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  • Writer's pictureBasecamp Outdoor Gear Team

Must-see natural wonders near Las Vegas

Do you ever find yourself cooped up in the bright lights of Las Vegas and feeling the urge to get away into nature? That's the beauty of Las Vegas. The contrast of artificial manmade marvels surrounded by natural wonders is striking. Here are just a few examples.

Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area

Sloan Canyon may be the most underrated destination in Las Vegas. Is that what makes it so special? Or is it the vast collection of petroglyphs that adorns countless volcanic boulders just a short walk from the city limits?

The petroglyphs site of more than 300 rock art panels represents nearly 1,700 individual designs. It's one of the most significant petroglyph sites in southern Nevada. The quickest way to get to the petroglyphs is a fairly easy 30-minute walk from the trailhead.

Before you say anything, yes, petroglyphs are manmade, so technically not "natural." But you have to admit that at around 1000 years old, they are a wonder!

From the petroglyphs site, keep hiking a bit further uphill to truly experience the pristine desert outside of Las Vegas.

carvings in boulders among red desert flowers
Sloan Canyon Petroglyphs

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Okay, so Lake Mead is artificial. It's a great big reservoir blocked by the manmade Hoover Dam. However, its surrounding rock and springs are all original and natural. Also, it's still a part of the Colorado River system and offers plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities.

You already know about Fortification Hill and the hot springs from our previous post about the best winter hikes near Las Vegas. You can also try water sports such as kayaking, fishing, waterskiing, scuba diving, and much more! Another great treat is to see the misshapen lake from the air. Skydiving, anyone?

canyon lake with bathtub ring
View of Lake Mead from Hoover Dam

Clark County Wetlands Park

The often-overlooked Wetlands Park is another hidden gem in Las Vegas for nature lovers. How did it come to be that there exists this oxymoron of a wetlands in the desert? Once again, this is a little bit of a manmade phenomenon built upon a natural resource.

The Las Vegas Wash is the natural water system that first attracted early settlers to the Las Vegas Valley. At that time it was fed only by rain and snowmelt. But the wash soon became a perennial stream as the city population grew. The water that fills the ponds and wash today, in addition to natural groundwater, is the discharge of treated flow from the Las Vegas Valley's wastewater reclamation facilities. It might sound gross and unnatural, but it's actually quite brilliant. Aside from a beautifully engineered park with jogging and biking trails, this has become one of the most popular stopover points in the Southwest for migratory birds.

Need some extra relaxation time? Birdwatching is the ultimate activity at this park. Borrow binoculars and a checklist of birds from the Nature Center and follow the boardwalk around the pond to one of the birdwatching platforms.

American Coot and Egret in a marsh
American Coot and Egret at the Clark County Wetlands Park

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Red Rock Canyon is the quintessential desert gem that makes the Las Vegas skyline so attractive. However you approach the city, you can't miss its colorful towering sandstone peaks.

Geologists coming in for a closer view immediately recognize the Keystone Thrust. Amateurs can see it too where older limestone folded over younger red sandstone. Native American buffs will get excited at every petroglyph, pictograph, and roasting pit they find. Not to mention rock climbers that flock to the natural Red Rock cliffs from all around the world.

Being a popular destination so close to the city of Las Vegas, it may be hard to find a quiet spot all to yourself. But hike out just a little bit, and you'll be surprised at how easy it could be to get away. Sunrises and sunsets make this an especially romantic getaway.

towering red sandstone peaks under blue skies
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

And the list goes on...

If you'd like more information on any of the destinations mentioned please don’t hesitate to contact us. Have a great Valentine's Day and happy trails.


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