While many visitors to Sin City may never leave the city’s entertainment zones, the word is getting out among adventurers that there are incredible opportunities for hiking near Las Vegas. The city is located in the center of the Mojave Desert, which may be more familiar than you think. Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks are two of the more famous outdoor destinations you’ll find in the Mojave. While both of these parks require a drive of 2-3 hours, there are plenty of surprisingly beautiful, interesting, and diverse desert hiking trails to explore much closer to Las Vegas. Your options range from shady slot canyons and sandstone to waterfalls and towering pine forested peaks. Plan your trip carefully so you don’t miss out on the best places to hike near Vegas.
A short 30 minute drive west of the Las Vegas strip you’ll find the striking red and white sandstone cliffs that make up Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The conservation area comprises Red Rock Canyon and the surrounding area, stretching across a diverse landscape that reaches as high as 8,154 feet in elevation at the top of La Madre Mountain. Because of this wide elevation range, you’ll find many options for hiking trails that showcase different elements of the landscape. Stop at the Red Rock Canyon visitor center to pick up a trail map and learn about how to identify wildlife like endangered desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, and wild burros, then head out to explore the area. Popular easy hiking trails include Moenkopi Loop—a great showcase of desert flora and ancient fossils, and Petroglyph Wall which reminds hikers that this land was inhabited long before the bright lights of Las Vegas switched on. For something more strenuous, discover the shady oasis of Ice Box Canyon or learn about the geologic processes that formed this region while hiking the Keystone Thrust Trail. The Red Rock NCA charges a $15 daily use fee to enter the park, they do accept the America the Beautiful pass.
Deserving of a full-day of exploration, Valley of Fire State Park is one of the few remaining undiscovered gems of the American Southwest. The park offers dozens of hiking trails through its maze of fiery red rocks including highlights like slot canyons and the Fire Wave. Driving north from Las Vegas along the I-15 the Mojave Desert spreads out around you, brown rocky peaks punctuating the edges of the expanse. The contrast is stark as you enter the Valley of Fire to a jumble of close-set canyons with hiking trails winding through the red sandstone. Make sure to stop and hike around Atlatl Rock where you can stop and wonder at the immense panel of petroglyphs set high above the valley floor. Most visitors to Valley of Fire make time to hike the Fire Wave Trail and explore the slot canyon on the White Domes Loop but overlook scenic spots like the oasis along the Charlie’s Spring Trail. Valley of Fire State Park charges a $10 daily use fee to enter the park.
While “slot canyons” may not be one specific place, there are enough options for hiking through slot canyons near Las Vegas that they deserve a mention here. Slot canyons are deep and narrow canyons that typically form in sedimentary sandstone rocks. Famous slot canyons include the Zion Narrows and Antelope Canyon. Beyond the slot canyon on Valley of Fire’s White Domes trail mentioned above, there are two or three easy to access and impressive slot canyons within a short drive of the Las Vegas strip. White Owl Canyon is a tributary to Lake Mead only a short drive east of Henderson. The hike begins at a trailhead overlooking the lake and leads you up the canyon as the walls rise up sharply around you. White Owl Canyon is home to many barn owls that nest in the canyon’s porous sandstone walls. The hike to Arizona Hot Springs is another great option for hikers looking to explore a slot canyon with a relaxing reward at the end. This hike begins on the Arizona side of the Colorado River just beyond the Hoover Dam and ends at natural hot pool. Both the White Owl Canyon and Arizona Hot Springs hikes are within the Lake Mead National Recreation area which has a $25 per vehicle entry fee or they accept the America the Beautiful pass.
Only an hour’s drive from the heart of hot, dry, and bustling Las Vegas you’ll find the cool pine-forested slopes of 11,900 foot tall Mount Charleston in the Spring Mountains. The village of Mount Charleston, Nevada sits at 7,500 feet in elevation and is typically some 20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than Las Vegas. There are over 60 miles of maintained hiking trails on the mountain that wind through shady canyons and up summits, some leading to springs and waterfalls. Mary Jane Falls trail is a treat in the early spring when winter snowmelt causes the waterfall to swell. Try to spot the twisted and gnarled bristlecone pine trees as you hike along, this species of tree is among the longest-lived life forms on Earth, some of them have been known to live to nearly 5,000 years old.
While the Las Vegas strip may be better known for high rollers and deep pockets than high peaks and deep canyons, there are plenty of options to get out for a hike while you’re in town. Be sure to plan some time to enjoy one of these incredible outdoor destinations.