The endless ding-ding of slot machines. Pasty-pale tourists huddled over the blackjack table. Out-of-focus rum-and-Cokes into the wee hours. The perplexing notion that nothing ever seems to happen to you that really needs to stay in Vegas.
That’s what comes to mind when you think of Nevada, right?
At a smidge over 135 square miles though, Sin City comprises way less than 1 percent of the total square mileage of its home state. This begs the question — What the heck is happening in the rest of that vast space?
A lot of outdoors, that’s what. Outdoors so good you won’t want to hide it later in shame. You’ll be sharing faster than you can say #epicadventure. Check out these eight great natural Nevada destinations for getting your nature on:
Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area
The Nevada desert is a magical, mystical place, and Red Rock Canyon, just a 20-minute drive west of Vegas, is an excellent example of why. Take the 13-mile scenic drive at this public space, but then get out of the car and explore some – or all – of the 19 marked trails. These range from easy two-mile meanders to hard half-day climbs through the canyon. Each hike has its own attributes – a hidden tinaja that’s almost always filled with water, waterfalls surrounded by willows – but everything here comes with a generous side of panoramic views of the surrounding red rock cliffs. Fees apply: $7 per vehicle, or $30 for an annual pass.
Valley of Fire State Park
Slot canyons and petroglyphs and petrified forests, oh my! Hike, bike and camp in the heart of classic red rock – endless Aztec sandstone sandwiched between layers of limestone – on a series of day-hike trails geared toward all skill levels, 58 miles from Vegas in the Mojave Desert. There’s a little bit of rock climbing, too. Fees apply: $10 per vehicle; $20 per night to camp.
Bootleg Canyon Mountain Bike Park
Just two miles outside of Boulder City sits a labyrinth of 36 mountain biking trails designed to offer something for everyone. Beginners should start low on the smooth, level singletrack, while intermediate and advanced riders can climb for hours to get some tough technical and lightning-fast descents. No bike? Help yourself to a hike instead, but keep an ear for the two-wheelers – they come up fast.
After a day in the stinkin’ hot sun, tubing down the Truckee is a little slice of heaven. Hop on right in the middle of Reno at Mayberry Park, lash your stash and a cooler to an extra tube, and relax until the takeout miles away. The trip requires a shuttle (do it on your own or hire one of the many companies that also rent tubes; prices start at $29 for tube and shuttle, per person).
Great Basin National Park
The bristlecone pine is the state tree and stunning examples of this photogenic icon – considered to be the longest-living tree on the planet – are found all over Great Basin, a remote park in east-central Nevada. Not only can you hike all over the 77,180-acre park, including a grueling but rewarding 13.1-mile loop with views of Wheeler and Baker peaks – but the marble-and-limestone Lehman Caves at the base of Wheeler are magnificent. No fees apply here! Great Basin is free.
Sand Mountain Recreation Area
Yep, the sand here really does sing. When the wind hits it just right, the sand makes a sound that’s a little like a low whistle or steady murmur. It makes a hike up onto the dunes a little freaky, but also very cool. The ruins of the Pony Express and occasional sighting of the endangered Sand Mountain blue butterfly add to the thrill. You can’t hear the hum as well in a Jeep, but off-roading is another option, as is sandboarding. Fees apply: $40 per vehicle for a week of use.
Swim, kayak, paddle board, water-ski, ice fish – you name it: The largest freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains (and the second-deepest lake in the country) has it all. Too pooped from all the activity? Take a sunset cruise complete with dinner and live music, or just take an easy stroll alongside. Long to look at it all from above? The Tahoe Rim Trail is 165 miles of hardcore hiking, with camping areas along the way.
This lesser-known lake has bragging rights, too, as the largest reservoir in the country. Situated on the Colorado River about a half-hour outside of Vegas (Boulder City sits right on it), the pretty blue water hosts boating of all kinds. Depending on the water levels, there are little islands here and there to explore and scenic swim beaches dot the shoreline. Paved and well-marked, the bike trail around Lake Mead is nonetheless deceptively difficult, requiring some stamina and legs for the hills. If you’re feeling particularly studly, hop on the River Mountains Loop Trail, which connects Lake Mead Recreation Area to Hoover Dam.