Trail Length: 1.4 miles each way.
Elevation Gain: 1000'
Summit Elevation: 8600' (not 11919')
This is a short side hike at the base of Mt. Charleston which leads to a prominent cliff overlooking Kyle Canyon and the small community of vacation homes there. Unless you are prepared for the killer Mount Charleston hike (and most people aren't), this trail is the first one to try in the Spring Mountains. The climb up takes less than an hour for strong hikers, about one and a half hours for most people, and two hours for with young children in tow. The downhill return takes about half that time.
The trail is well-planned and maintained and is very heavily used on the weekends. There are a lot of people with dogs and children: The dogs and children handle it fine, but many of the adults appear to be laboring. Although the hike is short, it is rigorous, climbing quickly from 7600' to 8600'. It is a continuous "up" with no breaks, and the high elevation slows down most lowlanders. (Most of your typical smokin', drinkin', eatin' Las Vegans probably wouldn't make it to the top.)
At the top, you get a grand view of Kyle Canyon. In the distance, you can see some of the salt flats northwest of Las Vegas, but you can't see any of Las Vegas itself. In the other direction (west), you see Charleston Peak, still far away and about 4-6 times the duration and difficulty of this hike.
This trail can be part of an entertaining all-day outing with kids. Bring your picnic supplies and get to the Cathedral Rock picnic area early in the morning (to get the best spot). Then just let the kids loose. The cool forest here is quite a change from Las Vegas.
Follow the driving instructions for the South Loop Trail. What is described there as the "false" trailhead for the South Loop Trail is one of two real trailheads for Cathedral Rock. At this trailhead along the highway there are pit toilets and a stairway leading up an embankment. The only problem with this trailhead is parking, which fills up quickly in the summer. There are marked parking spaces for about 10 cars, and 10 more cars can park along the shoulder of the road beyond the trailhead. On summer weekends you might not find a place.
An alternative trailhead (actually the primary one) is inside the Cathedral Rock Picnic Area, where the parking fee is $6.00. This is a very nice picnic area in the woods, and if you plan to spend some time here, the fee is definitely worth the price. The road entrance to the picnic area is just beyond the first trailhead on the main highway, and the second trailhead is clearly marked about 0.1 mile beyond the toll booth. (Don't confuse the Cathedral Rock trailhead with the adjacent one for the Mt. Charleston South Loop. Both are clearly marked -- if you read the signs.) The picnic area is open 8am to 8pm in the summer, so you need to leave yourself plenty of time to get back to your car before the gate is locked (i.e. don't start the hike after 4:00 pm).
The trails from the two trailheads merge within about 0.3 mile.
Here is the official Forest Service description...
The trail begins in Mazie Canyon amid ponderosa and white fir, but soon enters a stand of aspen. This is one of the most colorful areas in the summer when the wildflowers are blooming and the butterflies are all about. In the winter it is a major avalanche path where only aspen and brush survive the repeated snowslides. About halfway up the trail is a waterfall just off the trail to the left. There is a short, old road leading to it. Although three falls flow down early in the season, there is usually only a trickle by the end of the summer. As the trail ascends out of the canyon toward the back of Cathedral Rock one gets a view of the avalanche chute below. When the trail reaches the saddle keep to the right. The trail climbs a few short, steep switchbacks before reaching the summit. On top is a spectacular view of Kyle Canyon several hundred feet below. Closely supervise small children and watch your footing. As you descend, please stay on the trail. The vertical cliffs below are dangerous and have claimed lives.
Be prepared for cooler and windier conditions at the top than you find at the trailhead. Temperatures at the trailhead are about 20-30 degrees F below the current temperature in Las Vegas. Also be prepared for harsh sun, which burns the skin more quickly at this altitude.
For comfort, you need about a quart of liquid per person, which some urban hikers neglect to bring.
The trail is snow-free roughly May through November.
In winter, this trail is covered with snow and ice. Hikers continue to use this trail in winter (as evidenced by their footprints), but whether you can do it without special equipment depends on the condition of the snow. Most people shouldn't try until Spring.
The trail can be passible in April but is usually is very muddy with some patches of snow.
The weather near the summit can be very windy and cold in the Spring and Fall. Bring appropriate warm clothing.
Cathedral Rock Links
- Trail description from Hiking Las Vegas.
- Topographic Map of area. The trail shown is incomplete: Not shown are the last portion of the trail to the summit and the connecting trail from the first trailhead to the main trail.
- A trip report with photos
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