Posted on 28 June 2009.
Rugged mountains, red rock canyons and cavernous desert valleys offer the locals of Las Vegas dramatic scenery and dozens of outdoor recreational opportunities. The typical weather temperature makes outdoor activity enormously attractive to all outdoor types all year.
Mother Nature can’t be outdone by the lights of the Las Vegas strip, so whether you’re a local Las Vegas resident or tourist trying to win big, take the time to head outside the city limits and see the amazing landscapes bursting with color.
It’s effortless to kick back and simply enjoy Mother Nature’s beauty.
Located within 25 miles of Las Vegas:
Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock Canyon (15 miles) – Red Rock Canyon State Park features scenic desert cliffs, buttes and brilliant rock formations. Each tributary canyon is distinctive, with dramatic shapes and vivid colors. The park’s wildflower displays are stunning after wet winters.
Even after a dry winter, the loveliness of the desert still makes this park a camper’s favorite destination. Miles of trails wander through the dramatic landscape of the park, and hiking is an intimate way to experience the desert.
One of the most popular hiking trails is into Pine Creek Canyon. This is a 2-mile round trip hike near a running creek and surrounded by large ponderosa pine. Or if you prefer to sight see in the comfort of your car, the 13-Mile Loop Drive offers sightseeing, vistas and overlooks. There are several short hikes accessible from the loop drive.
Ansel Adams Photograph taken 1941
Lake Mead Recreational Area
Lake Mead Recreational Area (25 miles) – Lake Mead Recreational Area offers a wealth of things to do and places to go year-round. Shaped by the Hoover Dam and filled by the Colorado River, Lake Mead is one of the largest man-made lakes in the world.
It caters to boaters, swimmers, sunbathers, and fishermen while its desert rewards hikers, wildlife photographers, and roadside sightseers. It is also home to thousands of desert plants and animals, adapted to survive in an extreme place where rain is scarce and temperatures soar.
The warm-water recreation isn’t the only thing drawing visitors every year. Adventurers can explore the rugged and isolated backcountry. And for those looking for rest and relaxation, why not rent a houseboat and cruise the waters?
Spring Mountain State Park
Spring Mountain State Park (30 miles) – Located within the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, beneath the multihued cliffs of the magnificent Wilson Range. The 520 acre retreat was developed into a combination working ranch and luxurious retreat.
If the spring brings ample rainfall the landscape will explode with wildflowers. Most of the wildlife is nocturnal and will go unseen during the daylight. Typical desert animals include a variety of lizards and snakes, antelope ground squirrels, jackrabbits, cotton tails, kit fox, coyote and wild burros.
Cultural events are put on by Super Summer Theater every May through September.
Located within 50 miles of Las Vegas:
Image courtesy of Stan Shebs.
Kyle Canyon in the Spring Mountains
Mt. Charleston (35 miles) – An assortment of trails and mountaineering routes to numerous peaks await any adventurer at Mount Charleston. The cool mountain breezes, fresh air and all-around scenic beauty of Mount Charleston can entice any Las Vegas tourist away for the day.
Located only 35 miles from the Las Vegas strip, you’ll feel in a world where you’re the only inhabitant. Whether you’re a beginner or advanced hiker, you’ll find a hiking trail in the Mount Charleston area. Located in Kyle Canyon, the Mary Jane Falls trail is perfect for families. A seasonal waterfall and cave await the kids on this hour long 2-mile trail. And the 10-mile Bonanza Peak trail might allow you to watch the wild horses roaming.
Located within 100 miles of Las Vegas:
Image courtesy of John Fowler.
Valley of Fire State Park
Valley of Fire State Park (55 miles) – The oldest and largest state park in Nevada, the Valley of Fire State Park is only six miles from Lake Mead. Full of red sandstone formations and the stark beauty of the Mojave Desert, when the sun hit’s the eroded sandstone the park appears to be on fire. Driving along park roads, you’re sure to see blossoming desert marigold, indigo bush, and desert mallow in the springtime.
Image courtesy of Jarek Tuszynski.
