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Jill Sanford | 04.05.2017

Outdoor enthusiasts don’t usually think of a Las Vegas vacation when they plan activities and adventures, but the Southern Nevada region offers up some of the most interesting and accessible destinations for hikers, paddlers, and other human-powered sports.

From incredible water trails, interesting red rock formations, sand dunes, and plenty of hot springs, the great Las Vegas area offers endless opportunities for outdoor adventure. Skip the strip and get out into the wild, remote, and rugged desert landscapes in this region.

  1. Black Mountain Summit: This 6.8-mile loop provides incredible 360-degree views of the Las Vegas Strip, the Las Vegas valley, the Eldorado valley from Boulder City to Searchlight, Arizona to the east, and California to the southwest. Black Mountain tops out at a little over 5,000 feet on the BLM Trial 404 in the Sloan Canyon National Reserve. There is no shade, but this trail gets you off the beaten path and away from the crowds.
  2. Ice Box Canyon: The first part of this 2.48-mile hike is through high desert terrain, and temperatures reduce dramatically when you reach the canyon. Once there, follow the stream and notice how the flora and fauna begins to diversify with the drastic change. This fun slot canyon hike is really incredible, but expect lots of crowds during peak times.
  3. Valley of Fire State Park: The oldest and largest of Nevada’s state parks, the Valley of Fire features striking red rock formations that rise from a surprisingly green desert floor. There are plenty of hikes to choose from here, a scenic drive, and a few campgrounds to lay your head for the night.
  4. Alkali Hot Springs: Located in the Western Nevada Desert, the Alkali Hot Springs have been channeled into a couple of small pools. The Hot Springs are located near a concrete utility building that serves as a decent landmark, but there are no facilities or other amenities nearby.
  5. First Creek Pool + Waterfall: One of the few shady areas near Las Vegas, this is accessed from a trail that is part of the Red Rock Conservation Area. Late spring runoff tumbles over an 18-foot waterfall into a small pool. Hikers need to avoid swimming here, however, because of the incredibly sensitive desert habitat. Still a wonderful place to enjoy from the banks! 
  6. Keystone Thrust: This 2.2-mile trail will get you up close and personal with some incredible rock formations. The pinkish rocks are startling against the gray landscape, and this short trail in the Red Rock Conservation Area gets you a lot of bang for your buck in terms of massive views for a shorter effort.
  7. Goldstrike Hot Springs: These beautiful hot springs in the Lake Mead Recreation Area can get very crowded, but they are worth it if you can brave the crowds or try to visit on a weekday off season. The area features several pools in a slot canyon, waterfalls that trickle down as you soak, and some fun opportunities to scramble over rocks and boulders. Be forewarned, this area is at risk for both flash flooding and extreme temperatures.
  8. Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge: This is the largest remaining oasis in the Mojave Desert, and it is formed by a geologic fault that forces water to the surface to create a wetland environment. It’s home to  the largest concentration of endemic species in the United States thanks to this one-of-a-kind landscape. Stop by the visitor center to find maps on where you can hike or walk the trails, learn about this unique environment, and hear the story of how it was protected after being nearly drained in the 1970s.
  9. Black Canyon Water Trail: This flatwater paddle from Hoover Dam to Willow Beach features a  secluded canyon with cold, clear water, starry skies, and hot springs. This 12-mile route is the most popular stretch of a national water trail designated within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Camping and campfires are allowed all along the river.
  10. Amargosa Big Dune: While you might find the slow going desert hiking challenging, the rewards when you reach this star dune complex in the arid Amargosa Valley are well worth the effort. The tallest dune fluctuates between 300 to 500 feet tall, and these interesting formations are also known as the “singing” or “booming” dunes thanks to the unique sound they make under certain wind conditions.

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It's on the list of places to check out when I visit
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