Enjoy the Great Outdoors at Las Vegas' 10 Best Parks

Photo courtesy of Terrisa Meeks
Photo courtesy of Clark County
Photo courtesy of Springs Preserve
Photo courtesy of Clark County
Photo courtesy of Valley of Fire State Park
Photo courtesy of U.S. Bureau of Land Management
By Terrisa Meeks, Las Vegas Local Expert

Showgirls and casinos are only one side of Las Vegas. Beyond the glitzy Strip, you'll find a wealth of parks and outdoor activities. Since Las Vegas is in the desert, many popular outdoor areas feature water–an essential resource that has drawn people to the area for a very long time.

One of Las Vegas' most popular outdoor destinations is Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, known for world-class rock climbing and great hiking trails, many to hidden springs or seasonal water sources. The colorful, majestic cliffs and intriguing rock formations are also highly photogenic.

For most of the year, Las Vegas enjoys temperate weather, but in summer the temperatures are scorching. Lake Mead National Recreation Area offers visitors one way to escape the heat. If you decide to head out on the lake for boating or other water sports, remember the sunscreen–it can be easy to spend too much time in the desert sun when you're in the water having a great time.

Wildlife is abundant at many Las Vegas parks. Migratory birds and animals of all kinds can be seen around springs and ponds, especially early in the morning or late in the day. The variety of creatures you might spot may surprise some visitors: bunnies, lizards, big horn sheep, peacocks and burros, among many others.

Read on for a list of Las Vegas' 10 best parks to find out where you can enjoy the area's beautiful outdoors.

10. Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs
Photo courtesy of Ken Lund

The grassy, tree-filled Floyd Lamb Park offers a great respite from the desert. Several lakes in the park support a wealth of plant and animal life, including an abundance of birds. Fishing in the stocked ponds is allowed (with a license), although no swimming or wading. The grounds are full of critters, including peacocks, geese and ducks–who are used to people feeding them. Be careful if you have small children because the large birds can be persistent. Paths and picnic tables make the park an attractive choice for a day of walking, picnicking or watching wildlife. Horseback rides are also offered at an equestrian center on the grounds, although an appointment is required. Also within the park's boundaries is the historic Tule Springs Ranch, whose remaining buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.

9. Spring Mountain Ranch State Park
Photo courtesy of Terrisa Meeks

Located just down the road from Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area on Highway 159, Spring Mountain Ranch State Park is a small oasis in the dry Mojave Desert. Natural springs have attracted people from the early Native Americans through more modern times, when pioneers and ranchers settled here. Historic buildings, some dating to the 1860s, are located throughout the ranch's acreage. Grassy meadows, trees from a former orchard, and hiking trails surround the main ranch house. Picnic areas offer visitors a place to enjoy lunch. The dramatic Wilson Cliffs offer a backdrop of vertical sandstone. A red one-story ranch house is the centerpiece of the park, and it has a history of famous owners, including Howard Huges and Vera Krupp. The interior has been preserved, and also acts as a visitor center. Guided tours are available, and docents are on hand to answer questions.

8. Hemenway Valley Park
Photo courtesy of Terrisa Meeks

Boulder City has grown up around Hemenway Valley Park, which was once a little bit removed from houses and people. The park itself is pretty ordinary, with well-used picnic areas, a tennis court and a playground. The exceptional thing about the park is the herd of Big Horn Sheep that hangs out there. The herd is good-sized, and the sheep ignore the people who stop to stare at them. You'll definitely want to take pictures. This is probably the closest you'll come to a Big Horn, who typically live in remote areas. Remember that while these sheep may seem tranquil, they are wild animals. Respect them and keep a safe distance away.

7. Clark County Wetlands Park
Photo courtesy of Clark County

Located between Las Vegas and Lake Mead about one mile east of Boulder Highway and Tropicana Avenue, Clark County Wetlands Park is a 2,900-acre oasis in the Mojave Desert. Reclaimed water from the urban area of Las Vegas flows through the park, allowing a permanent wetlands plant community to thrive. The park is also home to 212 species of birds, including snowy egrets, burrowing owls, wood ducks and great blue herons with wingspans of 6-and-a-half feet, as well as more than 70 species of mammals and reptiles. In addition to its impressive wildlife, the park boasts 13 miles of hiking trails, including 6 miles within its Nature Preserve. The 210-acre Nature Preserve is the centerpiece of the park, featuring wildlife viewing blinds, educational signage and a flagstone outdoor amphitheater that is ADA accessible.

