Fall is officially here, marked by the annual changing colors across the country’s foliage. Within the state of Nevada, it is often the northern half of the state that gets nature lovers’ attention, with sites like the Ruby Mountains or Lake Tahoe sporting their usual bursts of color. However, southern and central Nevada also provides plenty of opportunities to bask in the beauty of the fall atmosphere, with high-altitude mountains, open ranges of wilderness, and even lush oases in the middle of the desert. These three sites are just a few hours drive away from Las Vegas, and can be found with relative ease by travelers.
Spring Mountains National Recreation Area / Mount Charleston Wilderness
Located just 45 minutes outside Las Vegas, Mount Charleston is a wilderness area located within the Spring Mountains and known as a “sky island” because of its high elevation and relative isolation from the drastically different lowland desert that surrounds it. Thanks to the high elevation, at any given time throughout the year it’s about 20 degrees cooler on Mount Charleston than in Las Vegas, meaning the environment is also drastically different. Evergreens and aspen groves replace the expected cacti and palm trees of the desert below, offering a refreshing change of scenery.
The most popular areas of Mount Charleston are located at the end of the roads that lead up to Kyle Canyon (to the south) and Lee Canyon (to the north), as well as Deer Creek Road, which links them. All of them sitting at high elevations, about 7,500 to 8,600 feet, and featuring trailheads, campsites, and picnic areas – the summit of Charleston Peak sits shy of 12,000 feet. Hiking along the trails will bring you closer to the vibrant streaks of golden yellows and robust oranges that pepper the dark green landscapes of pine tree laden slopes. And in the fall, a particular oddity occurs – as the leaves dry and grow closer to dropping off their branches, they will “quake” within the winds making an almost windchime-like tune.
Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
A lesser known area located an hour and 30 minutes from Las Vegas, on the eastern edge of Death Valley near the California border, Ash Meadows is a wetland of internationally recognized significance, which features 30 species of plants and animals that do not exist elsewhere in the world. For example, an ancient, endangered species of pupfish can be found residing inside the Devil’s Hole, a 500 foot deep cavern in part of the Amargosa Valley, where it has been isolated for somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 years.
Ash Meadows is also the home of a naturally occurring oasis of hot springs, which feed the lush wetlands in the surrounding area – but keep in mind these hot springs are not for bathing, but are instead a wildlife refuge. Visitors can enjoy the sights of crystal-clear waters and golden landscapes of ash trees starting in mid-October through early November, offering an equally opportunistic time to visit Death Valley as temperatures cool off significantly.
Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
Only an hour and 20 minutes outside Las Vegas sits another lesser known desert oasis, which plays host to countless migratory birds. Filled with lush, spring-fed wetlands that includes lakes, marshes, and wet meadows, it also features tall cottonwood and poplar trees that glow yellow and orange during the fall season. As you hike amongst the scenery, take time to observe the foliage closely, as the right time of day leads the sunlight to shine down in such a way that the entire wilderness seems as if it had caught ablaze with scarlet hues. The optimal time to see these breathtaking landscapes is late October through early November before winter gains foothold.