For anyone heading off on their Las Vegas holidays, they can look forward to some amazing spectacles and it’s not just about gambling either. But while the city itself is very much a man-made wonder - an oasis in the Mohave Desert, beyond the wildest mirage a film director could imagine, with some of the glitziest nightlife, the biggest shows, most luxurious restaurants and a shoppers’ paradise to boot – the wonders of nature are all around. From Death Valley to Lake Mead and from Charleston Peak to canyons like Red Rock and Sloan, the natural wonders of Las Vegas are at least as varied as the man-made ones and even more amazing. Whether you’re a seasoned traveller or planning your first big trip away, this is a springboard to discovery.
Death Valley National Park
Famous for being the hottest place on Earth where summer temperatures average over 38°C (100°F) and can exceed 49°C (120°F) Death Valley is a ‘must visit’ for anyone basing their holiday in Las Vegas although it lies just over the state line in California. Most visitors will drive to key locations, such as Dante’s View which at 1,660m (5,500ft) gives panoramic views across the landscape, for the more adventurous you may choose to hike. The National Park Service gives detailed advice about safety and it is very important to heed that advice if you are to enjoy features such as Titus Canyon, Zabriskie Point or Ubehebe Crater safely, especially if you plan on leaving the car behind. There are also plenty of organised activities and guided tours, and if you’re going to make the most of over 13 million square kilometres of park you would do well to plan your visit in detail before you go.
Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument
To the east of Lake Mead (see below) this is the furthest of the natural wonders we are taking a look at, being some 80 miles from Las Vegas and almost entirely in the state of Arizona. This isn’t a ‘monument’ like Nelson’s Column or the Washington Monument, but a vast national park established in January 2000, a lot more recently than the neighbouring national parks. As such, this is one of the least developed areas of wilderness, with few roads and no visitor services within the 4,000+ square kilometres of natural wonder from Black Rock Mountain in the north to Kelly Point Overlook in the south, and from Mount Trumbull in the east to Tassi Spring, in the small corner of the park that is in Nevada, in the west.
Related: LAS VEGAS HOLIDAY ITINERARY GUIDE
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
This 6,000 square kilometre national park takes in the whole of Lake Mead, as well as Lake Mohave to the south, and the Hoover Dam, straddling the state line between Nevada and Arizona. Just to the east of Las Vegas, Lake Mead was formed when the Hoover Dam was built, while Lake Mohave owes its existence to the Davis Dam. The park is awash with stunning views around the lake, as well as wilderness areas such as Black Canyon and Spirit Mountain. The park hosts some 900 species of plants and 500 species of animals, there are also plenty of activities both on and off the water to keep the entire family entertained.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Red Rock Canyon is a national conservation area some 15 miles west of Las Vegas. It is a well-developed tourist area with over 2 million visitors a year enjoying the 13-mile looped driving route, taking advantage of the 26 numbered and well-signposted trails for hiking or cycling or the innumerable rock climbing routes (many of which are bolted for easy protection) on Aztec sandstone. There is also a thoroughly modern visitor centre with indoor and outdoor exhibits including local flora and fauna; a ‘must see’ visit for your Las Vegas Holiday.
Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area
Sloan Canyon national conservation area is a little under 200 square kilometres just outside Las Vegas to the south, it offers black volcanic mountains and ridges great for avid hikers. The Bureau of Land Management works hard to preserve the natural beauty such as the Native American rock art, or petroglyphs as they are called. These can be found on rocks in all the national parks mentioned but are particularly noteworthy here, with some 300 rock art panels and 1,700 individual features created by native cultures over thousands of years. Visitors are asked not to touch the petroglyphs as oils on the skin can seriously deteriorate them.
The natural wonder that is Charleston Peak lies 35 miles northwest of Las Vegas, in the Mount Charleston wilderness within the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area. Although at 3633m it is only the eighth highest in Nevada, it is the most prominent giving the best all-round views. At its base, to the east, is Mount Charleston village from where you can hike to the summit. There are two trails which can be combined for a really strenuous day’s hiking, or you can just do the one for a more leisurely hike to the top for the spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada and more. The peak is usually snow-free from June to October. It can be climbed in winter, but conditions can be arctic and proper equipment and competence is required.
Spring Mountain Ranch State Park
The smallest area we’ve looked at here, at just two square kilometres, this state park is actually within the aforementioned Red Rock Canyon national conservation area. Just to the west of Las Vegas, this region has several springs from the sandstone mountains to the west, which historically provided water for the ancient Pueblo people and new settlers alike. Although the area is arid, the springs, combined with its higher elevation gives rise to a range of flora. The natural wonder of the area is probably best demonstrated, however, after rare heavy rainfall when the desert flowers all bloom at once. As well as nature, there is the summer theatre from June to September (see website for show and ticket information: https://supersummertheatre.org/) and plenty of local history to discover while you are here.