Wilderness or city adventure? One of the best things about Las Vegas is that you don’t have to choose. Las Vegas may be known for the neon lights and raucous crowds on the Strip and Fremont Street, but it also happens to be one of the best outdoor destinations in the country. Seriously—some people travel to Las Vegas from all around the world to rock climb and never even set foot in a casino.
Whether you’re in the mood to hike, climb, kayak, photograph wildlife, or even ski, it’s possible to get out for a day in nature and be back in time for drinks, dinner, and whatever else the city has in store.
6 ways to experience nature in Las Vegas:
Located about a half-hour from the Las Vegas Strip, Red Rock Canyon is known for its crimson-hued Aztec sandstone cliffs. Look closely and you’ll see rock climbers scaling them. And hey, if you’re not afraid of heights, you can be one of those climbers—there are more than 2,000 climbing routes to choose from. The most popular way to experience Red Rock Canyon is by driving the 13-mile one-way Scenic Loop, which offers stops at trailheads and viewpoints as it winds through the desert wilderness. Heads up: The Scenic Loop requires reservations for entry as of November 2020, so make one online before you go.
Experience a piece of Howard Hughes’ legacy in an unlikely setting at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park. Located just down the road from the Scenic Loop, Spring Mountain Ranch State Park is a surprisingly bucolic desert destination. The park features the same gorgeous mountain views that you’ll find elsewhere in the Red Rock Canyon area, plus a lush green lawn for picnicking, easy hiking trails, and a historic ranch once owned by Howard Hughes. After visiting, drive to the nearby town of Blue Diamond and have a hard cider and a pancetta fig pizza at Cottonwood Station Eatery. Keep an eye out for wild burros.
There are no shortage of pools—and pool parties—in Las Vegas, but if you’d like to take a dip in a more natural setting, head to Lake Mead. The Lake Mead National Recreation Area is about a half-hour from the Strip near Boulder City. The sapphire blue water looks a bit like a mirage from the highway, but don’t worry; it’s very real. Aquatic activities are seemingly endless here. You can rent a houseboat, camp among the palm trees at Boulder Beach, kayak the Colorado River from Willow Beach, hike the Historic Railroad Trail, or simply spend an afternoon cooling off in the water.
The next time you’re sipping champagne at a rooftop lounge in Las Vegas, take a look at those mountains in the northwest. That’s where you want to be when the summer temperatures sizzle. The Mt. Charleston Wilderness—which gets its name from 11,916-foot Charleston Peak—promises cool, alpine air in the summer and plenty of hiking opportunities. While you’re up there, hit the sun deck at Mt. Charleston Lodge and enjoy stiff cocktails, elk burgers, fried buffalo cauliflower, and incredible views. In the winter, go to Lee Canyon for snow and skiing—yes, really, snow and skiing—just an hour away from the Strip.
Clark County Wetlands Park is located within the city, making it one of the easiest ways to take a short detour into nature without sacrificing time on the Strip and Downtown. Situated about 20 minutes east of the Strip, Clark County Wetlands Park is a surprisingly tranquil destination where you can take an easy, flat hike or post up on the North Pond Wildlife Blind and look for great blue herons. An underrated gem in this area is the 10,000-square-foot Nature Center, which has displays, interactive exhibits, and an indoor seating area with views of the surrounding wilderness.
Want to see a herd of desert bighorn sheep? At Valley of Fire State Park, you’re almost guaranteed to catch a glimpse of the Nevada state animal (Insider tip: They’re often seen in the Mouse’s Tank Road/White Domes Road area near the Visitor Center.). In addition to the awe-inspiring herds of bighorn sheep, Valley of Fire also offers scenic drives, hiking, camping, petroglyphs and some of the best stargazing near Las Vegas.