Las Vegas is in the heart of a beautiful desert full of trails that provide a great break from the metropolis, whether you live there or are just visiting. The sun is shining 85 percent of the time in Las Vegas, so before you head out, make sure you’re prepared to hike in the desert. Bring plenty of sunscreen, water and electrolytes along with your standard hiking gear. There are dozens of trails to choose from within an hour’s drive from the city, so pick one that inspires you and have fun! These 10 hiking trails will get you started:
1. Calico Tanks Trail
Distance from downtown Las Vegas: 23 miles Length: 2.5 miles round trip Type of trail: Out-and-back Elevation gain: 436 feet Difficulty: Moderate Family friendly: Yes Best seasons: Spring, fall and winter Trailhead location: Sandstone Quarry One of many hikes in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, this trail’s name gives you a hint of what’s to come. The route travels over multi-colored sandstone bluffs to a hidden “tank” — a depression in the bedrock known as a tinaja — that fills after seasonal rains. Encased by vibrant sandstone formations in the Calico Hills, the tinaja is a nice spot to relax, eat a snack and soak in the views. Even if the tank is dry, it’s not a complete loss: the hike’s terminus offers a sweeping view of Las Vegas. The trail includes a lot of sandstone steps and some scrambling upslopes, which could be challenging or unsuitable for smaller children.
2. First Creek Trail
Distance from downtown Las Vegas: 25 miles Length: 3.6 miles Type of trail: Out-and-back Elevation gain: 541 feet Difficulty: Easy Family friendly: Yes Best seasons: Spring, fall and winter Trailhead location: First Creek Trailhead, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area An easy hike across relatively flat desert, the only noticeable elevation change on this trail comes about a mile in where a short spur trail leads down to a waterfall cascading into a small pool. The trail to the waterfall is unmarked, but look for the path to the right of the first big pine tree that you see. Fern- and moss-covered rocks as well as cottonwood and willow trees surround the waterfall, making it feel like a shady little oasis. The section of trail after the waterfall leads into First Creek Canyon, a land of layered sandstone cliffs.
3. Turtlehead Peak Trail
Distance from downtown Las Vegas: 23 miles Length: 5 miles round trip Type of trail: Out-and-back Elevation gain: 1,991 feet Difficulty: Strenuous Family friendly: Yes, for older kids who can handle the uphill climb Best seasons: Spring, fall and winter Trailhead location: Sandstone Quarry Your thighs will be burning on this trail in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, not far from Las Vegas’s nightlife. This hike winds in and out of a wash, up a ravine and along a ridge to the summit of Turtlehead Peak. The second half of the trail is steep, hard to follow and composed of loose rock, so be prepared to scramble and wear sturdy hiking boots. The climb is difficult, but worth it. The way is paved with gorgeous desert colors—reds, beiges and oranges, with the occasional magenta of spring cactus flowers. From the top, you can see the Las Vegas Strip, Lake Mead, and surrounding peaks in Red Rock Canyon.
4. Gold Strike Hot Springs Trail
Distance from downtown Las Vegas: 31 miles Length: 4.5 miles round trip Type of trail: Out-and-back Elevation gain: 1,292 feet Difficulty: Strenuous Family friendly: Yes, for older kids who can climb over boulders Best seasons: Early spring, fall and winter; Closed May 15-September 30 annually Trailhead location: Gold Strike Hot Springs Trailhead, Lake Mead National Recreation Area The first 45 minutes or so of this hike is easy, through a sandy wash, but don’t let that deceive you — this trail is difficult. You’ll find yourself wading through a stream and climbing over several tall, slick boulders with fixed ropes to assist you. Much of the trail is steep. Wear sturdy shoes with grip, as you’ll need traction to get over those boulders, especially when your shoes are wet. Despite all of the obstacles, this trail is a spectacular adventure for well-prepared hikers. The path leads you to several beautiful pools, ranging in temperature from warm to hot, and ultimately ends at the Colorado River. This trail can be crowded, but many hikers stop at the first springs. If you want more solitude, continue scrambling further into the canyon to find a private alcove — a pool all to yourself. This hike is in a slot canyon, so be aware of storms and flash flooding. High desert temperatures force this trail to close every summer for the safety of hikers and rescuers.
