The Las Vegas Strip is a memorable cityscape of lights and big buildings, but the Strip is an anomaly in Nevada. Most of the state is rural or open country. Less than an hour’s drive from the Strip, the landscape in and around Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area gives you a look at the wilder—nature-wise—side of Las Vegas.
Photo courtesy of jotorA 30 to 45 minute drive from the Strip takes you out of town into the Mojave Desert. If you’d like to take a picnic, you’ll find plenty of grocery stores and fast food outlets on West Charleston Boulevard, near the 215 Interstate on the west side of the Las Vegas Valley. Once you’re past the outskirts of the city, the only restaurant you’ll find will be at Bonnie Springs, the Western-themed attraction off Route 159. You’ll find picnic tables in Red Rock Canyon at Willow Springs, at the Red Rock Overlook, and at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park.
You can also leave the driving and logistics to a tour company, leaving you free to worry only about details like your camera and finding good sunscreen.
If you’re visiting in summer, be sure to check the weather forecast. Temperatures can be scorching, and while you’ll find shade at Spring Mountain Ranch, Red Rock Canyon itself may be over 100 degrees F. If you’d like to do any hiking, be sure to visit early in the day.
When you reach the entrance to Red Rock Canyon, you’ll pay a small entry fee. You’ll get a visitor’s guide which will tell you about the canyon, its history and wildlife, and its hiking trails. After you leave the entry station, the visitor center will come up on your right as you turn onto the one-way scenic loop road. Stop at the visitor center to get an in-depth look at how the canyon was formed and what animals make their homes there.
A 13-mile one-way loop road takes you through the canyon. Pull-outs along the way give you a chance to pull over and snap pictures or go for short hikes. For shadier hikes, try the Children’s Discovery Trail, Ice Box Canyon, or Pine Creek.
Photo courtesy of Terrisa MeeksAt the end of The Loop, turn right and continue on Route 159 to Spring Mountain Ranch State Park. The historic grounds include a ranch house, pioneer buildings, springs and ponds, and a picnic area that was once an orchard. This is a great place to relax with a picnic before or after a tour of the ranch house.
To end the day, after you leave Spring Mountain Ranch, turn right again and you’ll travel a short distance before you arrive at Bonnie Springs. Once an actual working ranch, today Bonnie Springs is a Western-themed village with a petting zoo, miniature railroad, restaurant, and riding stables. This is an affordable family-friendly attraction, featuring shoot-outs and plays in the Western village.