Your Unofficial Outdoor Nevada Guide
By Rebecca Lucas, Girls Who Hike Central Valley Ambassador
When I used to think of Nevada, I would picture desert, endless expanses of scrub, and garish strips of casinos. That’s because I never ventured much off the beaten path. I live in California, so Nevada was always just a place to get through as quickly as possible on the way to somewhere else, or that other part of Lake Tahoe that we tended to avoid. And, admittedly, Interstates 80 and 15 don’t really showcase the best that Nevada has to offer. But I discovered on a recent road trip around the state that there really is more to Nevada than what meets the eye out of a quickly moving vehicle. Here’s the quick and dirty, Nevada edition. This guide isn’t meant to be comprehensive by any means, but rather just a quick overview of the best that Nevada has to offer.
Great Basin National Park:
Yes, Nevada has a national park. Great Basin National Park is located pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Located four and a half hours out of Las Vegas, it’s not convenient to get to and it’s not close to anything else. But what that really means is you’ll find yourself in a national park with no crowds. It’s one of the least visited national parks in the lower 48.
Great Basin National Park has five developed campgrounds, one of which, Lower Lehman Creek, is open year-round. The best time to visit Great Basin is during the summer months and early fall while Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive is open, and all of the park’s amenities are available, like the water spigots in the campgrounds being turned on, as well as ranger led summer programs.
The major draws to Great Basin are the ancient bristlecone pines, the Lehman Caves, and Wheeler Peak, which has its very own glacier. Yes, you read that right, there is a glacier in Nevada.
Great Basin National Park has a range of trails for all levels of hikers, from the easy Mountain View Nature Trail to the Wheeler Summit Trail, and everything in between.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area:
40 minutes outside of Las Vegas, Lake Mead is great for hiking, boating, camping, and fishing. Lake Mead NRA contains two lakes, Lake Mead and Lake Mohave, and is over 1.5 million acres. With 15 developed campgrounds and RV parks, and mild winter temperatures, this is a snowbird’s paradise. It’s not advised to hike during the summer months when temperatures can climb to well over 100 degrees. In the cooler months, though, there are a ton of hiking options in Lake Mead NRA, including the Historic Railroad Trail which follows an old railroad bed, going through five tunnels (bats included) from the visitor’s center all the way to Hoover Dam.
Valley of Fire State Park:
Located about an hour out of Las Vegas, this is a popular area to explore and camp, and take pictures of, and then post said pictures to Instagram. Valley of Fire has two developed campgrounds, and numerous trails to explore all that red rock goodness. Temperatures can be hot in the summer, so Valley of Fire is best visited in spring, fall, and winter if you plan on doing a lot of hiking.
Valley of Fire is a photographer’s dream, with otherworldly sandstone landscapes and formations, thus its popularity on Instagram.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area:
Located only about 30 minutes outside of Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is easy to get to, and therefore sees a ton of visitors.
Red Rock has one developed campground, and is great for hiking, biking, and rock climbing. There are a number of hiking trails, ranging from easy to strenuous. If you don’t like hiking, biking, or climbing, or are visiting at the height of summer and just want to drape your listless body over your car’s air conditioning vent, Red Rock has a scenic drive to help whet your red rock appetite.
At a higher elevation than Las Vegas, Red Rock doesn’t get as hot as Vegas in the summer months, but it still climbs well into the 90s, and can dip into the 100s. Cooler temperatures in winter, fall, and spring make these seasons the best for hiking and exploring Red Rock.
Cathedral Gorge State Park:
If you like easily accessible slot canyons without the crowds, then Cathedral Gorge, three hours north of Las Vegas, is the place for you. Cathedral Gorge has one developed campground and a handful of trails to choose from to explore the park. Cathedral Gorge is a great stop to break up the drive from Las Vegas to Great Basin. Further north, and at a higher elevation than the Las Vegas area, Cathedral Gorge doesn’t get as hot in the summer, and is colder in the winter. Spring, summer, and fall are the best times to visit.