6. Springs Preserve
Photo courtesy of Springs Preserve

Located just three miles from the famed Las Vegas Strip, the Springs Preserve is an award-winning 180-acre family destination dedicated to exploring green-living, desert life and Las Vegas' vibrant history through botanical gardens, interactive science and nature exhibits, animal shows and trails. Comprising 110 acres of display gardens, natural gardens, wildlife habitat, walking and biking trails and educational resources, the Springs Preserve's Botanical Gardens features more than 1,200 species of native and desert-adapted plants housed in several themed areas. Indoor experiences include exhibition galleries dedicated to showcasing art and traveling exhibitions of local and national significance, on-site technologically advanced learning centers and the Nevada State Museum.

5. Mount Charleston
Photo courtesy of Terrisa Meeks

The Spring Mountains National Recreation Area is part of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Better known to locals as Mount Charleston, it is located just 30 minutes from downtown Las Vegas and encompasses more than 316,000 acres of remarkable beauty and surprising diversity. During the winter months, skiing is a top draw; when the weather warms, hiking trails become incredibly popular. Camping and picnicking are also prominent, and folks have been known to encounter wild horses and elk when they're taking advantage of the terrain's natural beauty. The area is actually home to more than 50 sensitive plants and animals, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. Other activities include horseback riding, mountain biking and rock climbing.

4. Sunset Park
Photo courtesy of Clark County

The crown jewel of Clark County's park system, Sunset Park has served the Las Vegas valley since 1967. Park expansions over the years have developed 185 of the 323 total acres, making Sunset the largest and the most distinguished park in town. An oasis in the desert, it offers something for everyone including tennis, volleyball and basketball courts, softball fields, a disc golf course, dog park, playground, shaded picnic areas, lake--fish included--and plenty of open space. You can even go fishing in the like. The most recent expansion includes the addition of walking trails meandering through natural mesquite and dunes areas. Sunset Park is also home to the last remaining natural dunes that once dominated the southern end of the Las Vegas valley, and it's large, old trees are a rarity in the area.

3. Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Photo courtesy of Ken Lund

Lake Mead National Recreation Park Area allows a great deal of relaxation and fun year-round. It's most-visited entrance is located four miles southeast of Boulder City, but there are other entrance points into this large park. At 1.5 million acres, it's twice the size of Rhode Island and contains America's largest man-made reservoir. Interestingly, three of America's four desert ecosystems--the Mojave, the Great Basin and the Sonoran deserts--also coincide at Lake Mead. With 50 miles of shoreline, the park offers multiple marinas, boating, fishing and water sports. It also caters to hikers, climbers, campers and car tours. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, as the area is home to thousands of desert plants and animals.

2. Valley of Fire State Park
Photo courtesy of Valley of Fire State Park

This grand geological park, located 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas, is Nevada's oldest state park. Its brilliantly colored sandstone formations were generated from 150 million years of weathering in the Mojave Desert. In fact, the park's name comes from the vibrant appearance of sunlight on the ruddy rocks. Ancient trees and early man are represented throughout the park by areas of petrified wood and 3,000-year-old Indian petroglyphs. Popular activities include camping, hiking, picnicking and photography. A visitor center acclimates folks to the on-site attractions and talks about the power of natural forces. Seventy-two campsites are available for an additional fee (first-come, first-served) and come equipped with shaded tables, grills, water and restrooms.

1. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Photo courtesy of U.S. Bureau of Land Management

Part of the Mojave Desert, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is located just past the western edge of Las Vegas, about 17 miles from downtown Las Vegas. The area is home to spectacular scenery, mostly notably the colorful rocks and dramatic cliffs that give a backdrop to the 13-mile one-way scenic drive known as "The Loop." Numerous hiking trails and scenic overlooks are located along The Loop, so even visitors who don't want to hike can easily enjoy the area's scenery. Stop at the visitor center to get a full history of the area, from its geologic origins to the animals that live there. Picnic areas are located at the visitor center and at Willow Springs, and outside the scenic drive at the Red Rock Overlook and in Calico Basin at Red Springs.