About Mary Jane Falls
Mary Jane Falls had to have been hands down the most popular hike in the Mt Charleston area.
Given that this waterfall featured at least three parallel segments that were each too tall to try to capture in a single photograph (maybe at least 200-300ft tall), it certainly seemed like the natural antidote to Las Vegas.
Indeed, as you can see from the photo above, pictures really don’t do this place justice, especially considering this waterfall even had waterflow deep into Summer (something I learned on my August 2020 visit).
In addition to the waterfalls, there were also little caves or alcoves to further add to the fun.
So I guess given all these things that Mary Jane Falls had going for it, its popularity was certainly understandable.
Case in point, I had to have counted dozens of large hiking groups each time I’ve done this hike, especially as I made my way back down from the falls after getting an early start.
Perhaps its proximity to being only an hour’s drive away from the Las Vegas Strip (without traffic, of course) had a lot to do with that popularity.
Who knew that such a wonderful natural attraction could be so close to the bright lights and sleaze of Sin City?
While this place wasn’t exactly my favorite in the world, I definitely had to reconsider my attitude towards coming here as I could now look forward to a waterfall in addition to some of the other Nature that can be found in Southern Nevada.
Timing Mary Jane Falls
Even as I wax poetic about how there can be this tall waterfall so close to Las Vegas, I do have to temper expectations a bit by explaining that this falls performed its best in the early Summer.
When I first came here in late April 2017, Mary Jane Falls had at least four segments, but they were hard to photograph because the flow was limited.
Upon coming back here in August 2020, only three of the segments flowed, but it was more of a sprinkle as the snow was long gone this deep into Summer.
So in my mind, if I wanted to time a visit here correctly, I should have come in June or as late as early July depending on the Winter snow pack.
Indeed, in order to properly time this waterfall to see it at its photogenic best, I had to pay attention to two main things.
First, there has to be a lot of snow accummulation in the Mt Charleston area, especially on the slopes surrounding Kyle Canyon.
Second, with the presence of snow, the weather would have to warm up quickly to maximize the flow over the waterfall.
If neither of these things happen, then the transition from a frozen column of water (assuming there was snow to begin with) into a trickling waterfall would be quick, but the falls never really seemed to go dry thanks to being fed by springs.
In fact, on my August 2020 visit, I noticed quite an extensive grove of foliage at the waterfall’s base, which seemed to thrive in its perennial flow.
It was just another example of how Nature managed to surprise me even despite this place being smack in the middle of the deserts of the Great Basin.
Hiking to Mary Jane Falls
In order to access Mary Jane Falls, I had to go on a hike that was at least 3 miles round-trip (my GPS logs suggested it was more like 3.2-3.4 miles round trip).
Given that this hike began at an elevation of over 7,700ft while gaining another 1,100ft, this was a deceptively strenuous hike, especially if you’re not acclimated to the thin air.
Overall, I spent about 2 hours and 45 minutes away from the car on my first time visiting in late April 2017, and I could have spent as little as 2 hours on my August 2020 visit.
This included some additional hiking to explore some caves as well as all the time I spent taking pictures.
I could have also extended this hike to include the Big Falls, which would have added another 1.6 miles round trip.
However, I wound up not doing that extra excursion because it would have involved boulder scrambling and even traversing snow.
Anyways, given the popularity of this hike, I made sure to get an early start (around 7am; when I was only one of a half-dozen cars here).
When I returned to the trailhead at around 10am on my April 2017 visit, I was very surprised at how quickly the parking lot filled up!
Mary Jane Falls Trail Description – from the trailhead to the start of the switchbacks
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, where there was a fallen log on the left.
I kept right at this fork to continue on the Mary Jane Falls Trail.
The wider trail veering left, which would eventually go into a dry wash was actually the start of the spur to Big Falls.
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.
I didn’t do this hike on my first visit in late April 2017 due to the presence of heavy snow, but I did do it when I came back in August 2020, which illustrated that it wasn’t too difficult to combine these hikes.
Anyways, later in the Mary Jane Falls hike, I would learn that it was not easy to look across the canyon towards Big Falls because it sat in a fairly concealed and shaded canyon.
Mary Jane Falls Trail Description – ascending the switchbacks to the waterfall
Anyways, just a couple of minutes past the fork with the Big Falls spur trail, the Mary Jane Falls Trail started to ascend several switchbacks gaining most of its 1,100ft.
Given the high altitude of the trail, this was a surprisingly strenuous stretch.
I’d imagine that if you came up from the lower elevations like Las Vegas, where your body would not have had a chance to acclimate to the thin air, the altitude sickness can be an issue here.
Further adding to the strenuous nature of climbing in high altitude, the switchbacks were also full of false trails and shortcuts.
This made things 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 them bit off more than they could chew as they’d easily slide down and kick down loose rocks for every step or two they’d take.
On top of that, they caused more erosion and damage to the area impacting the ability of other people to use this trail.
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.
It also offered up views across Kyle Canyon towards the snowy mountains backing the opposite side of the canyon.
During this stretch, I was finally 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, but it was dry when I came back in August 2020.
Anyways, on that first visit, I decided then and there that I wouldn’t bother extending the hike to get close to the Big Falls due to the snow.
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.
Mary Jane Falls Trail Description – exploring the waterfall and beyond
I happened to show up to the Mary Jane Falls pretty early in the morning before 8:30am on my first visit, and I showed up before 8am on my second visit.
During both times, 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 when I stuck around that long during my late April 2017 visit.
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.
Anyways, 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 on an established trail.
This alcove or “cave” 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.
After all, with 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.
The return hike went far faster as it was pretty much all downhill to the trailhead.
On my first visit in late April 2017, it only took me 45 minutes to complete the return hike, where it took me nearly double that time on the way up.
On my second visit in August 2020, I had been acclimated from extensive hiking in the Rocky Mountains so I actually spent far less time on the Mary Jane Falls Trail than the first time (and even added the hike to Big Falls).
Mary Jane Falls resides in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest near Las Vegas in Clark County, Nevada. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you can try visiting their website.
To reach Mary Jane Falls 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.
By this point, 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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