Mojave National Preserve
Mojave National Preserve (60 miles) – Singing sand dunes, volcanic cinder cones, Joshua tree forests, and carpets of wildflowers are all found at this 1.6 million acre park. A stopover to its canyons, mountains and mesas will reveal long-abandoned mines, homesteads, and rock-walled military outposts.
Visitors will find the serenity and solitude a nice change of pace in comparison to the big city. Hikers can choose between two developed trails, or find an old mining road, canyon or wash. The backcountry is accessible for camping to all backpackers and hunting is permitted in designated areas.
And then there’s the 1,200 miles of road to keep any offroader busy – just make sure the vehicle is street legal before you go.
Located over 100 miles away from Las Vegas:
Image courtesy of FreeFoto.com.
Death Valley (135 miles) – A unbeatable desert of streaming sand dunes, snow-capped mountains, multicolored rock layers, water-fluted canyons and 3 million acres of wilderness. Home to the Timbisha Shoshone and to plants and animals exclusive to the harshest desert.
Located on the border between California and Nevada, Death Valley is considered by most as strictly a winter park, it is possible to visit year-round.
When visiting Death Valley, make sure to drink at least one gallon of water every day and carry plenty of extra water in your car just in case. Remember, this is one of the hottest places in the world and it’s easy to underestimate the effects heat will have on you.
Other dangers to be aware of include flash floods during rain storms and the dangerous animals that might be hiding. Rattlesnakes, scorpions, and black widow spiders are not uncommon and you don’t want to go poking into their shelters. And with more abandoned mines than any other national park, adventurers need to be careful as they are innately dangerous.
Zion Canyon (158 miles) – Utah’s oldest and most visited national park, Zion Canyon attracts around 3 million visitors each year. Zion means “a place of peace and refuge” in ancient Hebrew. You’ll agree when you see the immense sandstone canyons, beautifully sculptured rock formations, soaring cliffs and breathtaking landscapes.
The cliff-and-canyon backdrop is full of unexpected beauty. Here, the Virgin River has carved a spectacular forge into the red and white sandstone. The floor of the canyon is covered with trees, grasses and the river. The canyon walls loom high above; in most places they are 2,000 to 3,000 feet high.
And don’t be surprised when you happen upon an abandoned cliff house or rock art. These are gifts left behind by the original inhabitants, the Anasazi.
Bryce Canyon (210 miles) – The unique outdoor exhibition consists of thousands of red rock spires and horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters. Wind, water and general geologic mayhem shaped the pink cliffs at Bryce Canyon. Technically it’s not really a canyon, but the eastern slope of the Paunsaguant Plateau.
Famous for its night sky, you can be introduced to the many wonders of the night through one of Bryce Canyon’s Astronomy programs. Full Moon Hikes are available, at no cost, but the hikes are limited to 30 people – so get there early, sign-up begins at 8:00 a.m.
The mixture of shadows and moonlight is said to create a “spooky” personality. It is so dark at night; you’ll be able to see 7500 stars on a moonless night! Every June you’re welcome to attend the Astronomy Festival.
Grand Canyon (300 miles) – One of the largest ravines in the world, it’s no surprise that the Grand Canyon is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. The Colorado River slices through the Granite Gorge and allows visitors to see some of the oldest rocks. Hikers, mule riders, or river runners see the Inner Canyon.
No matter what your interest, there are various activities available and depending on the time you plan to visit you can personalize your Grand Canyon experience. The South Rim is the most accessible part of the park and is open all year. This area will attract nearly 5 million people every year. The North Rim is less accessible, especially when the heavy snows cause the road to be closed from late October to mid May.
Conclusion: Head Out of Vegas for Nature
There are so many beautiful national parks and scenic drives just outside of Las Vegas, that any tourist is capable of finding something. Whether it’s a cavernous ravine or the colors of the desert, the next time you head to the Las Vegas strip remember the beauty surrounding you.
You might also be interested in the Seven Natural Wonders of the World to Start Your List of Places to Travel.