Many people visit Las Vegas, Nevada, for the dazzling lights, glamorous casinos, gourmet restaurants and star-studded shows. But as entertaining as Sin City can be, there’s even more to discover right outside the city limits. Thanks to its location in the rocky and rugged Mojave Desert, Las Vegas is actually closer than you think to the great outdoors. If you’re craving some fresh air and adventure, head to one of these four U.S. National Parks that are just three hours or less from the infamous Las Vegas Strip.
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Many tour companies can take you to visit these parks and have you back in the city in time to catch an evening show. All you need is sturdy walking shoes, plenty of water, your camera and a few extra days in Las Vegas!
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is just a short 27-kilometer drive from the hustle and bustle of the Las Vegas Strip is the vast and beautiful. This park encompasses an impressive stretch of rusty-hued canyons, rugged cliffs and plunging valleys. The sandstone cliffs — formed by fossilized sand dunes and a variety of geological forces — surround over 48 kilometers of hiking trails. The conservation area also has a very scenic 21-kilometer byway, which weaves through the canyons and peaks. When hiking, climbing or driving through Red Rock Canyon, keep your eyes peeled for the fascinating critters that call the area home, including wild horses, burros (small donkeys), coyotes and bobcats.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the Hoover Dam
About 60 kilometers east of downtown Las Vegas, Lake Mead National Recreation Area offers year-round recreational activities, including boating, fishing, sightseeing, picnicking and hiking. The roads weaving in and out of the hued canyons make for great cycling and driving opportunities, too. If you’re looking for an extra thrill, you can rent a kayak or canoe and hit the rapids of the mighty Colorado River. But the star of the show here is the famous Hoover Dam, a remarkable feat of engineering. This National Historic Landmark first constructed in the 1930s is one of the USA’s largest energy generators. Take a tour of the dam to see how it converts water to electricity, and enjoy stunning views of Lake Mead along the way.
Death Valley National Park
Just over 190 kilometers from the bright lights of Vegas you’ll find Death Valley National Park. This massive park stretches across the California-Nevada border and features a myriad of fascinating landscapes, from rolling sand dunes to vast mountains to expansive salt flats. Death Valley is the hottest, driest and lowest place in all of North America. Because of that distinction, you might be surprised to find that winters bring snow-topped mountains and temperatures that dip below freezing at night. Hiking, driving, biking and guided tours are great ways to experience this desert scene. Grab your camera and head out at dawn or dusk for a truly spectacular photo op.
Valley of Fire State Park
Home to stunning canyons, steep cliffs and vibrant red rocks, the Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest state park, founded in 1935. Named after the red sandstone formations formed from the great shifting sand dunes that existed millions of years ago, these rugged rock formations are the centerpiece of the park. However, the Valley of Fire, located just 88 kilometers from downtown Las Vegas, is also home to ancient Indian petroglyphs and plenty of picnic sites and hiking routes. Keep your eyes peeled lizards, coyotes, kit foxes, skunks, jackrabbits and more while you’re out on the trails.
Las Vegas isn’t the only city surrounded by beautiful parks. See what Burlington, Vermont, has to offer.