Sick of hitting the ATM? Step away from the casino and into Vegas' world of exhilarating outdoor adventures that run the gamut from off-roading to scuba diving and more.
Las Vegas is well-known for glitz, glam, and gambling, but it’s also an excellent basecamp for outdoor adventures. Public lands surround “Sin City” and offer plenty of opportunities to hike, climb, fish, paddle, and more. With your choice of non-stop flights from 28 different airlines and hotel rooms that average $137 per night—Las Vegas can prove an affordable basecamp if you play your cards right.
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Dive the Historic Wreckage of a B-29 Bomber Vessel
America’s first–and largest–national recreation area, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, is 1.5 million acres of mountains, valleys, Joshua trees, slot canyons, and two massive lakes of brilliant blue water (the second being Lake Mohave). It’s so large that it includes nine separate wilderness areas, and there are numerous opportunities to swim, boat, canoe and kayak, hike, hunt, ride horses, camp, cycle, take scenic drives, fish—and even SCUBA dive. Not only are the lakes considered some of the top freshwater dive sites in the world, but you can also dive the site of an old B-29 bomber that crashed into the lake in 1948.
Visit the Grand Canyon
Vegas is just a four-hour drive from one of the nation’s most iconic and recognizable landmarks in Grand Canyon National Park. The park encompasses 277 miles of the Colorado River and its adjacent uplands, while the canyon is a mile deep and 18 miles across. Enjoy the visitors center, the theater, and ranger programs on the rim, take a mule trip or hike one of the many trails into the canyon. There’s also the Grand Canyon Railroad that departs daily from Williams, Arizona, and features western musicians and cowboys on vintage rail cars. Don’t feel like making the drive but still want to get a taste of the canyon’s majesty? Then check out one of the several operators offering four-hour long helicopter flightseeing tours that depart right from Vegas.
INSIDER TIPAlways be sure to follow all posted warnings and consult with park staff before embarking into the canyon as conditions there can be unforgiving.
Overlanding is a serious adventure; it’s rugged, off-road camping where you take a 4×4 vehicle down dirt roads (or completely off-road where allowed) and camp on your own, unaided. This isn’t KOA camping. You’ll need to be entirely self-sufficient. Luckily you can now rent beefy, well-appointed, off-road camp trailers to provide you with all the necessary amenities and comforts. XGRiD Campers offers a range of durable, off-road-ready campers with models that sleep two, four, or five people. The campers come complete with linens, cookware, cleaning supplies, full propane tanks, and more. An orientation is provided to first train campers on set-up, tear-down, leveling, safe towing practices, how to test the stove, hot water system, outdoor shower, furnace, and other systems.
INSIDER TIPMake sure to watch the video orientation and bring your groceries, plenty of water, your personal items, and a taste for adventure.
Hike the Colorado River
Strike out about an hour-and-a-half south of Vegas to the riverside resort town of Laughlin. There, you can explore nine miles of trails within the Colorado River Heritage & Greenway Park. The trails, which vary in length from 0.8 to 2.8-miles, accommodate cyclists, pedestrians, equestrian riders, and people with disabilities. There are also restrooms, picnic sites, shade shelters, and fishing piers, all laid out before the striking backdrop of the Davis Dam. Across the river, on the Arizona side, is Davis Camp park, which includes cabins for rent and RV campsites. River Passage Water Taxi is a fun way to get back and forth across the river, especially in the evening when the riverside casinos are alight.
Hit the Slopes in Lee Canyon
Yes, there’s skiing and snowboarding just outside Las Vegas, and it’s less than an hour’s drive (and 6,660 feet in elevation) from downtown. While Lee Canyon only has three lifts, there are 26 trails, a summit that tops 11,000 feet, average annual snowfall of nearly 130 inches, and (perhaps best of all) 300+ days of sunshine per year. The lifts serve 195 acres of ridable terrain, while another 250 acres can be accessed by hiking. Summertime hikes are also an option, as are scenic chair rides, disc golf, ax throwing, and archery. The resort plans to add mountain biking in the future as well.
