The best off-the-Strip, fresh-air adventures, from desert hikes to river paddles
PART I: DESERT ADVENTURES
RED ROCK CANYON NATIONAL CONSERVATION AREA
Wander past petrified sand dunes, waterfalls, and red-tailed hawks on a free guided hike with Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association, or explore on your own by car, foot, bike, or horseback. $5 per car; main entrance to the park is off State 159, 17 miles west of the Strip; www.nv.blm.gov/redrockcanyon or 702/515-5350.
Scenic Route. A one-way, 13-mile scenic loop provides many nice views of Red Rock Canyon.
Calico Tanks Trail. An easy 2.5-mile out-and-back scramble up about 450 feet to a stellar view of the canyon―even a peek of the Vegas Strip in the distance.
La Madre Spring/White Rock Loop Trail. A diverse 6-mile loop through both open desert and piñon-juniper forests―but it’s the view of the valley on the north side of White Rock that really gets you.
Badger Pass Loop. A Cottonwood Valley 6-mile single-track loop with some tricky maneuvering and moderate climbing. Catch nice views of the surrounding desert at Badger Pass. Park at the Late Night parking lot, off State 160, about 4 1/2 miles west of intersection with State 159; head south under highway via the tunnel.
Awesome Adventures. An Old West–style horse ranch inside Spring Mountain Ranch State Park (see below). Head out for a sunrise tour in the crisp morning air followed by a picnic lunch, or ride into the sunset and enjoy a cowboy-style steak supper. 1 1/2-hour guided rides from $119; www.awesomeadventureguide.com or 800/519-2243.
Spring Mountain Ranch State Park. This peaceful 520-acre homestead at the base of Wilson Cliffs has the second-oldest―and one of the tiniest―buildings in all of Las Vegas. Tours daily; $5 per vehicle; 6375 State 159, Blue Diamond, NV; 702/875-4141.
VALLEY OF FIRE STATE PARK
One of Nevada’s oldest state parks, dedicated in 1935, is a sci-fi–like land of red sandstone and gray limestone formations. Today the stark landscape sees more lizards than it does visitors. Winter, when temperatures are mild, is the best time to go. Delineated hiking trails here are relatively short, but you’re free to explore on your own. From Las Vegas, take I-15 55 miles to the park. Or, for a more scenic route, take Lake Mead Blvd. into Lake Mead National Recreation Area ($5 per vehicle); bear left at Northshore Blvd. and continue to Valley of Fire State Park ($6 per vehicle); allow 1 1/2 hours; http://parks.nv.gov or 702/397-2088.
White Domes Trail. A 1.2-mile jaunt through canyons of contrasting color. Stop at the visitor center for more information.
PART II: FUN ON THE WATER
No worries, there’s plenty of H2O here in the desert―from Lake Mead and the Black Canyon area of Lake Mohave. State 146, State 147, and U.S. 93 lead into the Lake Mead National Recreation Area; www.nps.gov/lame or 702/293-8990.
Paddle Your Own
Boulder City Outfitters. These veteran paddlers are the go-to folks for rental canoes and kayaks. Head downstream along the Colorado. Rentals from $45 for self-guided tour, $150 per person for guided tour; www.bouldercityoutfitters.com or 702/293-1190.
Get a Guide
Evolution Expeditions Kayaking. Guided tours for all levels in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Choose from 2-hour paddles around Lake Mead to half-day jaunts on the Colorado River to the full-day, 11-mile trip downstream, which begins at the base of Hoover Dam. From $85; www.evolutionexpeditions.com or 702/259-5292.
Black Canyon/Willow Beach River Adventures. Let a motor-assisted pontoon raft do the work while you and up to 35 other folks float the Colorado. You’ll miss the hot-springs stop, but your arms will thank you later. 3 to 3 1/2-hour trip; $83; www.blackcanyonadventures.com or 800/455-3490.