There’s More To Love In Vegas Than The Bright Lights

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Cyclist take a break at Red Rock Canyon. Photo Courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau

Cyclist take a break at Red Rock Canyon.
Photo Courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau

Surrounded by a lake, mountains and scenic desert terrain, Las Vegas, Nev., is much more than its “Sin City” image.

Las Vegas is approximately 136 square miles. The famous Strip stretches for about four miles, so the surrounding area offers much more than just rolling the dice or playing the slots.

The city features Lake Mead to the southeast, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area to the west and Mount Charleston (a popular skiing destination) to the northwest.

To the northeast, about 100 miles from The Strip in Las Vegas, is the Valley of Fire State Park which includes hiking trails that feature views of classic southwest desert scenery. The Grand Canyon is also only 40 miles from the Strip and is a popular day trip that can consist of hiking and kayaking.

Las Vegas also features plenty of award-winning golf courses, including the Arnold Palmer-designed Angel Park in the plush Las Vegas suburb of Summerlin. The course offers the best scenic view of the valley and nearby Red Rock Canyon.

The following is an overview of a couple of the best outdoor locations around Las Vegas from my point of view (in Las Vegas vernacular, I call it a winning pair):

Great hiking possibilities around Vegas. Photo Courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau

Great hiking possibilities around Vegas.
Photo Courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau

RED ROCK CANYON NATIONAL CONSERVATION AREA

My favorite outdoors destination in the Las Vegas vicinity is Red Rock Canyon, which is only 17 miles west of The Strip and is visited by more than 1 million people annually.

Red Rock offers plenty of outdoor activities including a 13-mile scenic paved bicycling path, more than 30 miles of hiking trails, rock climbing, horseback riding, mountain biking, road biking, picnic areas and nature observing that includes desert wildlife.

The red-stone formations dating to when the region was under an ocean basin 600 million years ago are breath-taking. The trails allow bike riders and hikers a complete view of the valley and The Strip.

Plenty to do in “Fabulous Las Vegas”. Photo Courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau

Plenty to do in “Fabulous Las Vegas”.
Photo Courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau

The bicycling and hiking paths are challenging in some areas but provide an excellent workout. If you are a novice at road bicycling, mountain biking or hiking, some paths can be overwhelming because of rocky terrain, but once you get through them, you will be confident to tackle them again.

Depending on the precipitation, hikers can view waterfalls on the edge of the canyon. That usually happens the most in early spring.

Bicycles are allowed on designated paved and unpaved roads and on trails designated for mountain bike use. Bikes are not permitted on any trails off the 13-mile scenic drive nor in designated wilderness areas.

The cost is only $7 if entering Red Rock Canyon in a vehicle and $3 if riding a motorcycle or bicycle or hiking into the park. If you plan to visit Las Vegas often, an annual pass costs only $30. If in Las Vegas during February, no charge is applied during President’s Day Weekend .

The park is open November through February 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.; March 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.; April through September 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and October 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

LAKE MEAD NATIONAL RECREATION AREA

Lake Mead not only offers a water getaway for Las Vegas visitors and residents from the hot temperatures during the summer, but the rugged mountains on its shorelines also provide scenic escapes.

I have ridden a mountain bike in that area a few times and the trails are difficult because of the distance (35 miles), rocky desert terrain and numerous uphill inclines. When completed, however, the sense of accomplishment is worth the attempt.

Lake Mead, located near the Hoover Dam southeast of Las Vegas, has two primary trails – The River Mountains Loop and Historic Railroad Trail.

The River Mountains Loop Trail is a 35-mile stretch that separates into tracks for hikers, bikers and equestrians. The trail winds through the River Mountains and includes side trails, such as Bootleg Canyon. The trail continues through Boulder City and Henderson, Nev., before looping back through the mountains along Lake Mead.

About 23 miles is uphill and one particular stretch – called The Three Sisters – is particularly challenging. They are three successive inclines with each more difficult than the other. The good news is after that’s completed, about 10 miles of flat terrain remain to allow you to recover.

The Historic Railroad Trail, about four miles long, is great for hiking from the Lake Mead Visitor Center to the Hoover Dam parking lot. It follows an old railway that was used to haul heavy equipment and supplies for the construction of Hoover Dam. The trail includes five historic tunnels toward the lake, each 25 feet in diameter and 300 feet long. The scenic view of the cliffs includes observing desert bighorn sheep.

Bike riders in the Lake Mead area can only use paved surfaces, back country roads or trails marked for use by bikes. Bikes are not allowed off-trail to avoid affecting the desert wilderness. The bighorn sheep and tortoises may appear on the trail. The Endangered Species Act prevents disturbing them.

The best time to hike, mountain bike or ride your road bike is from January to April and October to December annually to avoid the 110-degree summer temperatures. The beach and trails are open from dusk to dawn year-round. The entrance fee is $5 per person for a week or $30 for a yearly pass.

LAS VEGAS LUCKY 7

Seven outdoor locations surrounding Las Vegas that hit the jackpot:

  1. Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area: Only a 30-minute drive west of The Strip, it includes a 13-mile bicycling path, breath-taking sandstone bluffs, seasonal waterfalls, and desert hiking and mountain biking trails that wind past wildlife watching areas. 
  2. Lake Mead National Recreation Area: In addition to beach areas, the area provides scenic escapes from the casinos. Two biking and hiking trails – The River Mountains Loop and Historic Railroad Trail – offer a day’s worth of challenging terrain and plenty of photo opportunities with the nostalgic railroad trail.
  3. Mount Charleston: At almost 2,600 meters above sea level, it is a popular skiing destination in the wintertime and a cool getaway during the summertime for off-road bikers and hikers.
  4. Indian Springs: Depending on where you start in Las Vegas, the route to get there can be nearly 126 kilometers (79 miles) long riding north on Route 95. It provides a good test for bicyclists who want a scenic area to train their stamina.
  5. Grand Canyon/Colorado River: Only a 40-minute drive from The Strip, the Colorado River within the Grand Canyon offers a popular day trip for Las Vegas residents and visitors. You can kayak through the river and hike the scenic area.
  6. Valley of Fire: Plenty of photo opportunities at this hiking spot, about an hour northeast of The Strip. It includes classic southwestern desert scenery with bizarre rock formations. Some rocks are inscribed with ancient Native American petroglyphs.
  7. Bootleg Canyon: Located near Boulder City, about a half-hour drive from Las Vegas, this area offers a desert-scenery hiking area. For the adventurers, the location also includes a series of zip-lines in which you are strapped into a paragliding harness and travel up to 50 miles per hour downhill. The longest line is about a half of a mile.
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