Neon to Nature: 5 Affordable Outdoor Activities Near Las Vegas

Beyond the glitz of the Strip is a world of natural wonder just waiting for adventurous travelers.
Alisha McDarris
By Alisha McDarris 
Edited by Meghan Coyle

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An estimated 330,000 people will be headed to Las Vegas for the upcoming Super Bowl, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Whether you are one of those football fans or you’re a traveler planning to live it up on the Strip sometime this year, there’s plenty to do in Sin City on a budget.

One affordable option is to head outdoors. Valley of Fire and Lake Mead are popular nearby parks, but there’s even more just beyond the neon lights of Las Vegas.

1. Hike to Petroglyphs in Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area

Petroglyphs at Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada. (Getty Images)

Not far south of the Las Vegas Strip is a quiet, 48,438-acre protected area of desert called Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, which is perfect for hiking and mountain biking.

The most popular attraction is Petroglyph Canyon Trail. On this 4.1-mile lollipop-loop trail, there are over 1,700 individual petroglyphs on the rocks along the route that date back as far as the Archaic era.

While much of the trail is flat, there's little to no shade and a few areas where climbing over dried-up waterfalls is required. Prefer to wander? There are plenty of wilderness areas within the park where you can hike off-trail, too.

Mountain biking trails also abound. Entrance to the park is free, and even on weekends, you’re likely to have much of the trail to yourself if you arrive before 9 a.m.

2. Ski at Lee Canyon

Lee Canyon covered in snow. (Getty Images)

Did you know you can ski near Las Vegas in the winter? Lee Canyon is the only ski resort in all of southern Nevada, and it’s easily accessible from the city — just an hour driving from Las Vegas.

The resort isn’t huge — there are 195 acres of terrain and 27 trails accessed via three chairlifts, including a skills park — but the mountain is popular with both locals and visitors. And while at many resorts skiing can be prohibitively expensive, lift tickets at Lee Canyon can be as little as $19 on weekdays and often include a $10 credit for food and drinks. Kids 12 and younger ski free, too. If you didn’t bring your own skis or snowboard on the airplane or in the car, gear is available to rent.

If you’re more interested in warm-weather activities, there’s also a mountain bike park on the property that’s open in the summer.

3. Hike and bike in Spring Mountains National Recreation Area

The Spring Mountain range pictured during a rain storm. (Getty Images)

For free outdoor fun in the mountains near Lee Canyon, head to Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, which is located in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

In the summer, you can escape the heat via hiking, backpacking and mountain biking in the sprawling outdoor playground that’s populated with peaks and pine forests. In the winter, there’s sledding in addition to hiking (though you might want to bring microspikes to safely navigate icy trails), snowshoeing and even fat tire biking.

For maps and hike recommendations, head to the visitor gateway. If you want to spend a few days in the mountains, you can book a campsite or a stay at the retreat on Charleston Peak, which is just up the road from the visitor center.

4. Take a scenic drive through Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Two-lane highway in Red Rock Canyon. (Getty Images)

Fans of geology, hiking or landscape photography will love Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, located just 17 miles from the Vegas Strip. The park offers many adventure opportunities, including mountain biking, road cycling around the park and rock climbing, but because it is so close to the city, the park is often busy. About 4 million people visit every year, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

From the beginning of October through the end of May between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., you’ll need a reservation to drive the 13-mile scenic loop or hike many of the popular park trails along the way. The timed entry reservation costs $2 on top of the $20 entry fee, which is waived if you have a national parks pass or if you visit on a fee-free day.

5. Explore historic tunnels near Lake Mead

Historical railroad hiking trail by Lake Mead. (Getty Images)

Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam are popular attractions near Las Vegas, but one alternative to get a taste of the history of both is the historic Railroad Tunnel Trail in Boulder City, just southeast of Vegas. You can walk or bike along the easy, level gravel path that offers views of Lake Mead below.

You’ll also pass through tunnels about 25 feet wide and 30 feet high that were built for a railroad to transport building materials for the construction of Hoover Dam.

When you’re done, grab a meal in the small but lively Boulder City. If the goal was to get outside and out of the city of Las Vegas, consider it a touchdown after this hike.

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