the Mt. Charleston Coffee as well as hot chocolate.
For a taste of luxury, the Hotel at Mount Charleston features fine restaurants, a full day spa, live music and special events like wine tasting and movies under the stars.
If you prefer to bring your own food, the popular Cathedral Rock Picnic Area at the end of Kyle Canyon Road features more than 80 individual and group picnic spots, as well as toilet facilities.
Weddings, golf courses and even homes for sale are also available at Mount Charleston. If the casino buzz and sweltering heat are getting to you, then Mount Charleston is the answer.