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Top Las Vegas Outside Attractions

Destination(s): Las Vegas

Many Las Vegas visitors never make it out of a casino—there are all those flashing lights, free drinks, and the ever-elusive possibility of winning money—but Las Vegas has a wealth of outdoor activities. At Red Rock Canyon and the Valley of Fire, visitors can hike past petroglyphs and marvel at the otherwordly rock formations. Lake Mead offers fishing, boating, water skiing, and hiking along the shore. Mt. Charleston is a mountain oasis in the middle of the Mojave Desert. In town, the Springs Preserve has about two miles worth of hiking trails, which visitors can use without charge. ~Picture of Mt. Charleston.~ read more about Top Las Vegas Outside Attractions

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

  • State Route 159 from Charleston Boulevard
  • (17 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip)
  • tel:+1 702 363 1921 (Information)
  • Visit website
  • Las Vegas, 89124

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area's towering cliffs look similar to the colorful rock formations in Nevada's Valley of Fire or Utah's Zion National Park, but while it's reminiscent of other areas, Red Rock stands by itself, a lone island of mountains and springs in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

West of Las Vegas, Red Rock sits off State Route 159 (follow Charleston Boulevard west and it will turn into SR159). Admission to Red Rock is $7 per vehicle, and includes admission to the new visitor's center, a map/newsletter.

The visitor's center integrates information, art, and the environment of Red Rock itself. Most of the displays are outside, which is fine for the vast majority of the year in Southern Nevada. Mojave Max, the center's desert tortoise mascot, lives here, along with a few of his friends. The hands-on displays explain the forces that created Red Rock: fire, wind, water, and earth. Keep your eyes open for the colorful birds flying in and out of the inside of the exhibit--the center of the displays is planted with native vegetation.

A one-way scenic drive takes visitors into Red Rock, and it has several places to stop for a hike or to take in a scenic vista; one area, adjacent to the Children's Discovery Trail, has a picnic area next to some springs. Water is plentiful here, so look for wildlife early in the morning and late in the day. You'll see lots of birds, but also look for burros and big horn sheep. Consult the map/newsletter to find a trail that fits your fitness and schedule. Short hikes, like the Children's Discovery Trail, can be completed in under an hour, while a trip to the top of Turtlehead Peak will take you half a day or more.

Winter is a great time to explore Red Rock. Temperatures are generally mild, but the mountains are covered in snow during the coldest months (dressing in layers is highly recommended). Spring and fall are short, but beautiful, with plenty of water from the snowmelt in the streams. Summer is usually far too hot for exploring Red Rock, although short hikes in the very early mornings are often doable. Remember to always bring plenty of water with you, no matter what the time of year, and sunscreen and lip balm are advisable. 

Hikers, bikers, and rock climbers flock to Red Rock. As you drive along the loop, look for the climbers dangling off the rocks of the Calico Hills, and always be on the lookout for bicyclists and pedestrians on the roadways.

This area was settled in the late 1800s, and you can find remnants of its prior history. At Sandstone Quarry, you can see where the blocks of sandstone were carved, and at Pine Creek, a short hike will take you to the foundation of an old homestead. Agave roasting pits and petroglyphs are evidence of far earlier inhabitation.
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Valley of Fire State Park

Valley of Fire State Park

  • Interstate 15 on exit 75, P. O. Box 515
  • (Six miles from Lake Mead)
  • tel:+1 702 397 2088
  • Visit website
  • Overton, 89040

Nevada's oldest state park, founded in 1935, is where red sandstone monoliths and the Mojave Desert meet. Petroglyphs, some almost 3,000 years, old tell the stories of the Anasazi. Petrified trees tell of a time when this ancient valley was lush with vegetation.

Located about an hour outside of Las Vegas, the Valley of Fire sits on the edge of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Its remote location and brilliantly colored rock formations are a favorite of photographers, film makers, and nature lovers. Far more lightly visited than Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire is a great place to really explore the desert. Petroglyphs are abundant here, and wildlife is easy to spot (since there are so few people). Look for big horn sheep, coyotes, ravens, tarantuallas, and other desert dwellers. Stop at the visitor's center to learn about the history, geology, and flora/fauna of the Valley of Fire.

Star Trek fans may recognize the area around White Domes, a land with brilliantly contrasting sandstone formations, as the place where Captain Kirk died. You'll also find the remnanats of an earlier movie set if you take the hike at White Domes--it's a moderately challenging trail that requires rock scrambling at the beginning, and which leads through an amazing slot canyon. Slot canyons, found throughout the Southwestern United States, allow a person to stand in the middle of the canyon and touch both sides. Dangerous during flash floods, these fascinating paths through the rocks are intriguing and beautiful.

For a short and easy trail, try Mouse's Tank. The trail allegedly got its name because it was a hideout for a Paiute named Mouse, and the tanks are the tinajas (areas in the rocks that fill with water). Kids will love scrambling over the easy-to-climb rocks. Keep your eyes peeled along the trail for petroglyphs, and if you're there in the evening, watch for the bats that are out swooping up bugs as the sun goes down.

Valley of Fire offers camping, hiking, picnicking and spectacular photography. It's a popular outdoor wedding location because of its striking scenery. The camping spots fill up fast in the cooler months, especially on the weekend, so if you'd like to camp here, arrive early. Park fees are often on a honor basis, but rangers do come through and check periodically.
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Mt. Charleston Restaurant

Mt. Charleston Restaurant

  • 2 Kyle Canyon Road
  • tel:702 872 5500
  • Visit website
  • Las Vegas, 89124
Springs Preserve

Springs Preserve

  • 3333 S. Valley View Blvd
  • tel:702/822-8344
  • Visit website
  • Las Vegas, 89107