By Caroline Fontein
For outdoor enthusiasts, Vegas might not seem like a place with a lot to offer, but there’s more to this city than meets the eye. Vegas is located in a valley, and the surrounding mountains provide hikers with a multitude of trails and beautiful scenery. Whether you want to hike near the main metropolitan area or venture outside of the city, hikers in Vegas have options. With Red Rock Canyon, Lake Mead, Valley of Fire and Mount Charleston all nearby, there’s no shortage of spots for you to break out your hiking boots and hit the trail. The varied landscapes mean there are trails for every level of hiker. Even if you feel like taking it easy, many spots feature picnic areas for people who want to enjoy the great outdoors without getting too physical. Here I’ve listed some of the most popular hiking areas in Vegas and my favorite trails.
Red Rock Canyon
My favorite hiking haven in Vegas is Red Rock Canyon. Located only 15 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip, it’s a world away from neon lights, slot machines and everything else that constitutes Sin City. Red Rock is home to incredible rock formations shaded in rich crimson and orange hues, just like the name implies. It’s open year round, and the hours vary with the season. The entrance fee is $7 per car and $3 for motorcyclists. An annual pass is $30. Entry is free for bicyclists and hikers who park at the loop entrance. A map is provided at the fee area that lists 19 different hiking trails and other information like picnic areas or where you can see a waterfall (provided that there’s been enough rain). If you want to get some history about the area before you hit the trail, stop by the visitor’s center. Here you can learn about the area’s wildlife and the geological forces responsible for the red rocks. There are numerous hiking trails at Red Rock that range in difficulty from easy to advanced. All of the trails are located within a scenic 13-mile loop. Even if you don’t feel like hiking, the scenery can still be enjoyed with a leisurely drive through the loop. Various lookout points are located along the loop where you can stop and take in the view. Make sure to keep an eye out for cyclists and runners while you’re driving. Many people like to get their exercise right on the loop. Dogs are allowed on the trails, but they should be kept on a leash.
Favorite Red Rock Hike: White Springs Loop
Located at the six-mile marker, this has been my favorite hike for several years now. The White Springs Loop is six miles long, making it a great choice for a Saturday morning workout. The hike has hills and covers both flat and rocky terrain. You will be sore the next day. Since there’s quite a bit of uphill hiking, I wouldn’t recommend this for a first-time hiker or someone who isn’t very active. You can either park at the lot located right off the loop or take a short drive down a rocky road to the trailhead where there’s another parking lot. There is also a bathroom at the trailhead. Once at the trail head you have the choice of starting the loop so that you’ll walk either clockwise or counterclockwise. Both options are good. I usually start at the trail head on the left so that I walk clockwise. This option is good because you start and end the trail going downhill. I’ve seen wildlife on this trail including coyotes and bighorn sheep
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
There are many hikes located right around Lake Mead and the surrounding area. Lake Mead is the 16th largest man-made lake in the world. The lake was created by Hoover Dam. It spans about 820 miles of shoreline. The water is a sharp and striking contrast to the arid landscape that surrounds it. Black lava rock and red sandstone make up the geological back-drop surrounding Lake Mead. The water adds an interesting element to some of the hikes in that area. There is a fee to enter the national recreation area. However, there are many hikes, like my favorite one listed below, that are not within the designated recreation area, and no fee applies. For the fee area one-time passes are good for one to five days and are: $5 per vehicle and $3 per individual (motorcycle, bicycles, hikers). It’s $20 for annual passes; $10 for Golden Age Passport (62 or older) and $50 for National Parks Pass.
