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Around Las Vegas: Great Places for a Drive

Destination(s): Las Vegas

Las Vegas is in the Mojave Desert, North America's smallest desert, and home to miles of two-lane roads. For a day-trip outside of the Neon City, take a picnic and spend some time on the road. Multi-colored sandstone fractures Southern Nevada in places, and a huge man-made lake sits just a couple of hours from the Strip. The mountains west of town are much cooler than in Las Vegas. At the higher altitudes in both Lee and Kyle Canyons, take a break from the car and hike to see if you can spot a bristlecone pine, one of the longest-lived types of trees. ~Photo courtesy of Frank Kovalchek~ read more about Around Las Vegas: Great Places for a Drive

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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Taylor Creek

Taylor Creek

  • Zion National Park
  • tel:(435) 772-3256
  • Visit website
  • Zion National Park, 84767

The Middle Fork of Taylor Creek has reliable water, excellent views, and few people—all of which are a treasure in the beauty of Zion! You get to see not one but two historic homestead cabins built by the first white settlers. The amazing Double Arch Alcove is a visual feast. Note: you'll cross the river numerous times, so be prepared to possibly get wet. Make sure you take a trail guide to ensure you don't wander off onto one of the many branch-out "social trails" that cut away from the main trail. read more about Taylor Creek

The Strip

The Strip

  • South Las Vegas Boulevard
  • tel:+1 702 892 0711
  • Las Vegas, 89109
Red Rock Canyon Scenic Byway

Red Rock Canyon Scenic Byway

  • Off Nevada State Route 159
  • tel:702-515-5000
  • Visit website
  • Las Vegas, 89124

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area has one paved road through its protected lands. The Red Rock "Loop," as locals refer to it, is a 13-mile, one-way scenic drive that weaves past the spectacular rock formations in Red Rock Canyon. The road itself is great fun to drive--if you like winding, curvy, slightly hilly roads with no guardrails. The Loop is a favorite photo-shoot backdrop for car clubs of all kinds, precisely because it's a such an enjoyable drive. This is a one-way road, but in its former life, this road was two-lanes. Drivers who like to take it slow should move to the right and let the faster cars pass.

The first pull-outs on the Loop overlook the Calico Hills. These overlooks are crowded with tourists, hikers, photographers, and rock climbers. Take a good look at the Calico Hills and you're likely to find several climbers clinging to its vertical rock walls.

Sandstone Quarry is another popular stop along the Scenic Drive. Its name signifies exactly what it formerly was, and visitors who want to stretch their legs but not go for a hike will find this a good stop, but there are no picnic tables here.

High Point Overlook has a roomy parking lot and coin-operated binoculars. You can see the southwestern tip of the Las Vegas Valley from here, along with an expansive view of Red Rock's cliffs. If you can catch a full moon rising over the Calico Hills, it makes a great picture from this spot.

Further down the road, drivers will find picnic tables at Willow Springs, close to the Children's Discovery Trail and the Lost Creek Trail. (Experienced 4WD drivers may want to try Rocky Gap Road, which goes over the mountains here. Check on road conditions before attempting this drive).

Photographers adore the Red Rock Scenic Loop, and if you're in this group, plan on pulling over often. Red Rock's scenery appears frequently in movies, and it's also a favorite spot for weddings, romantic drives and picnics.

Visitors who don't want to hike or climb can still enjoy a drive along the Loop, which ends back at State Route 159. The Red Rock Overlook sits just off SR159, and it has covered picnic tables. Drivers can pull in here for a panoramic view of Red Rock Canyon, and there's no entrance fee. A short trail climbs a hill just east of the parking lot, and several benches give people the chance to stop and rest, or simply to stop and enjoy the view.

The Red Rock Canyon Scenic Loop is open from daylight to dark; hours change according to the seasons. Admission is $7 per vehicle.
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Spring Mountain Scenic Loop Drive

Spring Mountain Scenic Loop Drive

  • US Highway 95 & State Highway 157
  • tel:702-515-5000
  • Visit website
  • Las Vegas, 89143