There’s a whole lot more to Southern Nevada than Las Vegas Boulevard.
And we want to share some of our favorite outdoor activities right here in Zappos' own backyard.
To most people, the words Las Vegas mean neon lights, hot restaurants and throbbing clubs. But to Spanish explorers, it was the valley’s meadows that gave Sin City its original name. Though the grasslands have since been paved over, the diversity of the surrounding desert makes Las Vegas an epicenter for outdoor excursions.
“Nevada offers a lot because there is the big urban, amazing Vegas, which is it’s own thing,” says Chris Moran of TravelNevada, “but surprisingly, there is a lot of outdoor adventure just outside of the Strip.”
One can hardly walk through the airport without ads for Grand Canyon heli tours catching your eye, but if you’re looking for a down to earth way to explore the wonders of the Mojave without chartering an aircraft, may we suggest a few outings within driving distance of the city lights.
“Las Vegas is a great starting point for road trips that take you through some beautiful state parks, interesting ghost towns and quirky roadside attractions,” says Moran, who champions the area’s iconic Southwest landscapes and eclectic characters.
From hardy, low elevation ecosystems to an alpine oasis just an hour from the Strip, there’s a lot more to Nevada than meets the eye. While the discovery is half the fun, we’re letting you in on some local secrets in our hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada.
1. Climb Red Rock Canyon
Almost 200,000 acres of sandstone formations make Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area a world-renowned climbing destination. From multi-pitch sport and trad routes to beginner friendly boulders, climbing within Red Rock is a great way to get up close and personal with the park’s spectacular geology. Formed from lithified sand dunes, the distinctive red cliffs are home to plants and wildlife such as yucca, joshua trees and feral burros.
Just 30 minutes from downtown Las Vegas, Red Rock is the perfect day trip for those who want the best of both worlds — to spend the day in the canyon and be back in the city by sundown. With so many routes to choose from, we recommend swinging by a local climbing shop before heading out so you can grab a guidebook and rent a crash pad if you need one.
2. Hike Mt. Charleston
Due west of Red Rock Canyon are the surprisingly alpine Spring Mountains. Few would guess that a ski resort and prime hiking destination are within an hour of Las Vegas, but there it is. Mt. Charleston (11,918 ft), the highest peak in the range, doesn’t compete with 13,000 and 14,000-feet state high points, but instead garners attention from peakbaggers for its lofty prominence. A rise of over 8,000 feet from the surrounding valleys ranks it as Nevada’s most prominent peak, and 8th overall in the US.
Summiting Mt. Charleston via South Loop trail is an all-day endeavor for most hikers. While no technical climbing is required, the 16-mile round trip and more than 4,000 feet of elevation gain are enough to keep even the fittest hikers working hard on their way to the top. Weather in the Spring Mountains is far different from that of the Las Vegas Valley, so be sure to check the forecast before heading out to avoid thunderstorms and other unpleasant scenarios.
3. Kayak the Colorado River
There’s no better way to explore the canyons of the Colorado than from the river itself. Almost 1,500 miles of waterway brings Rocky Mountain snowmelt to Baja California, and endless recreation opportunities in between. Each year, thousands of adventure-thirsty visitors hop in rafts and kayaks to retrace the path of John Wesley Powell, or at least segments of it, in their search for Colorado River domination.
Flatwater zones near the Hoover Dam are easily accessible from Las Vegas and, due to heightened security, can only be accessed by booking with a park approved outfitter. Other areas of the Colorado are open to self-guided parties, but the permitting system is competitive, so be sure to plan far in advance.
Black Canyon and Emerald Cave are top stops on a kayaking tour, and some itineraries include trips to a sauna cave and natural hot spring as well.
4. Jet Ski Lake Mead
If all the red tape to get out on the Colorado River is killing your buzz, hop on a jet ski at Lake Mead, no permit required. With a little horsepower behind you, you can explore the numerous coves of the massive manmade lake and get some relief from the desert heat.
Formed by the creation of the Hoover Dam, which is considered an engineering masterpiece, Lake Mead supplies the drinking water for the city of Las Vegas. Though a popular recreation area, the sheer size of the lake and its web of narrow channels means you could find a cool zone to have all to yourself.
Several rental companies are located right at the marina, and you won’t need to hassle with towing your watercraft to a put in point. Boating license regulations are based on your home state’s laws, so be sure to check whether you need to take an online safety course before arrival.
5. Explore Valley of Fire
Founded in 1935, Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest state park. Wave-like sandstone striations and a rich, rusty hue give the park an otherworldly aura that makes it a popular filming location for Western and sci-fi flicks. Arches, beehives and balanced rock formations lure artists and photographers while petroglyphs and Ancestral Puebloan artifacts offer insight into the region’s rich human history.
Enjoy a scenic drive or bike ride through Valley of Fire’s Martian-like landscape, or pitch a tent and stay a while. With a distance of about 50 miles from the lights of the city, overnight visitors are treated to unobstructed views of the starry sky, plus spending the night in the park gives you a head start on a hike before the heat of the day. Campsites are first come first served, so you’ve got a chance of snagging one on the fly.
There’s no denying the lure of Las Vegas proper, but if casinos and crowds aren’t your thing or you’re looking to mix it up on your next trip, venture out of the city and soak up some desert wanderlust. Whether camping out or crashing at a swanky hotel, these Vegas adjacent adventures are some of Zappos’ favorites.