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Big Falls
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Spring Mountains (Mt. Charleston), Kyle Canyon
Big Falls
Big Falls
Mary Jane Falls trailhead (view W)

Notes from hiker reports:

Last year (2013), most of the snow above Big Falls had melted by April and the falls were just a trickle. This year (2014), the April falls are again just a trickle, but this time because the snow has not yet start to melt! The entire canyon up to Big Falls is completely packed with snow including the plunge pool (April 11, 2014). There is a huge difference in snow this year compared with last year.

Big Falls

Overview

This fairly strenuous, 1.4-mile route runs up Kyle Canyon on the Mary Jane Falls Trail to the base of the Mary Jane switchbacks. From there, the unmarked route drops into the wash and follows a boulder- and log-strewn canyon up to the base of Big Falls. The canyon is deep, forested, and surrounded by beautiful gray limestone cliffs. The falls are seasonal, flowing strongest in the spring when snow on the mountain slopes above is melting, but the hike is more difficult when the snow is melting because of hidden snow caves and loose logs.

Link to map.

Big Falls
From the edge of the wash, hike to the right of the moraine, not towards the snow marker (view S)

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this trail is strenuous, so take it easy at this elevation if you've just come up from the desert. There are places along the route where slips could result in serious injury. Watch for ice if you hike in the winter or early spring. Because of the boulder scrambling, this isn't one of the best hikes for young children or dogs. Limestone rocks are usually rough to the touch, but the boulders in the bottom of the canyon are unusually smooth and slippery. The hike is more difficult when the snow is melting because of hidden snow caves and loose logs.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, even though this hike is short, be sure to bring what you need of the 10 Essentials.

Big Falls

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located in Kyle Canyon up in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, about 1 hour northwest of Las Vegas. From town, drive out to the Spring Mountains Visitor Center, then continue up the road to the Mary Jane Falls Trailhead. Park here; this is the trailhead.

Big Falls
Kyle Canyon Moraine (view SW)

The Hike

From the Mary Jane Falls trailhead (Table 2, Waypoint 01), the hike follows the Mary Jane Falls Trail up Kyle Canyon on a broad and clearly marked trail (an old road). Along this section, the trail passes through a forest of towering ponderosa pines, white fir, quaking aspens, and mountain mahogany. The understory is mostly open, but there are a few wax currents, other shrubs, grasses, thistles, and other forbs under the trees.

About 25 yards before reaching the first switchback on the Mary Jane Falls Trail (Wpt. 02), the trail passes a wooden sign post where a sign used to say "Please Stay on the Trail." The Mary Jane Falls Trail then angles to the right into the trees, leaving the old road behind.

Big Falls
Hikers in the wash west of moraine (view NW)

At the sign post (Wpt. 02), either continue up the old road or follow the Mary Jane Falls trail for another 25 yards to the first switchback (Wpt. 11), and then leave the trail and follow the old road up the canyon.

About 25 yards past the switchback (Wpt. 03), the old road forks. Both forks will get you there, but is might be a little easier to take the left (south) fork. The goal in this area is merely to get into the wash at the bottom of the canyon without giving up more elevation than is necessary.

After a couple of minutes, the route drops into the wash (Wpt. 04). At this point, an obvious trail leads straight across the wash and up the bank on the far side towards a snow-survey marker. Don't follow the trail to the marker; rather, turn upstream in the wash.

Big Falls
Starting into Big Falls Canyon (view S)

Staying in the wash, the route quickly passes a huge pile of dirt on the south (left) side of the wash (Wpt. 05). This pile is interpreted by some geologists as the remains of a glacial moraine (terminal moraine). If correct, this is evidence that a glacier once flowed down the east side of Mt. Charleston.

Just past the glacial moraine, the route turns left and runs south into Big Falls Canyon (Wpt. 06). Because of the lay of the land and recent erosion, it seems like the route stays in the main canyon, but this is not the case. Echo Canyon, the main canyon, continues to the west-northwest, while Big Falls Canyon runs to the south-southwest.

Big Falls

The route runs up Big Falls Canyon, scrambling over and around boulders and logs most of the way. Staying in the wash, the route reaches a 20-foot-high pour-over, which is formed where the wash runs through a narrow slot in the bedrock and a big boulder is jammed in the top of the slot. Pass this obstacle by backtracking a few yards (Wpt. 07) and climbing the east bank on a steep, narrow, rocky trail. The route follows this use-trail up and around the pour-over and back into the wash.

There are a number of use-trails in this part of the canyon. Following what seems like the best option (at least when there is no snow and the water level is low), from atop the pour-over, drop quickly back into the wash just above the pour-over. From there, obvious use-trails run up the west side of the canyon. Some of these use-trails are useful, but stay as low and close to the wash as possible.

Big Falls
Climbing over boulders and logs (view S)

The route continues boulder- and log-hopping up the canyon to the base of the tall, gray limestone cliffs (Wpt. 08). If the water is flowing, it is obvious that this is Big Falls.

I've not done the climb, but the falls can be passed by scrambling up the steep, tree covered cliffs just east (left) of the falls.

To get back to the trailhead, retrace your steps down the canyon. When hiking down, if you follow use-trails along the west side of the canyon and get to the Mt. Charleston Wilderness Area Boundary sign, cut steeply down the hillside to the bottom of the canyon. The broad and level use-trail that traverses the hillside to the north of the sign is not a better way to go.

Big Falls
Climbing over boulders and logs (view S)
Big Falls
Bypass waterfall to the left (view S)
Big Falls
Bypassing pour-over
Big Falls
BirdandHike Guy at the wilderness boundary
Big Falls
Staying low in the canyon is best (view SW)
Big Falls
Cliffs east of Big Falls (route to above the falls)
Big Falls
Hikers approaching Big Falls
Big Falls
Hikers climbing over avalanche debris
Big Falls
Hikers approaching Big Falls
Big Falls
Hiker at plunge pool below Big Falls
Big Falls
Plunge pool below Big Falls
Big Falls
Rocks and snowbank below Big Falls
Big Falls
Big Falls (view S)
Big Falls
Big Falls (view S)
Big Falls
Approaching Big Falls in the snow (April 2014)
Big Falls
Big Falls plunge pool in April 2014
Big Falls
Big Falls icicle in April 2014
Big Falls
Looking up Big Falls with only a trickle of water in April 2014

Table 2. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi) Verified
01 Trailhead 620227 4014220 7,817 0.00 0.00 GPS
02 Leave MJF Trail 619456 4014950 8,150 0.68 0.68 GPS
03 Old road forks 619417 4014975 8,168 0.03 0.71 GPS
04 Wash 619178 4014908 8,222 0.16 0.87 GPS
05 Moraine 619143 4014915 8,231 0.03 0.9 GPS
06 Big Falls Canyon 619050 4014926 8,275 0.07 0.97 GPS
07 Bypass Chockstone Waterfall 618904 4014610 8,487 0.24 1.21 GPS
08 Big Falls 618802 4014426 8,689 0.15 1.36 GPS
09 Alternate Route (not good) 618876 4014602 8,633 . . GPS
10 Alternate Route (not good) 618897 4014629 8,548 . . GPS
11 MJF First Switchback 619428 4014989 8,248 . . GPS
01 Trailhead 620227 4014220 7,817 1.36 2.72 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 140412

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