When folks think of Las Vegas, they think of the resort casinos, the palm trees and, above all, the desert heat. There are many national parks and recreation areas within shouting distance of Sin City, however, with beautiful scenery, stunning rock formations, water and a vast variety of vegetation and wildlife, depending upon elevation. You can even find snow during fall and winter at our closest mountain range. So bring a sweater when you visit, or even a light jacket, because the higher you trek, the cooler it gets!
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
601 Nevada Way
Boulder City, NV 89005
(702) 293-8990

Lake Mead stretches from just outside Boulder City, NV to Temple Bar Marina, AZ, and is a true oasis in the desert. Covering 300 square miles, this largest man-made lake in the US has 600 miles of shoreline, with beaches for swimming and a variety of places to boat, fish or water ski. Lake Mead is just 35 miles southeast of Las Vegas, and you can camp, stay in lakeside cabins or even rent a houseboat. But if you want to get away from it all, camping is the best retreat, where you can stay as close to or as far from “civilization” as you like. This is paradise to hikers and photographers, with the variety in scenery and all the critters and desert vegetation that you simply can’t find elsewhere.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
3205 State Route 159
Las Vegas, NV 89161
(702) 515-5350

Red Rock is Nevada’s most scenic nature preserve, showcasing the flora and fauna and the stark beauty of the Mojave Desert and its brilliant rock formations. At sunrise and sunset, the craggy rocks fairly glow red, providing an otherworldly opportunity for photographers. This area is made for hiking, mountain biking, four-wheel drives and climbing, as well as providing an accessible place for families to camp and explore the outdoors. Search for the burros, wild horses and bighorn sheep or find the elusive Joshua trees and canyons once inhabited by the ancient Indian tribes. This is the perfect place to get back to the nature that the Mojave provides, in all its geology and history.

Related: Top Camping Sites Near Las Vegas

Valley of Fire State Park
Overton, NV 89040
(702) 397-2088

Valley of Fire is the oldest and largest state park in Nevada, lying about 50 miles northeast of the Strip. Like Red Rock, this is a park where rocks glow red at sunrise and sunset, providing a fitting backdrop for “Star Trek” and other movies since it’s situated about as far away from civilization as possible. Comprised of 26,000 acres, Valley of Fire is where to go to find nature in its awesome desert majesty: stone formations created by the driving winds and erosion, ancient Indian petroglyphs and all the desert vegetation and wildlife that you can imagine. Whether you choose to camp, hike, picnic or simply enjoy a day of exploration and photography, make sure to take in the interpretive displays at the Visitor Center and pick up some maps before you start your adventure.

Mount Charleston Wilderness/Toiyabe National Forest
1200 Franklin Way
Sparks, NV  89431
(775) 331-6444

Las Vegas locals consider Mount Charleston to be their own national treasure, nestled in the Spring Mountains near Las Vegas. These mountains get their names from the natural springs situated in the high country. Mount Charleston provides guests with relief from the dry heat in summer and gives them a brief chance to enjoy the unique experience of playing in the snow during the winter. Imagine a snow-covered peak within view of most areas of greater Las Vegas! The Wilderness area culminates at Spring Mountain peak, close to 12,000 feet high, filled with 18,000 acres of bristlecone pine and plants found nowhere else in the world. Forty miles of trails lead to excellent observation points and the elevation changes provide some opportunities for strenuous hiking through beautiful terrain. A recent forest fire devastated parts of the area, but nature (and the forestry department) is doing its magic as young trees once more are sprouting and growing. This is a must-see for guests and locals, so dress warmly in winter and bring water in summer, as you camp, visit the Inn or Resort and enjoy all the beauty of this area. You may even want to try out the skiing and snowboarding in winter or horseback riding during the warmer seasons.

Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon, AZ 86023
(928) 638-7888

The Grand Canyon is one of tourists’ favorite vacation destinations. With a depth of a mile, a length of 217 miles and a width of four to 18 miles, this awe-inspiring natural wonder provides ample camping and hiking opportunities. The Colorado River is perfect for whitewater rafting while the color and beauty of the rock formations to be seen from the upper rim provide the perfect contrast. Several ecosystems are contained within this park and it is an ecological refuge for the boreal forest and desert riparian communities, providing a home for many protected and rare plant and animal species, making it the perfect place to explore. The Grand Canyon lies about 500 miles from the Strip, but you can easily take a helicopter, bus or plane tour that lasts from half a day (for a fly-over) to a day (with a landing on the nearest rim). Bus tour lengths vary depending upon the package you choose (some combine a tour with a visit to the Hoover Dam).

Related: Top Helicopter Tours in Las Vegas

Sharon Damon is a preschool specialist, avid reader, passionate writer and creative baker/ cook. She has been a cooking instructor at a local Rec Center in Henderson, NV since 2011, and has written for Examiner and other publications since 2010. She knows her way around the keyboard and the kitchen! Sharon moved from a small city in Canada to Las Vegas 6 years ago, to marry the love of her life, and has since been swept up in the whirlwind known as Sin City. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.