Having grown up near Atlantic City, I’ve come to realize that the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas and Atlantic City is mostly just a front. That kind of scene isn't for me.
But if you find yourself in Las Vegas, as I did recently, and you feel the same way I do, you'll be happy to know there's plenty of outdoor recreation available to calm your nerves and satisfy your wander lust.
A little under 20 miles west of Las Vegas, Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation Area
is a very beautiful park with plenty of trails to explore. At over 197,000 acres in size, there's something for everyone — hiking, cycling, rock climbing and 4-wheeling. A one-way, 13-mile loop leads as deep into the area as the majority of its 2 million visitors per year ever get. But, for the hiker there are many trails of various lengths and difficulty. I hiked to the top of Turtlehead Peak, roughly 5 miles round trip that starts off easy before becoming pretty strenuous. With over 2,000’ of elevation gain, the views are stunning, and the relatively small summit still boasts great 360° views. The trail is well marked, except for the last hundred feet or so to the summit.
There is a $7 per day entry fee to enter Red Rocks Canyon; if you have a “America the Beautiful Pass” you can get in without paying at the gate.
About 45 miles north east of Las Vegas, Valley of Fire State Park
was established as Nevada’s first state park in 1935. Exiting I-15, Valley of Fire Road drops down into a wide open valley of bright red rock formations, with canyons, arches and sandy dry washes. The red rocks in the park seemed brighter to me than similar places in the southwest and may have been why it was named the Valley of Fire. Besides the incredibly beautiful rock formations, there are hundreds of petroglyphs left from the ancient people who once inhabited the area.
There are a number of hiking trails in the park that are maintained by the park staff, but you are free to roam where ever you wish, unless otherwise posted. Valley of Fire is a mecca for landscape photographers, and my brief visit was spent mostly taking photos. With only a few hours to spend there, I elected to photograph the “Fire Wave,” a formation of sandstone with curves, waves and grooves of varying shades of red and orange. It’s not as big, or as famous as the “Wave” on the Utah/Arizona border, but it’s much easier to get to, and just as pretty and photogenic.
There is a $10 fee to enter Valley of Fire and since it is a state park, National Parks passes are not accepted.
On the most northwestern edge of the Las Vegas metro area, at the dead end of a road through yet another relatively new housing development, is Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument
. Established in 2014, it has no entrance gate, no visitor’s center, no established trail system, no staff and a single ranger who, I believe, divides his time between the monument and a National Park Service office in Boulder City. On my visit, I found one small sign that indicated that a National Monument even existed, but the area is open to exploration if you have the time to visit.
This of course only scratches the surface of the outdoor recreational opportunities in the Las Vegas area. Death Valley is only a few hours west, Zion National Park a couple of hours northeast and the Grand Canyon is about 4 hours east. But if you find yourself in Las Vegas and need to get away from the maddening crowds, this should get you started.
Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Las Vegas is a city of excess. There’s just too much of everything — too many people, too much traffic, too many buildings and lights. It's just too much.