Famous for the Strip’s bright lights and glitzy nightlife, Las Vegas, Nevada, is also an amazing destination for nature lovers.
These scenic hikes less than an hour’s drive from Las Vegas are a great way to explore the stunning landscapes near this entertainment mecca. Hikers will come across desert sands and cacti, of course, but also forested mountains, cool waterfalls, fascinating petroglyphs and otherworldly rock formations. These are day hikes, meaning you can leave your hotel in the morning and be back for a shower before the lights start coming up on the Strip, although timing a hike to take in the sunrise or sunset can make for especially awesome memories.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Just 35 minutes west of Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is known for its towering red sandstone peaks and a 21-kilometer Scenic Drive, which leads to trailheads for numerous awesome hikes.
Perfect for families, the Petroglyph Wall Trail is an easy out-and-back trail (only .3 kilometers) that leads from the Willow Springs Picnic Area to a cliffside with both petroglyphs (artwork chiseled into the rock) and pictographs (paintings) at least 800 years old. The Calico Tanks Trail is a 3.5-kilometer moderate out-and-back trail that leads to hidden water and great views of Las Vegas. Looking for another fascinating perspective? The Las Vegas Overlook Loop, also known as Muffin Ridge, is an easy 6.4-kilometer loop that offers commanding views of the Strip and surrounding mountains.
Sandstone cliffs surrounding the trails of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Valley of Fire State Park
With outcroppings of red Aztec sandstone set against gray and tan limestone, it’s clear where Valley of Fire State Park, just under an hour northeast of Las Vegas, gets its name. One of the area’s most photogenic trails, the Fire Wave Trail – 2.5 easy out-and-back kilometers – leads to swirling red sandstone formations that become even more vibrant around sunset. Hike along the easy 1.8-kilometer White Domes Loop to colorful rock formations, a slot canyon, mysterious caves and an abandoned movie set.
A hiker admiring the vibrant rock formations in Valley of Fire State Park
Spring Mountains National Recreation Area
Drive just 45 minutes west of Las Vegas to reach Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, which incorporates low meadows, the 3,636-meter Mount Charleston and plenty of scenic landscapes in between. Learn about the area’s unique desert plant life while hiking the Bristlecone Loop Trail, a 10-kilometer loop rated as moderately challenging partly because it’s at higher altitude. The namesake bristlecone pines can live to be thousands of years old. (Get quicker access to the bristlecone pine groves via the Upper Bristlecone Trailhead.)
Waterfalls in the desert? You bet. Hike the Mary Jane Falls Trail – a moderate out-and-back 6.4 kilometers – to a seasonal waterfall in cool Kyle Canyon. Water flows most abundantly in spring but often continues through summer. A more difficult trail extension leads to the spectacular Big Falls.
A view of the forests, meadows and mountains of Spring Mountains National Recreation Area
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Lake Mead National Recreation Area – the nation’s first and largest national recreation area – is just 30 minutes east of Las Vegas. Head to this massive playground to see the Hoover Dam from the waters of Lake Mead, marvel at night skies illuminated by the Milky Way or hike through tunnels along the lake’s edge and into dramatic canyons.
The Arizona Hot Springs Canyon Trail is a 9.5-kilometer moderate loop. This sunny desert hike (it’s closed from late spring through early fall because of the summer heat) leads to a veritable pot of gold – four hot spring pools hidden inside a slot canyon. A ladder leads down to the cool, clear Colorado River.
The pinkish hues of twilight at Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Before You Go
- Research any hike’s difficulty level – including length and elevation – in advance and be realistic about your abilities.
- Choose a guided hike if you’re less comfortable hiking on your own and/or want to learn about the area from an expert while you hike.
- Be prepared to respect the desert climate – wear a hat and sunscreen, carry lots of water and choose the best times for optimal conditions. Some exposed trails are closed from mid-May through September because of the heat, and it’s best to avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day, typically 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Familiarize yourself with the seven principles of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics to sustain healthy and vibrant natural lands.
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