Las Vegas sits in a valley, and you’ll find mountains all around the rim of that valley. In the Spring Mountain Range, northwest of Las Vegas, the peak of Mt. Charleston rises almost 12,000 feet. It’s one of Nevada’s highest mountains, and it's the highest point in Clark County. A forest of pine, scrub oak, and quaking aspens fills the area, and rocky limestone outcroppings punctuate the landscape. A day trip here takes you into an area you’d never associate with Las Vegas: a tree-filled forest.
[PHOTO_136557]The two major canyons, Kyle and Lee, hold lodges, trails, and plenty of recreational opportunities. While you'll find a little more civilization in Kyle Canyon (including two lodges), Lee Canyon offers a more rugged experience. Lee Canyon holds picnic areas, a ski resort, and trails that will take you past Bristlecone Pines, which can live to be thousands of years old.
In winter, the Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort (LVSSR) offers the closest place to Las Vegas to enjoy winter sports. Lee Canyon’s unique climate draws in plenty of snow, even when there’s little accumulated snow in Kyle Canyon. Average snowfall is 180 inches here.
LVSSR has 11 trails with options for all skill levels. The resort has ambitious plans for expansion that will increase the number of trails to 50. Additional lifts are also planned, upping the resort's total from three to ten. If you didn't bring your skis with you to Vegas, Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard can outfit you with rentals. Lessons are available as well.
Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort — Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard ResortA bar and cafeteria offer a nice place for a drink and a burger. In fact, two of the resort's beers were created just for the lodge, including the Abominable Pale Ale created at a craft brewery in Las Vegas. Plans are also underway at LVSSR to expand their summer activities.
In summer, many people enjoy the mild temperatures of Lee Canyon, which is considerably cooler than Las Vegas. Picnic areas throughout the canyon provide a place to grill up some lunch or simply enjoy sandwiches. Look for flashes of blue in the pine trees to spot the Mountain Bluebirds. If you’ve got a sharp eye, look for hummingbirds, whose distinctive humming sound often announces their presence, even when you can’t see them.
Lee Canyon in Summer — Photo courtesy of voxtheory at flickrThe Bristlecone Loop Trail, which begins just up the road from the ski resort, will take you on a small loop through this dry mountain forest. Unlike forests in wetter climates, you won’t find a lot of undergrowth on the ground. You will see amazing trees, although not all Bristlecones are twisted and gnarled with age. To identify a Bristlecone, you’ll have to count the needles, which grow in clumps of five.
To attempt any of the longer hikes here, be prepared. You won't find any water on the mountain, and many experts recommend a gallon of water per day in the desert (which is a lot of weight to carry). If you'd like to get serious about hiking here, make sure to do your research and study good maps. Trails in the backcountry will take you into designated wilderness.