Ride Dune Buggies in the Desert
Just 15 minutes from the Vegas Strip, Sunbuggy Fun Rentals offers an array of motorized desert excursions. Hop into dune buggies (or onto ATVs) for guided desert races, a “chase” experience, family “romps,” nighttime races, UTV tours, and tours of Valley of Fire State Park. They also offer indoor go-kart racing as well. Not for the faint of heart or those seeking a solitude experience, these are fast, loud, and energizing powersports. You might just also be treated to jets from Nellis Air Force Base taking off or landing overhead—or even dropping ordinance on far-off bombing ranges.
Off-Road Adventures Outside Laughlin
Located 90 minutes south of Vegas is the boutique off-road adventure Oui Experience. Run by a couple who live in the desert (she’s French Canadian, hence the “oui”), they take small, private groups out to tour their “backyard,” which includes the southern portion of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The tours are all private and via UTV (sometimes called a “side-by-side,” it’s sort of a cross between a pick-up truck and an ATV). You’ll fly across rugged roads and trails, explore desert canyons, climb to 4,500 feet for fantastic views, explore an old mine, and regroup on the gentle shores of Lake Mohave.
Paddle Emerald Waters at Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Driving down to the Willow Beach Marina of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a dramatic drop into the Colorado River valley. Once there, you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, and motorized watercraft or use the boat launch to put in your own boat. For a full-on guided experience, Vegas Glass Kayaks offers full and half-day adventures. Their see-through glass boats allow you to really experience the emerald-colored waters of Black Canyon and see the ominous, submerged ghost trees created when the valley was dammed. Their guide also leads you to historical sites while explaining the canyon’s history (such as how it was almost the site for the Hoover Dam) and sharing details of the natural landscape as you venture to the Emerald Cave. The drive from downtown Vegas takes just about one hour.
Enjoy Hiking, Rock Climbing, and More at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is just 17 miles west of the Strip, yet it will deposit you into gorgeous, rugged wilderness. There’s a 13-mile scenic drive, dozens of hiking trails rated from easy to strenuous (including one that’s wheelchair accessible), multiple off-highway vehicle trails, road and mountain biking, horseback riding, a multi-use campsite, backcountry camping, target shooting, hunting, geo-caching, and world-renowned rock climbing with routes rated from 5.0 (novice) to 5.14 (expert). Amenities include picnic areas, a visitor center with indoor and outdoor exhibits, and a bookstore.
Ride the Rails in Boulder City
Just 30 minutes to the southeast of Vegas lies Boulder City, the purpose-built town constructed to house the thousands of Hoover Dam workers. At the city’s Nevada State Railroad Museum, you’ll find Rail Explorers, which allows you to ride the railroad tracks via a steel-wheeled vehicle that is pedal-powered with an electric propulsion system to speed you down the tracks with minimum effort. Their eight-mile trail ride takes you to the Pass Turnaround, where you’ll be able to take a break in Adirondack chairs as their staff turns the vehicles back around for the return trip. The 1.5-hour excursions offer views of the Mohave Desert and River Mountains, and there are options for sunset and nighttime tours (and you can bring your own beverages).
Hike Across 'Frozen Sherbet' in Valley of Fire State Park
The multicolored, flowing rock formations of Valley of Fire State Park aren’t actually frozen sherbet, of course, but the rolling waves of pink, orange, and cream hues certainly resemble the tasty treat. The park is otherworldly as the rock walls appear to have elasticized and then been frozen back into a wealth of spires, prows, overhangs, slots, and undulating pathways. Hike the Fire Wave/White Domes/Seven Wonders Loop for a moderate, three-mile hike. Sturdy hiking footwear with a grippy sole is a must, as is plenty of water. For a guided experience that comes complete with professional photos, check out Elite Custom Adventures. The park is just about 45 minutes from downtown Vegas.