Let's go Hiking Near Las Vegas
Hiking enthusiasts not familiar with the area might assume that there’s nothing but desert surrounding Las Vegas. They’d be right about the desert part, but there are some incredible mountains too, making up some of the most unique landscapes in the U.S. There are so many places to explore: history-packed trails through arid plains, mountains of fiery red sandstone erupting from the desert floor, and box canyons so tight the blistering heat fails to penetrate them. These trails are all within an hour’s drive from the city, making Las Vegas a surprisingly accessible metropolis for great hiking.
This first one is a great trip to take the kids on because it’s a great educational experience and is almost flat, so it’s easy enough that nobody should get too tired. Located on the edges of the Lake Mead Recreation Area are the remains of the railway used to construct Hoover Dam. The tunnels that were blasted through the rock are 25 feet in diameter and are lined with steel reinforcements. The trailhead is located on Lake Shore Road near the Alan Bible Visitor Center, an eleven-minute drive from the dam. It makes its way through five, 300-foot-long tunnels over a distance of four miles before ending at the Hoover Dam parking garage. The trail also boasts plenty of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, owls, and various lizard species. While not a very “natural” trail, it’s a nice place to spend the day learning about one of America’s greatest engineering feats, while also enjoying the shade the tunnels provide.
Only twenty minutes from the Strip, this hike can easily be knocked out in a couple hours after work. It takes about an hour and half to climb the 2-mile long trail with 1500 feet of elevation gain and a bit less to get back. Take East Lake Mead Boulevard a few miles out of the city, and you’re on your way to the highest peak on the eastern side of the Las Vegas Valley. The hike to the top traverses three “peaks,” the first of which is a false summit, followed by a saddle. The trail then continues to the lower northern summit, also followed by a saddle, and finally the higher southern summit. The ascent and descent between these summits can be a bit challenging, but the views from the final peak will be worth it.
This trail is actually a service road for the communications equipment that’s at the top and though that might make it sound like it’s a gradual climb, nothing could be further from the truth. This is one of the steepest roads you’ll ever see, and the switchbacks will make you wonder how any normal vehicle could get up it.
Ice Box Canyon in Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area
If you’re looking for the perfect hike to beat the heat, the name says it all. Ice Box Canyon is located in Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area, which has tons of amazing hikes. The Ice Box Canyon remains significantly cooler than the other trails in park, through a combination of having a cool mountain stream running through it and being too narrow to get much sunlight at its base.
It’s a pretty easy hike of only 2.6 miles round trip and 500 feet of elevation gain. Start this one in the morning, because although the canyon gives a wonderful respite from the heat, you’ll need to traverse nearly a mile of open desert to access it. After the first mile, there’s not too much of a trail as you enter the narrow canyon, and you’ll just be following the boulder-strewn streambed. The rocky path ends at an impressive, three-stage waterfall.
Valley of Fire State Park is Nevada’s oldest park, created in 1935 to preserve one of the truly unique landscapes in the southeastern part of the state. The burnt orange sandstone formations amongst walls of gray and tan limestone give the park an otherworldly appearance. No surprise then, that the Mars scenes from the early-90s Sci-Fi film Total Recall, starring none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, were shot here. The park also boasts petroglyphs from some of America’s earliest known inhabitants, the pre-Ancestral Puebloans of the Basketmaker culture, circa 500 B.C.
Most of the trails in the park are quite short and have very little elevation gain, so you can accomplish a few of them in a day. If you’re interested in seeing remnants of Basketmaker culture that once flourished here, the Petroglyph Canyon Trail is a 0.75-mile loop that passes a number of rock faces with their characteristic etchings. Toward the end of the trail is the Mouse’s Tank, a rock basin that held precious quantities of rainwater – making it a favorite gathering point for the inhabitants and thus the site of numerous petroglyphs. There is an $8 fee for day hiking in the park ($10 for out-of-state residents), $20 if you’re want to camp amongst the rocks.
Is Las Vegas miserably hot in the summer? Yes, quite often, but during the months when the mercury dips below ninety degrees, it’s an amazing place to hike. And at least the area doesn’t have to contend with rain or snow – it’s pretty much sunny all year long! The mountains right outside the city, along with the colorful rock formations and the ruggedness of the desert peaks, give the area a kind of beauty that can’t be found outside the Southwest. Leave the neon lights, pit bosses, and rampant consumerism of the city behind, and use one of these four hikes to get out and enjoy all that nature has to offer.