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Hiking Las Vegas Blog
Most people who think about Las Vegas picture the world’s largest and most famous (or infamous) gambling and entertainment hub located in the Mojave desert in the US state of Nevada. Each year tens of millions of visitors from the US and beyond are drawn to ‘Sin City’ for its vast casino resorts and gambling action, live shows, fine restaurants, concerts, night clubs, sporting events, weddings, conventions, expos, all-you-can-eat buffets, bachelorette and bachelor parties, and just to have fun.
And yet, Las Vegas with these standout offers and more has yet another awesome attraction up its sleeve that is literally off the beaten track in the form of a broad selection of awe-inspiring and easily accessible hikes suitable for all level of hiking or outdoor fans.
Although the most popular hiking destinations in the United States include the Appalachian Trail, the Grand Canyon National Park, the John Muir Trail, the Columbia River Gorge, the Arches National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Pisgah National Forest and the Glacier National Park, a rising number of hikers are seeking out trails in the vicinity of Las Vegas to experience their vast and varied landscapes and awesome desert and mountainous scenery that is so prevalent in Southern Nevada.
Just a 30 minute drive from the Californian border, Las Vegas rises off the floor of the Mojave desert surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides. These include, but are not limited to, the Sheep Range to the north, the North McCullough Range and South McCullough Range to the south, Frenchman Mountain and Sunrise Mountain to the east, and Red Rock Cliffs, Mount Charleston, La Madre Mountains and Potosi Mountain to the west.
Despite its arid location, Las Vegas and surrounding areas are home to many species of plants and animals. With an average of 310 days of sunshine each year, and a hot to temperate climate, it’s no wonder the region is such a popular destination. As a base for hikers there’s no better city than Las Vegas because it has accommodation to suit any and all budgets. Plus there are plenty of Las Vegas-based companies that offer daily and longer hiking excursions for outdoor fans to choose from.
Here are some of the most popular hiking destinations and hikes to choose from in the Las Vegas area:
Red Rock Canyon
Located approximately 24 km west of Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon is one of the most popular hiking destinations in South Nevada as it boasts 26 individual hikes for all level of hikers which are labelled easy, moderate or strenuous. Named after its characteristic and striking red rock (Aztec Sandstone which contains iron oxide or hematite), Red Rock Canyon can be seen from Las Vegas and is famous for its vast and natural beauty which acts as a drawcard for over two million visitors every year.
First Creek Canyon Trail (Easy)
For inexperienced or older hikers eager to get a feel of Red Rock Canyon, the First Creek Canyon trail hike is the way to go which only takes around 30 minutes to reach by car from Las Vegas. At just 2.1 miles (3.4 km) long (there and back), it’s an easy hike and as such can be completed by most hikers young or old in 1 hour as it has a modest incline of only around 220 feet (67m).
Easy to walk and without any major obstacles, this beginner’s hiking trail is ideal for people who are not seeking anything too strenuous and simply want to take in the vivid scenery of Red Rock Canyon and Las Vegas beyond. Highlights of this nature hike includes following the First Creek (river) up to a ‘hidden’ waterfall as it is somewhat obscured from view with its own plunge pool.
Calico Tanks Trail (Moderate)
Arguably the most popular hike at Red Rock Canyon is the Calico Tanks Trail, which is a 45 minute drive from Las Vegas. At 2.5 miles (4km) long it’s considered to be a moderate hike that requires about 2 hours to complete and, as such, is pretty well-suited for the whole family. Hikers are even welcome to bring their dogs on this trail provided they keep them on a leash.
The hike, which starts from the Sandstone Quarry Overlook, entails walking over loose sand as well as some scrambling over rocks, and passes some picture-worthy watering holes. With an elevation of 570 feet (174m), this trail affords hikers many spectacular views and photo opportunities of Las Vegas off in the distance, which is one of the reasons why it is so popular.
Turtlehead Peak Trail (Strenuous)
One of the hardest but most rewarding of all the Red Rock Canyon hikes is the Turtlehead Peak Trail which is 36 minutes away from Las Vegas. Not for the feint-hearted, infirm or unfit, this trail requires 3 to 4 hours to complete as well as much sweat and determination. However, the hard work it takes is more than compensated by the breath-taking 360 degree views it delivers.
With a slew of wide angle views of the encompassing La Madre Mountains and the shimmering Las Vegas in the distance, this trail is considered by many accomplished Nevada hikers as the ‘crown jewel’ of Red Rock Canyon. At 5 miles (8.1km) long, this trail winds its way to an elevation of 2,000 feet (610m) and requires grit and determination to stay on this steep trail.
Historical Railroad Trail (Moderate)
Over and above Las Vegas, numerous mountain ranges and desert terrain, the epic Hoover Dam and Lake Mead are a must see for visitors to southern Nevada. One of the best and most novel ways to behold their respective size and beauty is on the Historical Railroad Trail. Just a brief 32 minute drive from Las Vegas, hikers can enjoy one of the most historical former railway routes ever constructed the United States coupled with some awesome Nevada landscapes and rare feats of engineering.
Being a fairly level hike, the Historical Railroad Trail can be easily negotiated by young and old hikers alike as it is approximately 7 miles (11km) long. It is accessible from the Hoover Dam parking garage. Although the railway tracks have been removed, the route and its many tunnels remain perfectly intact for hikers to negotiate at their leisure. The railway line and tunnels were purpose built in the 1930s to transport building materials and equipment for the construction of the Hoover Dam.
Some of the materials and equipment needed was so big that tunnels were dug to a diameter of 25 feet, which is much wider than regular railway tunnels. When the Hoover Dam was completed in 1935 the railway ceased to be used as it had served its purpose. Today, however, hikers from Las Vegas and farther afield can walk the old railway route and its tunnels – some over 300 feet (91m) in length - that played such a crucial role in making one of America’s most important dams possible.
Apart from some great picture opportunities of the old route, Lake Mead and Hoover Dam, the trail is also renowned for its variety of wildlife. For instance, it’s not uncommon for hikers to come across owls, bighorn sheep, lizards and even the odd rattlesnake (which must always be given a wide berth) on the Historical Railroad Trail. Take note that as one of the most popular hikes in and around Las Vegas expect to encounter lots of fellow hikers, runners, bikers and people with their dogs.
Mary Jane Falls Trail (Strenuous)
Just 45 minutes due west of Las Vegas in Kyle Canyon is one of the most picturesque mountain hikes in Nevada known as the Mary Jane Falls Trail. Although the trail is named after a waterfall, hikers may not get to enjoy its majesty as it is seasonal. Taking on this trail - which is 2.5 miles (4km) up and down - in the Spring offers hikers the best chance of viewing the falls in all their glory. Regardless of the time of year, however, this hike is always worth doing for its elevation and spectacular views.
Due to the extreme change in elevation (hikers will climb 1,100 feet (335m) in 1.6 miles (2.57km)) this hike is considered to be more strenuous than moderate, particularly during the hotter months of the year. As such it may not be suitable for novice, too young or older hikers. The trailhead is located at the bottom of the deeply forested Kyle Canyon, and soon after hikers get underway they begin to climb out of the canyon and continue in an upward trajectory until they reach the falls.
Not far beyond the falls hikers can look forward to exploring a cave. The only area of concern with this respective trail is that it has many switchbacks which after particularly heavy rain and people talking shortcuts, can make following the trail difficult and at times treacherous. As such, all hikers are advised to proceed with caution, especially those who bring their children along.
Branch Whitney is the author of Hiking Las Vegas and creator of the 52 Peak Club where members hike to the best 52 Peaks around Las Vegas, NV