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Jill Sanford | 10.03.2019

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.

 

Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas, Nevada.
The otherworldly Elephant Rock in Valley of Fire State Park. Denis LeBlanc.

From incredible water trails, interesting red rock formations, sand dunes, and plenty of hot springs, the greater 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. Hoover Dam and the Historic Railroad Trail: Bike, walk, or run along the path of a railroad that was used in the construction of Hoover Dam. The trail crosses open desert, passes through tunnels, grants views over Lake Mead, and ends at the dam itself.
  2. Black Mountain Summit: This 6.8-mile loop to the top of 5,000-foot-tall Black Mountain provides 360-degree views of the Las Vegas Strip, the Las Vegas valley, and beyond to Arizona and California. There is no shade, but this trail gets you off the beaten path and away from the crowds.
  3. Ice Box Canyon: The first part of this 2.5-mile hike is through high desert terrain, but temperatures reduce dramatically when you enter the deep and narrow canyon. Once inside, follow the flowing stream and notice how flora and fauna diversify with the drastic change in habitat.
  4. Valley of Fire State Park: The oldest and largest of Nevada’s state parks, Valley of Fire features striking red rock formations that rise from a surprisingly green desert floor. There are plenty of hikes to choose from, a scenic drive, and a few campgrounds to lay your head for the night.
  5. Cathedral Rock Trail: The Spring Mountains, though close to Las Vegas, feel a world away from the city and the desert because of their year-round cool temperatures, coniferous forests, and sheer rock walls. Cathedral Rock is the perfect hike to experience this high-elevation environment. The trail climbs among shady trees and past a waterfall to reach a cliff-top panorama.
  6. 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! 
  7. Keystone Thrust: This 2.2-mile trail will get you up close and personal with some incredible rock formations. The pinkish rocks look striking 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.
  8. Amargosa Big Dune: Hiking in the shifting sands is challenging, but the views from the dunes are well worth the effort. The tallest dune fluctuates between 300 to 500 feet tall, but there are hundreds of dunes in the complex. They are known as “singing” or “booming” dunes due to the unique sound they make under certain wind conditions. The Amargosa Dunes are popular OHV area, but you can still enjoy a hike by staying on the crest of the dunes where you are visible to drivers.
  9. Saint Thomas Ghost Town: Walk among the remains of a town submerged by Lake Mead when it was filled in 1938. Saint Thomas was at one time a thriving farm town, at another time a lawless western outpost, but it was ultimately doomed to decades underwater. The declining lake left it uncovered nearly 20 years ago, however, and now trails lead through what's left.
  10. Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge: This is the largest remaining oasis in the Mojave Desert, formed by a geologic fault that forces water to the surface, creating wetlands. This one-of-a kind landscape is home to the largest concentration of endemic species in the United States. Stop by the visitor center to find trail maps, learn about the unique environment, and hear the story of its preservation in the face of a plan to drain it in the 1970s.
  11. 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.

Comments

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