Friday, October 3, 2014

Leaving Las Vegas: 10 Side Trips

1.     Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (25 miles)

Once an ancient sea bed, this scenic area is home to beautiful red rock formations and is just moments from Las Vegas. In fact, you can see Las Vegas and its high-rise hotels from the many overlook points throughout the park. It has an excellent Visitor’s Center and a convenient one-way loop road circles all major park areas. The most prominent feature of the park is the Keystone Thrust – 3,000 foot sandstone cliffs that jut out of the desert floor. The Calico Tanks Trail and Icebox Canyon are two other popular areas to explore. Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation Area is also well known for its superb rock climbing.

2.     Lake Mead National Recreation Area (25 miles* - closest point to Las Vegas)

Lake Mead National Recreation Area has access just 25 miles from Las Vegas, but the area spans 550 miles of shoreline. The two lakes here, Lake Mead and the smaller Lake Mohave, provide year round swimming, water skiing, camping, boating, fishing, tours, and cruises. Many visitors rent a houseboat and just cruise around for several days. Lake Mead NRA offers beautiful desert hiking terrain and is also a great stop-off point for visiting the Hoover Dam. And if camping isn’t your thing, overnight accommodations are available in the nearby town of Boulder City.

3.     Hoover Dam (35 miles)
The Hoover Dam, named after President Herbert Hoover and formerly named the Boulder Dam, was constructed 1931-1936 during the Great Depression. It is located in Black Canyon of the Colorado River on the Nevada/Arizona border. Hoover Dam is 1 of 7 Man-Made Wonders in the U.S. and forms Lake Mead, the largest water reservoir in the U.S. by volume. Take the tour; you will be greatly impressed by the engineering and construction of this magnificent structure. And if you decide to stay the night in Boulder City, there are several charming hotels including the historical Boulder Dam Hotel. “Old Town” also offers boutique shops and antiques.  

4.     Mount Charleston (45 miles)

A true mountain escape, just 45 miles from Las Vegas! Mount Charleston has an elevation of 11,918 feet and is usually 20-30 degrees cooler than Las Vegas. Camping is available May through September and hotels are open year round. Tours are also offered. Mount Charleston is a popular destination for picnicking, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and even snow skiing. The Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort offers passes, rentals, and classes during snowy months.

5.     Valley of Fire State Park (55 miles)
Valley of Fire is the largest and oldest state park in Nevada, dedicated in 1935. It consist of 42,000 acres of desert land, canyons, and red rock formations. It gets its name because as the sun sets or rises, the red sandstone appears to be on fire. The park is relatively small, so you can see most of the park within a day. Many of the hikes are under a mile and accessible from the main road. Tours are also available year round. This is a great destination for camping, hiking, picnicking, and photography. Rock climbing is allowed but limited to specific areas. Stop by the Visitor Center for more information.

6.     Death Valley National Park, California (135 miles)
Most people associate Death Valley with steady droughts and record summer heat. But in contrast, Death Valley also has beautiful frosted peaks and oases that are home to small fish and wildlife. After rainstorms, one can also discover endless fields of wildflowers here. The lowest point in this National Park is 280 feet below sea level and the highest point is Telescope Peak at 11,049 feet. That difference in elevation is twice the depth of the Grand Canyon! Camping and lodging is available within park limits and in the towns to the east or west of the park. 

7.     Zion National Park, Utah (158 miles)    
Located in southwestern Utah, Zion National Park has beautiful Navajo sandstone canyons, rocky deserts, and forested plateaus. Mormon pioneers named the area “Zion” which is a term for “sanctuary” or “a place of peace and refuge.” A popular hike here is The Narrows where you actually hike through the Virgin River over slippery rocks in a canyon that is 20-30 feet wide and over 2,000 feet tall. Stop by the Visitor Center or Zion Lodge for current weather conditions and information before beginning the trek – it can be dangerous if storms bring flash flooding. Zion National Park also offers horseback riding, bicycling, backpacking, climbing, canyoneering, and many hikes with spectacular views. Cars are not allowed in the Upper Zion Canyon during peak season (April-October) but there are environmentally friendly shuttles that run every 7 minutes. Hotel rooms and cabins are offered at Zion Lodge and the park offers 3 campgrounds.   

8.     Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah (210 miles)
Also located in southwestern Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park is another must-visit park! The Red Rock Amphitheater is 12 miles long and overlooks along the rim are easily accessible from the main road. If you visits May through October, you can take the free Bryce Canyon Shuttle which stops at different viewpoints, trail heads, and park facilities. The Hoodoo Towers throughout the park are unique rock formations formed by a process called “frost wedging.” These pinnacles are up to 200 feet tall and form slot canyons that make the hikes below seem like a maze. This park has endless hiking trails and offers two campgrounds. Backcountry camping is also available but permits are required. Be sure to stick around for the sunset, the lighting on the formations is truly amazing! 

9.     Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (300 miles)
Formed by the Colorado River over millions of years, The Grand Canyon is one mile deep, 18 miles wide, and 277 miles long. Bus tours from Las Vegas are available that also stop by the Hoover Dam. Or if you’re feeling more adventurous, you can book a helicopter tour from Las Vegas which is about an hour flight away. About 90% of visitors see the park from the South Rim and only 10% make it to the North Rim (another 220 miles around the canyon). The North Rim is only open May through October, but the South Rim is open year round. The Grand Canyon is a great destination for hiking and backpacking, and riding mules through the inner canyon is a popular activity you won’t want to miss! You can also book river rafting trips which range from several days to three weeks. Lodging and camping are available within the park or just outside the park. Grand Canyon also has a complimentary shuttle connecting lodges with restaurants, shops, trailheads, and overlooks.

10.  In-N-Out Burger
If you’re unable to venture outside of Las Vegas during your next visit, then a stop by In-N-Out Burger may just do the trick! This fast food destination is a true southwest favorite and has been family owned since 1948. Cars line up here on their way to and from McCarran Airport so Las Vegas visitors can get a double-double, some fries, and a milkshake before they hit The Strip or depart from Sin City. In-N-Out burger has 12 locations throughout Las Vegas; the closest to The Strip is 4888 Dean Martin Dr. Feeling adventurous? Order you burger “Animal Style,” you won’t regret it. 

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