5. Mary Jane Falls Trail
Distance from downtown Las Vegas: 39 miles Length: 5 miles round trip Type of trail: Out-and-back Elevation gain: 1,036 feet Difficulty: Moderate Family friendly: Yes, if they can handle the uphill climb Best seasons: Late spring, summer and fall (to avoid snow/ice) Trailhead location: Mary Jane Falls parking lot This trail on the 11,916-foot-tall Mt. Charleston offers a refreshing break from summer heat. You’ll be trekking through the heavily forested Kyle Canyon, filled with ponderosa pines, white firs, and aspens, to the 50-foot Mary Jane Falls. Mary Jane Falls is seasonal and fed by melting snow, which means it’s usually dried up by mid-summer. But don’t fret — even if the waterfall isn’t flowing, there are still beautiful limestone cliffs to see and caves to explore at the end of the trail. This path is easy to follow, but climbs quickly, so be prepared for lots of uphill hiking and switchbacks. If you’re not used to hiking at high elevations, take your time up the trail.
6. Elephant Rock Loop
Distance from downtown Las Vegas: About 50 miles Length: 1.2 miles Type of trail: Loop Elevation gain: 59 feet Difficulty: Easy Family friendly: Yes Best seasons: Spring, fall and winter Trailhead location: Valley of Fire State Park Elephant Rock Trail is a fun option for families with small children, or for hikers who want more of a pleasant stroll. This path leads to a sandstone formation that resembles an elephant, with a natural arch as its trunk — a sculpture formed by the elements that’s sure to get young imaginations flowing. While you’re in Valley of Fire State Park, be sure to check out the 2,000-year-old petroglyphs and ancient petrified logs that lie among the colorful sandstone and limestone formations.
7. Petroglyphs Canyon via Mouse’s Tank Trail
Distance from downtown Las Vegas: About 50 miles Length: 1.4 miles round trip Type of trail: Out-and-back Elevation gain: 52 feet Difficulty: Easy Family friendly: Yes Best seasons: Spring, fall and winter Trailhead location: Valley of Fire State Park Bring the kids, bring the dogs, and bring the binoculars! This leisurely trail through a sandy wash gets hikers up close and personal with a high concentration of prehistoric rock art etched into red sandstone. Fight the urge to touch or climb on the art, as it can be damaged forever. After viewing the petroglyphs, walk a little further to Mouse’s Tank — a tinaja nestled among the rocks, a glimmering pool in an otherwise dry landscape. Many people enjoy birding in this canyon.
8. Lone Mountain Trail, Standard Route
Distance from downtown Las Vegas: 15 miles Length: 1.3 miles round trip Type of trail: Out-and-back Elevation gain: 669 feet Difficulty: Easy Family friendly: Yes, but beware of sharp or slippery rocks Best seasons: Spring, fall and winter Trailhead location: Lone Mountain Park, Vegas Vista Trailhead on the west side of the park Want a workout or small dose of nature, but just can’t get out of the city? This hike should do the trick. Creosote bushes, Mojave yuccas and barrel cactuses line the trail, which takes you to the summit of Lone Mountain, a singular peak in northwest Las Vegas. Go at sunset for the best view of the valley and city below. If you don’t linger too long, you could easily make it back to your car before darkness sets in. Other trails in the park offer hikers a choice to loop around the base of the mountain, or approach the summit from a different direction.
9. Cathedral Rock Trail
Distance from downtown Las Vegas: 39 miles Length: 2.8 miles round trip Type of Trail: Out-and-back Elevation Gain: 1,315 feet Difficulty: Moderate Family Friendly: Yes, if they can handle the uphill climb Best Seasons: Spring, summer and fall Trailhead Location: Cathedral Rock picnic area This high-elevation hike through an aspen and evergreen forest stays cool in the summer, which makes it a welcome destination when temperatures are topping 100 degrees in Las Vegas. Summer is also a beautiful time to visit this area because of blooming wildflowers and colorful butterflies. Be prepared for a workout, as this trail steadily climbs almost the whole way and includes several switchbacks. A nice treat at the end, the view from the summit overlook is expansive and offers a glimpse into Kyle Canyon hundreds of feet below. Just make sure to keep a close eye on kids and pets, as there is a steep drop-off. This area is prone to avalanches, so avoid it in the winter.
10. Wetlands Park Nature Preserve Loop
Distance from downtown Las Vegas: 11 miles Length: 1.6 miles (or more/less depending on your interests) Type of trail: Loop Elevation gain: 26 feet Difficulty: Easy Family friendly: Yes Best seasons: Year-round Trailhead location: Clark County Wetlands Park Nature Preserve This is the perfect hike near Las Vegas for families, as the trail is easy with plenty of interesting features and wildlife. Many different pathways wind their way through the Wetlands Park Nature Preserve, so make sure to grab a map at the Nature Center or print one beforehand. There are several ponds and waterways throughout the park, which is home to 212 species of birds as well as soft-shell turtles, beavers, jackrabbits and coyotes. Along the trail, take time to slow down and listen to the sound of bugs, running water, and quacking ducks.