Favorite Lake Mead Hike: Goldstrike Canyon
Goldstrike Canyon is a really fun hike if you want something where you’ll have to do more than just walk. The hike runs down a narrow canyon where you’ll descend around 600 feet in about two miles until you reach the Goldstrike Hot Springs. Be prepared to use your entire body to maneuver down big boulders as the hike progresses. There are fixed ropes (ropes that have been nailed into the rocks) along the path to help you descend as the trail progresses. The last time I did this hike there was little water in the hot springs. The water flow in that area changes so you might not know if there’s going to be enough water to bathe in until you get there. After the hot springs, the hike progresses until you reach the Colorado River. Once at the river, you can see a cool view of the new nearly 2,000-foot long Hoover Dam bypass bridge. Some of the spots on this hike get a little tricky. Depending on your physical abilities, this trail many not for beginners. I would not recommend doing it alone.This trail is not located within the designated recreation area, and there is no fee. The trail head is located off Highway 93. The turn off is located five miles past the Gold Strike Casino. It’s the last exit before Hoover Dam. You’ll see a break in the guard rail where you’ll turn down to get to the trail head.
There’s no mistaking it, Vegas is a desert. But take a drive 35 miles northwest of the valley, and you’ll be surrounded by towering pine trees. Encompassing parts of the Spring Mountain Range and Toiyabe National Forest, Mount Charleston is a scenic spot to hike in the woods. It’s also cooler than Vegas, making it a nice refuge from the heat in the summer months. You can get to Mount Charleston in less than a hour, and it’s a drastic change from the valley. There’s greenery everywhere you look and the air feels fresh. There are many hikes and picnic areas on Mount Charleston. Some of the picnic areas charge a nominal entry fee. In the fall, Mount Charleston is a nice spot to see the foliage change colors.
Favorite Mount Charleston Hike: Mary Jane Falls
Mary Jane Falls is a short, but steep hike. With what may feel like endless swtichbacks when you’re on the hike and stone steps, this hike will make you sweat. Plus, you get to see a waterfall at the end. The water flow changes with the seasons. Depending upon what time of year you go, you might only get to see a small amount of water cascading down the rocks, but it’s still an awesome sight. The hike is about 3 miles round trip. It’s a moderate hike in regards to difficulty level. It’s not a loop so you’ll be covering the same ground you walked on during your ascent, but the way back is much easier as it’s all downhill. To access this trail head go north on the I-15 from Las Vegas to Intertate 95 north toward Reno. Take the SR 157 exit heading west to Mt. Charleston/Kyle Canyon. Continue on this road past the hotel. The road curves sharply to the left to head up to the old lodge. Instead of turning left continue to the right where the road becomes Echo Road. Turn left at the fork in the road and onto the gravel road. This is trailhead for Mary Jane Falls.
Valley of Fire
Everytime I drive through Valley of Fire I feel like I’m in a Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoon. There’s sand on the ground and beautiful scenery created by rocks colored in varying shades of bright orange, red and pink. The state park road winds through jutting rock formations and giant boulders delicately balancing on top of each other. One blast of air from the Road Runner flying by, and it seems like the large rocks could topple over. Of course the rock formations have been standing like that for millions of years now. They’re not moving, but their precarious positions make it hard not to think about it. The park entry fee $6 per vehicle and annual passes are $60. A map is provided at the entry area that lists hikes in the area and other points of interest.
The Valley of Fire was first settled by an Ancient Native American tribe that migrated there in 300 B.C. As time passed, other tribes inhabited the area. Today only wildlife lives there, but the Native Americans left many signs of their past behind. Petroglyphs can be seen throughout the park. There’s an especially large amount of them scattered along a trail called Mouse’s Tank. It’s amazing to see so many symbols from the past etched into rocks for visitors today to admire.
Favorite Valley of Fire Hike: White Dome Trail
This trail is located at the end of the White Domes picnic area. This is an easy hike. Anyone comfortable walking a little more than a mile on sand will be fine on this hike. Soon after you start the hike you’ll get to what looks like ancient ruins, but don’t be fooled. The stone building ruins are what’s left of the movie set for the film “The Professionals” starring Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin. Even though they’re manmade, the ruins are still cool to look at and can be a neat back-drop for some photos.
This hike also goes through a slot canyon, a very narrow canyon with high walls on each side. This part of the hike only last for about a quarter of a mile, but it’s a nice change in scenery from the rest of the hike. If you’re an avid hiker, this trail isn’t much of a work out, but the scenery makes it worth it.