How to Experience Nature Near Las Vegas
When you think about the beauty of nature, Las Vegas probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind. That’s not your fault. The city has more tourists than residents – around 42 million per year. The Strip is dominated by smoke-filled casinos and kitschy hotels plucked from the pages of a fantasy novel.
If you’re vacationing in Las Vegas, the Great Outdoors is closer than you’d think. Drive outside the city and you’ll find a wonderland of nearby parks and recreation centers, from a stunning pine-covered mountain to red rock formations that make for epic bouldering.
Hoover it Up
About 40 minutes southeast of Las Vegas lies one of the greatest man-made natural wonders in America. Built in the 1930s to plug the Colorado River, the Hoover Dam is a sight to behold. Tourists can get a close look at the dam’s gravity-arch construction and its towering neighbor, the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, on a three-hour river rafting tour hosted by Black Canyon River Adventures. Enjoy breathtaking views of Black Canyon as your guide points out the ospreys, sheep and other wildlife along the riverbank. Tip: The raft is motorized, so you can focus on pics instead of paddling. Bring a waterproof camera and you’ll be ready to snap shots of the side canyons and hot springs.
Live on the Lake
If you’re a fan of fishing, kayaking or boating, Lake Mead National Recreation Area is the place to be. The national park includes two sizeable lakes, Mohave and Mead, within 200,000 square miles of natural desert. Rent a personal watercraft and enjoy a sunny day on Lake Mead or spend a couple of hours riding the dusty trails on horseback. Leashed dogs are also welcome throughout most of the park. Tip: Drones are a no-no on park grounds, so you’ll have to stick to traditional selfies and landscape pics.
Escape to the Mountains
Less than an hour’s drive from Vegas is Charleston Peak, an 11,916-foot-high summit in the Spring Mountains. The surrounding town of Mount Charleston looks like something out of a children’s storybook, with rustic mountain lodges beneath towering pine forests and snow-capped peaks. Temperatures average 25 to 40 degrees cooler here versus Las Vegas. Traverse some of the 52 miles of hiking trails, or suit up for a day on the ski slopes during cool months. Tip: Beginners should beeline for the Mary Jane Falls Trail, a two-mile, family-friendly path that includes a cave and waterfall.
The city of Las Vegas tried desperately to attract families and revise its reputation in the 1990s, only to revert to Sin City shortly afterwards. What officials didn’t seem to realize is that the area around Las Vegas is home to some of the most beautiful hikes and lake retreats in the Southwest. It’s a natural place for families and outdoorsy types to escape to. So, the next time you book a Las Vegas vacay, take a few extra days to explore the forests, rivers and lakes within an hour’s drive of the big city lights.