When you’re booking a vacation to Las Vegas, you’re probably not planning on spending a whole lot of time outdoors. With so much to do inside — not the least of which is the multitude of casinos — it’s easy to spend entire Las Vegas short breaks indoors.
While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying all that Las Vegas has to offer along the Strip, the city also happens to be nestled among one of the most scenic parts of the U.S. Within a short drive of the city, you’ll find mountains, desert, lakes and rivers begging to be explored.
Hike the Valley of Fire
Working off all of the extra calories you’ve eaten at the Vegas buffets is easy with a hike in this visually stunning park. Located about an hour northeast of the city by car, the Valley of Fire is more than 14,000 hectares of classic American West scenery. The name of the park comes from the red sandstone formations that appear to be ablaze when lit by the sun. You can explore the formations on your own on one of the many marked trails or hire the services of a guide. The park is open seven days a week, and the best times to visit are early in the morning or in the early evening, when the temperatures are cooler.
Bicycle in Red Rock Canyon
While you probably wouldn’t ride a bicycle along Las Vegas Boulevard between the casinos and hotels, you can still rent a two-wheeler at one of the city’s many bicycle shops for exploring the open spaces surrounding Glitter Gulch. One of the most popular destinations for both locals and visitors alike is Red Rock Canyon. Only a 30-minute drive west of the Strip, the Canyon is a conservation area with a 21-kilometre loop trail passing over hilly, rocky terrain. The trail is technically challenging, but not impossible, and passes by wildlife viewing areas, sandstone bluffs and, during the rainy winter months, the occasional oasis waterfall. Guided tours are available.
Cruise Lake Mead
If you prefer your outdoor activities to be of the less strenuous variety, book a passage on Lake Mead Cruises for a few hours on the water. The artificial lake, created by the construction of the Hoover Dam is an aquatic playground, with boaters and swimmers flocking to the shore throughout the year. While you can rent a private boat and cruise the waters on your own, one of the most popular options is a cruise aboard one of the paddlewheel boats, replicas of the 19th-century steamboats that once cruised the Mississippi River. The cruises offer stunning views of the desert and mountains surrounding the lake as well as a unique vantage point for viewing the Hoover Dam.
Kayaking the Colorado River
For yet another view of the architectural wonder that it the Hoover Dam, sign up for a guided kayak tour of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, including the Black Canyon section of the Colorado River. Farther downstream, the Colorado snakes through the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but the views of sandstone cliffs and timeworn formations are no less stunning in Nevada. Several tour operators offer a variety of kayaking packages — some of which include hiking, swimming or visits to nearby hot springs — and experienced paddlers can rent boats for individual exploration.
Mount Charleston on Horseback
About 56 kilometers northwest of the city, Mount Charleston rises above the surrounding mountains as the highest peak in southern Nevada. The mountain falls in several designated conservation and park areas, and as a result offers a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities, ranging from skiing to rock climbing. One of the most popular activities, though, is horseback riding. The cooler temperatures and stunning terrain of the mountain area make it a popular choice for those who wish to unleash their inner cowboys (or girls).
There is so much to do outside of the Las Vegas’ casinos that you might find yourself trying to squeeze in a round of poker or some time at the slots in between hiking, biking and horseback riding. So pack your hiking boots along with your dancing shoes, stock up on sunscreen and prepare for an outdoor adventure.
Frances Hartman is a travel blogger and photographer who loves exploring “off-the-beaten path” attractions and activities wherever she goes. She visits Las Vegas every year and makes a point to spend at least one day outdoors. She suggests looking for hotels in Las Vegas in advance to find the best deals.