Located 4 miles southeast of Boulder City, Lake Mead National Recreation Park Area allows a great deal of relaxation and fun year-round. With 1.5 million acres, it's twice the size of Rhode Island and is 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.
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.
Part of the Mojave Desert, Red Rock Canyon is an easy escape from the fast pace of the Glitter City, located just 17 miles from downtown Vegas. The area showcases spectacular scenery, complete with rugged red rock formations, desert vegetation, and open vistas. The visitor center can help you orient yourself to the landscape, and a gift shop and exhibits are available. While many folks opt to bike, hike, or rock-climb, others make the most of the 13-mile scenic loop, which lets you drive a picturesque circuit and offers stop-offs for photography.
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.
Comprised of four separate but adjoining preserves, this wildlife refuge located about 20 miles northwest of downtown Las Vegas sprawls over 1.6 million of acres. The largest parcel of the grand complex, Desert National Wildlife Refuge, is also the most convenient to Las Vegas. Its mountainous desert landscape is just beautiful, and there are several places to hike and watch wildlife like bighorn sheep, coyotes, desert tortoises, jackrabbits, and various lizards--not to mention a host of migratory birds. The refuge was established for the preservation and management of desert bighorn sheep and their habitat. Primary public use at the refuge consists of wildlife observation, primitive camping and picnicking.
Many people don't think of Las Vegas as a premier skiing and snowboarding destination, but--surprise!--this resort located just a short distance outside of the city offers visitors the chance to partake in their favorite winter sports, including sledding! Averaging 212 inches of snowfall per year, the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort offers lessons, complete equipment rentals and its own restaurant and bar, perfect for aprés-ski refreshments. Escape into a beautiful, wintery wonderland! Open from Thanksgiving until April, weather permitting.
Local Expert tip: For beginners, be sure to take advantage of the free coaching offered by the resort's staff of certified ski and snowboard instructors.
Amid the modern amenities of the Strip, it's easy to lose sight of the Western town that Vegas once was. On 115-acre Bonnie Springs Ranch, though, the Old West is still alive and kicking. Old Nevada is a replica of an 1880s mining town, complete with a saloon, simulated gunfights, a public hanging, and a hands-on petting zoo. The entry fee includes a $10 restaurant coupon.
The 680-acre Floyd Lamb Park offers a great respite from desert barrenness with several lakes that support a wealth of plant life. In turn, local flora provide habitats for a wide range of critters. Paths and picnic tables make the park an attractive choice for a day of walking. Also within its bounds is the historic Tule Springs Ranch, which provides indication of what life on a working ranch was like in the area's early days.