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Mountain Camping in Vegas; McWilliams Campground

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

Summertime means a lot of things to different people. Sun tans, beachy hair, late nights, you name it. For me, summertime means it’s camping season!

Each year my husband and I escape to Lake Tahoe, my absolute favorite place to be, for a chance to enjoy the lake, take in some hiking, spend a few days camping, and get the heck away from the city traffic and Vegas heat.

Until this year, our camping adventures have always led us to the Lake. This year however, once our Tahoe trip was already behind us, we still wanted a break from the heat and an escape to our nylon shelter. Thus, we headed to Mt. Charleston and I can honestly say, for being a desert, we’ve got a pretty great camping spot just a short drive away.

If you’re looking for a place close to town to escape the city, McWilliams campground is definitely the place to check into for a weekend. The campground is located in Lee Canyon, about an hour outside of Las Vegas, and has 75 campsites which accommodate both tents and RVs (but in my opinion, you’re not really camping unless you have a tent and can somewhat feel the ground beneath you).

While I love the outdoors and ‘roughing it,’ I have my limits, and plumbing is where I draw the line. I will camp wherever a good site is, but if there aren’t functional toilets of some capacity, I’m inclined to pass. Thus, the reason McWilliams was such a great find. Not only do they have restrooms, they also have potable water and the campground pads each have a flattened base for tent setup, and a concrete pad with grill, stove stand, picnic bench and fire pit.

And as Jason pointed out at the beginning of our trip, the good thing about camping at Mt. Charleston, as oppose to in Lake Tahoe, is that the animals you encounter won’t try to eat you. (I don’t think camping in bear country has been all too relaxing at night for him…especially since this summer included a bear in our campground).

What's great about Mt. Charleston, whether it be for camping or just a little outdoor time, it’s an easy 20-degrees cooler than it is in the city. For our first camping trip to McWilliams, which we did in August, that 20-degree difference was great. It was still warm at night with a slight bit of rain, but comfortable during the day. But this time however, we found ourselves bundling up under as many blankets and sweatshirts as possible and found our case of water bottles frozen over in the morning. Amazing what only a month difference can make.

Driving up to the mountain on our first day, we kept grimacing as the clock read 3:30 P.M. and we watched the temperature gauge in the car as it dropped from 60s, to 50s and then down into the 40s.

We decided to bring along our fur baby this time, and while our dog, Tahoe, had a great night’s sleep, curled up between us in the sleeping bag, for us it’s safe to say that the September temperatures sent us home first thing in the morning in need of a warm, temperature-controlled room.

Once camp was set up we took a brief walk, which we cut short as not to disturb the family of deer we came across. Always respect the locals. So instead of continuing the hike, we returned to our camp site and found that two wild horses came down only yards away from our tents. What can I say, we attract the crowds.

Despite the cold we got to enjoy the night sky, and I braved the icy evening temperatures for a chance to get a few starry photographs. Although quick, the easy retreat and pleasant visits from the local inhabitants made it all worth it.

While we may not be rushing to get another camping trip in during the cold seasons any time soon, with the right gear and preparation, I won't say it's entirely off the table for the future.

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