A lot of people look at Las Vegas exclusively as a booming hub for casino resorts and entertainment. These are definitely the main draws, but what this image of the city misses is that it also makes for a great home base for some outdoor adventure. Despite its reputation for being “in the middle of the desert,” Vegas is actually located in very close proximity to a handful of excellent hiking destinations that exude that one-of-a-kind vibe of the American Southwest. When we took our last trip out to Vegas (back in the corporate days), we left the downtown area and drove straight to the great outdoors just a few hours away – and you should too!
Here we want to take a brief look at some of the best hiking spots, as well as some tips for getting the most out of a Vegas getaway in general.
The truth of the matter is that there are dozens of great hikes in the area. Rather than trying to name or rank them all there though, we’ll highlight some of the main areas in which you can find great trails to look into….
Valley of Fire State Park
Valley Of Fire is one of the go-to outdoor areas near Las Vegas, and with good reason. Aptly named for its general landscape, the park is packed with things to see — most of which looks almost like something from another planet. The park is also home to several well-rated hiking routes, with the Fire Wave Trail and White Domes Trail being perhaps the most popular. Both will have you trekking through stunning desert settings and taking in scenery unlike you’ll have seen anywhere else.
Red Rock Canyon
Arguably the most famous outdoor park or conservation near Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon is a very popular draw for hikers and climbers. This is partly because of the quality of the scenery and the intrigue of the terrain, but it’s also because this canyon is basically Sin City’s back yard. It’s a slight stretch to say it’s within walking distance of the Vegas Strip — but not much of one. Meanwhile, once you’re in Red Rock Canyon, there’s another whole batch of great hikes to try out. Calico Hills and the Calico Tank Trail are some of the most popular options, though the Ice Box Canyon Trail and the Keystone Thrust Trail are also excellent, and will expose you to slightly more lush scenery. It will also be a plus for some travelers to know that for the most part the Red Rock Canyon trails are accessible and manageable for hikers of all levels.
Lake Mead is east of the city, and is best known for its association with the Hoover Dam. It’s also a terrific recreation area however, and another place to enjoy some scenic hiking. There are plenty of walks to be enjoyed around the perimeter of the lake, but in this case there is one signature trail: the Lake Mead Railway Trail. This trail follows the construction railroad route that was used in the construction of the Hoover Dam, but which does not support an active railroad today. It is thus both an interesting piece of history and a great way to take in the lake and its surroundings from different angles.
If you travel to Las Vegas primarily for hiking, chances are you won’t be hitting every last attraction in the city. However, part of what makes this such a great destination for adventure is that you can still stay in Vegas, and take advantage of some of its luxuries and activities to unwind in the evenings after days out on the trails.
Hit the Poker Tables
Poker may seem a little bit “old school” to some, but it’s still among the most popular casino games in the city, and it still represents the sort of quintessential Vegas gaming experience. There’s just nothing quite like sitting down with a stack of chips and a professional dealer to try your luck at a game you’ve likely seen depicted on TV and in films your whole life. Furthermore, the best poker rooms in Las Vegas, spread out across high-end resorts like the Aria, the Venetian, and the iconic Bellagio, offer a classier experience than you get most anywhere else. You can just take a seat in an elegant space, rest those tired legs, and enjoy yourself — usually without too much pressure (though you may want to avoid the high-stakes tables!).
Try Some Blackjack
If poker seems a little intimidating, or those high-end poker rooms just aren’t your speed, you can also relax a bit with some casino blackjack. It’s generally viewed as a simpler game, and it’s another one that doesn’t require much activity on your part, meaning you can just take it easy and enjoy another famous Vegas activity. Other table games, like roulette and craps, typically require that you be on your feet. But as with the poker tables, blackjack allows you to take a load off, sip a drink, and enjoy some low-key recreation.
Catch a Show
Mots people are aware that Vegas is home to the occasional stop on a major rock tour, or perhaps to a given comedy or circus performance. But the truth of the matter is that the show scene in town is a lot bigger and broader than just a few acts. There are permanent Cirque du Soleil exhibitions, resident musicians, rock, pop, and hip-hop tour stops, regular comedy shows, dance performances, dinner theaters, and more. You can see just about whatever you might imagine, and a show makes for another great way to enjoy the city without needing to be particularly active in between days out on the trails.
Finally, if you want to indulge a little bit, you should absolutely take advantage of the fine dining scene in Vegas! It may not be the sort of thing you typically imagine when planning a vacation around outdoor adventure — but then, Vegas isn’t a very typical place. A restaurant scene consisting of beloved steakhouses, authentic international cuisine, celebrity chef venues, and plenty of hidden gems is frankly hard to ignore. And there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a great meal after a full day of hiking in the Nevada heat.
Any vacation combining these elements sounds pretty good in our book! Hiking through the trails and canyons surrounding Las Vegas for a few days, with some intermittent time at the poker tables and fancy restaurants, just gives you a little bit of everything that makes the area unique. And of course, you can choose to balance the activities however you choose to best suit your preferred type of getaway. Just pack up some hiking shoes and a handy backpack, throw in one or two outfits appropriate for a night out, and you’re on your way!