Las Vegas is commonly described as a city "in the middle of the desert," and in some respects it's a perfectly apt description. Particularly if you drive to the city from some other destination, it can be quite striking how suddenly it emerges –– as if a booming resort hub was simply dropped down where there ought not to be anything. At the same time though, the land surrounding the city is not entirely flat and dry. In fact, the immediate vicinity is home to a variety of state parks, reserves, and natural landmarks that make for ripe hiking terrain.
Yes, people primarily visit Las Vegas to play poker, enjoy the shows and the nightlife, and indulge at fine restaurants and spas. But for those who want a little more variety and activity on a trip to the Nevada desert, there truly are excellent hikes to enjoy as well.
These are some of the best.
Lake Mead Railroad Trail
Lake Mead is the name of the reservoir created by the famous Hoover Dam. The clearings now known as the "Railroad Trail" were initially made to help with the dam's construction, but are now laid flat and wide for travelers to enjoy. A recommendation for the trail by the National Park Service describes it as "an easy, dog-friendly hike" as well, and one that provides panoramic views of the lake overlooking the Boulder Basin area. That's an apt description, and one that speaks to how easily tourists can enjoy the area. People staying in the city can reach the trail head in less than half an hour's drive, and the trail itself covers a 7.5-mile round-trip distance –– easy enough in a day, with a slow pace and plenty of hydration (don't forget that dry desert heat!).
Credit: etheric_body_work Instagram https://www.instagram.com/etheric_body_work/
If you're interested in some historical sights that date back even before the use of railroads to form the Hoover Dam, then you may want to look into the Petroglyph Trail. Located within the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, this is a 4.1-mile trail along which visitors enjoy close-up looks of ancient petroglyphs (or artistic rock carvings). According to a write-up on the trail at AmericanSouthwest.net, there are over 300 "rock art panels," and some 1,700 individual designs. All of that makes this trail almost like a preserved outdoor museum, with a fairly easy hike built into the experience.
Credit: ccwetlandspark Instagram https://www.instagram.com/ccwetlandspark/
Wetlands Loop Trail
The Clark County Wetlands Park is practically in Las Vegas –– located just 10-15 blocks east of the MGM Grand and its famous poker tables and accommodations (though the route isn't as straightforward as that). That makes the hikes there accessible even by the standards of Vegas hiking destinations. And while there are multiple such hikes, we'd direct you to the Wetlands Loop Trail –– a fully paved trail beginning at the Powerline Crossing Bridge and spanning 14 miles. It's a pleasant and relaxing place for a walk, with nice views of the wetlands and relatively little change in elevation. Hikers should know, however, that they'll be sharing the trail with cyclists and dog walkers. They may also get to see some of the local wildlife, including various birds, fish, and turtles.
Calico Tanks Trail
Red Rock Canyon is almost as close to Las Vegas as the Clark County Wetlands Park. And as Poker.org put it in a list of recommendations for tourism beyond the poker tables, "nothing beats" a peaceful hike through gorgeous scenery like this when you've been in the thick of Las Vegas. The canyon itself comprises a large area (nearly 200,000 acres) west of the city, and is home to numerous hiking trails. In this case however, we're recommending the Calico Tanks Trail –– an interesting mix of short distance and challenging terrain. The hike only spans a touch over 2 miles, but it involves clambering over sandstone (though no full-fledged rock climbing), and some fairly steep elevation. It's a little more challenging than some of the other hikes we've highlighted, but the reward is a surprising oasis of water at the trail's peak, and an excellent view of the surrounding canyon (and Vegas in the distance).
Credit: vegasdiary Instagram https://www.instagram.com/vegasdiary/
Ice Box Canyon
Sticking with Red Rock (because again, it's full of excellent hiking opportunities), we'll also highlight the Ice Box Canyon trail, which replaces the area's characteristic sandstone boulders with a bit more shrubbery and tree cover. The 2.6-mile hike thus offers relaxing (and somewhat surprising) scenery, all within progressively higher walls of rock. Hikers should be aware however that there is some bouldering involved, particularly if they follow the trail as deep into the canyon as it goes. One bonus that makes the hike a little bit easier than it sounds, however, is that its isolation amidst rock formations –– coupled with a few waterfalls –– typically makes the temperature far cooler than one might expect based on the surrounding areas (hence the name!).
So there you have them –– some of our picks for the best hikes in Vegas. We'll also note in closing that it's not entirely uncommon for visitors to the city to rent cars or RVs and venture a little farther –– using Vegas as a base from which to explore national parks like Joshua Tree and Bryce Canyon, which are within reasonable driving distance. But the hikes above make it such that even if you stay in Vegas, you can fill your days with a range of enticing outdoor adventures.