About Mary Jane Falls
Mary Jane Falls had to have been hands down the most popular hike in the Mt Charleston area. I had to have counted dozens of large hiking groups when I was making my way back down from the falls to the trailhead. What was even more amazing about this place was that there was still plenty of snow in the Mt Charleston area on the slopes surrounding Kyle Canyon, which happened to be less than an hour’s drive away from the Las Vegas Strip (without traffic, of course)! Who knew that such a wonderful natural attraction could be so close to the bright lights and sleaze of Sin City? And it made me reconsider the negative thoughts I would have whenever the topic of coming to Las Vegas came up. As you can see, Vegas was not exactly my favorite place in the world. However, I now feel compelled to temper expectations a bit thanks to this waterfall practically out in the middle of the desert! And even as I say this, as you can see from the photo at the top of this page (pictures really didn’t do this place justice), this was indeed a seasonal waterfall completely dependent on the amount of snow that had accumulated as well as the rate of the snowmelt.
Among the things that I wasn’t expecting at the falls was that there were actually three parallel segments that were each too tall to try to capture in one photograph. On the underlying cliffs between two of the waterfalls, there were little caves or alcoves. The most accessible of these alcoves was actually a short distance beyond the Mary Jane Falls, which offered a gorgeous view back towards the snow-capped mountains flanking Kyle Canyon. Given these alcoves, it made me wonder whether the name of the waterfall might have had something to do with folks who might go into some of these things and smoke pot. Given the presence of graffiti and empty beer bottles, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see traces of a bong or two here and perhaps inspire the name Mary Jane or “marijuana” in Spanish. That said, I can also easily envision a careless forest fire running through the canyon so please refrain from having a smoke regardless of what form it is.
From the well-signposted trailhead parking lot (see directions below), I followed a pretty obvious trail gently ascending what appeared to be either an old road or a combination of road and dry wash. After about 3/4-mile, the trail reached an unsigned fork. I kept right at this fork to continue on the Mary Jane Falls Trail, but there was a wider trail veering left and crossing the dry wash. That wider trail was actually the start of the spur to Big Falls, and near this wash was supposedly where a road used to lead to a campground that had been washed in a flash flood and never rebuilt since. If I was to do the out-and-back spur trail to Big Falls, it would have added about 1.6 miles round trip, but it would also involve boulder scrambling and even traversing snow. I didn’t wind up doing this detour because of the presence of heavy snow as well as the realization that the falls itself wasn’t doing so well flow-wise once I got high enough on the Mary Jane Falls Trail to see it from afar.
Anyways, just a couple of minutes past this fork in the trail, it started to ascend several switchbacks gaining most of its 1100ft. Given the high altitude of the trail (it began at over 7,700ft), this was a surprisingly strenuous stretch, especially if you’ve come up from the lower elevations like Las Vegas where your body would still not be adequately acclimated to the thin air. Further adding to the strenuous nature of climbing in high altitude, the switchbacks were also full of false trails and shortcuts making it confusing and dangerous for novice hikers less aware of their surroundings. Except for one potentially confusing part at one of the switchbacks (where the main trail traversed a rocky section while a false trail ascended immediately before it), the main trail should be pretty obvious to follow. I happened to see a few people take the shortcuts and it was clear that some of those folks bit off more than they could chew (not to mention the erosion and damage to the area) as they’d easily slide down and kick down loose rocks for every step or two they’d take. I was also aware that the forest service had to close the trail in the recent past to mitigate the effects of trail erosion thanks to these false trails.
Once I made it past the last of the switchbacks (according to my GPS logs, I counted at least 11 of them), the trail hugged the base of some tall limestone cliffs while offering up views across Kyle Canyon towards the snowy mountains backing the opposite side of the canyon. Plus, I was able to get high enough to see across the canyon the Big Falls and its hidden and shaded ravine. It was merely a streak of wet walls from my distant vantage point when I was doing the Mary Jane Falls Trail in late April 2017 so I decided then and there that I wouldn’t bother extending the hike to get close to the Big Falls. Eventually, after another quarter-mile of relatively flat hiking (at least compared to the switchbacks), I finally made it to the sloped clearing at the base of the Mary Jane Falls.
I happened to show up to the falls pretty early in the morning before 8:30am, and I was fortunate that the morning sun had not breached the tall cliffs neighboring the falls. That meant that I was able to take photos of the Mary Jane Falls without harsh light and shadows compromising the ability to capture the scene. The morning sun didn’t really start to wreak havoc on the lighting for the area until around 9:15am. It’s conceivable that the lighting could be bad even earlier than this in the latter months as the sun would be higher on the horizon while rising earlier as the days would continue to get longer going into the Summer Solstice.
Anyways, each of the three segments of the waterfall had to have fallen at least 200-300ft or more. It was hard to see just how high up the water was flowing from given that the trail went so close to the base of the falls in the first place. Of the three segments, the middle one seemed to have the highest flow, and I suspected that that was the main Mary Jane Falls. It has been said that this waterfall could typically flow well into the early Summer, but again, that was all dependent on snowpack and rate of snowmelt (i.e. it has to get hot pretty fast while snow is present). Looking downstream from the falls, I was able to get more mindblowing views of the mountains opposite Kyle Canyon. Then, I noticed that there was a pretty well-used trail that continued past the last of the Mary Jane Falls. Upon following this path, barely a few minutes later, I found myself beneath a pretty impressive cave or alcove, and after doing a short steep scramble to get up to its mouth, I once again was able to enjoy a lofty view of Kyle Canyon while also momentarily cooling off in the shade from the sun.
The return hike went far faster as it was pretty much all downhill to the trailhead. It only took me 45 minutes to complete the return hike, but overall, I had spent nearly 2 hours on the roughly three-mile round trip trail itself (not counting the half-hour or more I spent enjoying the falls and the alcoves). When I returned to the trailhead at around 10am, I was shocked to see just how quickly the parking lot filled up. I was only one of a half-dozen cars at the trailhead when I had gotten started at 7:15am on a Saturday morning.
From the Las Vegas Strip, I drove onto the I-15 north towards the US95 Freeway heading west. I then followed the US95 for about 16 miles before turning left onto Kyle Canyon Rd. Then, I drove on Kyle Canyon Rd (NV-157) for about 20 miles going through the village of Mt Charleston then leaving the NV-157 by turning right onto Echo Drive (there was a brown sign for Trail Canyon and Mary Jane Falls directing me to turn this way at this point). Continuing another 0.4 miles on Echo Drive, I then turned left onto unpaved Mary Jane Falls Rd (as directed by another brown sign), where I drove the final quarter-mile to the big parking lot at road’s end. Overall, this 44-mile drive took me around an hour after leaving the New York New York Hotel and Casino.
To give you some context, Las Vegas was about 265 miles (about 4 hours drive; possibly more with traffic and drivers ignorant of the keep right except to pass highway etiquette) northeast of Los Angeles, California, 121 miles (2 hours drive) southeast of Beatty (near Furnace Creek in Death Valley), 99 miles (over 90 minutes drive) north of Laughlin, 123 miles (about 2 hours drive) southwest of St George, Utah, 276 miles (about 4.5 hours drive) west of Page, Arizona, and 424 miles (about 6 hours drive) southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah.
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