Everyone in the world knows that Las Vegas is one of the best places on earth to party, but did you know it’s an incredible place to go if you like the outdoors? If you ask me, it’s one of the best places in the world for hikers because there are just SO MANY national parks nearby and there’s SO MUCH to do!
Las Vegas is easily one of our favourite places in the world to visit because a) you have some of the best food in the world at your fingertips (ya we like to eat), and b) some of the world’s most diverse and interesting hiking within just a few hours drive.
You’re going to have to drive a bit
Just to preface this post, the USA is absolutely enormous, so when I say ‘near Las Vegas’, I’m assuming that you have access to a vehicle and are willing to drive a few hours to see these places.
The 7 National Parks nearby range from around 2 hours driving up to about 7 hours. Some are possible to drive and hike to as part of a day trip, whereas others might require several days and would be recommended as part of a road trip (with Las Vegas being the start and/or end point).
Also note that this post is about the National Parks in the vicinity, but there are plenty of fantastic State Parks too, such as the Valley of Fire State Park just an hour outside of Las Vegas.
7 National Parks within 7 Hours’ Drive
Zion National Park
Drive from Las Vegas: 2hr 33, 160 Miles
Zion is the closest National Park to Las Vegas, and the park we’ve spent the most time exploring. It has incredible diversity in the types of hikes it offers and is very accessible to people of most abilities.
It also has some of the most famous and iconic hikes in the US, including:
- The Narrows hike – an easy hike up a stunning river bed that runs through a large slot canyon/gorge. The hike is perfect for keeping cool on a warm summer day, although you can still do it in winter if you rent dry suits from one of the outdoor adventure stores in town.
- Angel’s Landing – One of the most famous hikes in the US. As terrifying as it is beautiful, this hike takes you up a very short and steep mountain with 1000ft drops on either side at times. There are even parts where you’ll need to hold on to chains. On a good day, this is a great spot to see sunset as well.
- The Subway – This is an iconic hike, famous for the lava tubes you can find at the end. It’s a 9 mile hike up a river, and you’ll dip in and out of the river throughout the day. Walking in the water is unavoidable and it’s a good idea to either rent water shoes or bring some shoes you don’t mind getting wet. We hiked this in november and it was absolutely freezing! Access to this hike is via a lottery system, so you need to apply well in advance; it’s almost better to get a place on the hike and then plan your trip around it rather than the other way around.
There are countless more fantastic hikes in Zion that we haven’t mentioned, and it’s so popular precisely because it’s so easy to get to and the infrastructure is so great. There’s even a free shuttle bus from the info centre that drops you at each trailhead. We highly recommend giving it a visit.
If you want to read more, check out our post on the top 4 hikes in Zion
Bryce Canyon National Park
Drive from Las Vegas: 3 hrs 49 mins, 260 miles
Bryce Canyon is another very easily accessed and stunning National Park near Las Vegas. If you’re prepared to get up early and drive home in the dark, it’s very manageable as a day trip, however we think it’s best seen as part of a multi-day tour.
Bryce is a fantastic area with views like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The drive in gives hints about the types of rocks you might find in the area, but nothing will prepare you for that first glimpse as you leave the car park and enter the trails.
Bryce is a lot smaller than I anticipated, and we felt like we saw most of the important sites in one day. Unfortunately, you start all the trails at the top of the valley and have to hike down to the bottom to enter the rock formations. If you go during the summer, expect the higher parts to be pretty busy but a lot quieter down towards the bottom. Here are some of the most popular trails:
Navajo Loop Trail – easily the most popular hike in the park and absolutely packed during peak season. It consists of many switchbacks that take you slowly down into the valley below. Our experience was that the vast majority of tourists gave up before they reached the bottom, so if you’re willing to go all the way down you’ll find it a lot more peaceful
Queens Garden Trail – This is a hike predominantly around the base of the valley, and it takes you into the various ‘hoodoo’ formations and even through some rock tunnels. It’s delightfully peaceful and away from the crowds and it allows you to complete a full loop back up to the rim and carpark.
Canyon Lands National Park
Drive from Las Vegas – 6hr 52mins, 465 miles
This National Park is a long way from Las Vegas, but easily manageable if you use it as a base for further exploration. It works really well if you stay overnight in Moab, (only a 35 minute drive).
Canyonlands is yet another wild area, with some of the most expansive scenery and dramatic cliffs I’ve ever seen. It honestly feels like you’ve just walked into a road runner and Wiley Coyote cartoon.
Although there are hundreds of miles of trails in Canyonlands, if you’re tight on time, my personal recommendation is to just go for the incredible views and the shorter hikes. I think the best views are from the top of the lookouts and most of them are relatively easy to drive to.
Having said that, if you have a rugged 4×4 and are willing to explore, there are miles and miles of dirt roads and trails to explore.
Here are 3 things that you definitely can’t miss:
- Mesa Arch – The most iconic photography sunrise spot in Canyon Lands that you absolutely can’t miss. Be warned though, it’s an absolute zoo and you’re likely to be fighting with a hundred other photographers for that epic shot. I recommend hanging out for a little bit afterwards because the photographers clear out super quickly and the light only gets better as the sun comes up.
- Shafer Trail Road – This road goes on for miles and miles, but the best view point is right from the top. Again, just a few short steps off the road. My advice, bring the widest lens you have if you’re looking to take photos!
- Green River Overlook – An incredible sunset viewpoint with views that seem to go on forever. We had pretty terrible weather when we were here and had to hide out in our truck. It’s pretty exposed and high up, so weather can roll in pretty quickly. That said, if you catch some good sunset rays, it’ll blow your mind.
Grand Canyon National Park
Drive from Las Vegas – 4hr 9 minutes, 275 miles
The Grand Canyon is absolutely enormous with countless different options and entry points. While the National Park is over 4 hours away, you can access the Grand Canyon itself much closer.
Skywalk at Eagle Point
The closest part of the Canyon to Las Vegas is probably the Grand Canyon West, otherwise known as the Skywalk at Eagle Point ( 2hr 11 minutes, 128 miles). This isn’t part of the national park as it’s part of the Hulapai Peoples’ reservation (one million acres of land established in 1883). This is easily accessible in a day trip, which is exactly what we did on one of our earlier trips to Las Vegas.
The Skywalk at Eagle Point is not worth stopping at if you’re looking for anything more than a light wander around a very small section of the canyon. It’s highly commercial, and comes with all the bells and whistles of a major tourist attraction; gift shop, glass skybridge, heli rides etc. Of course, because it’s so accessible, everyone else is there too. For that reason, it’s not really our cup of tea, but the views are still breathtaking and worth checking out.
Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon National Park is a couple of hours further away, but allows you to see it for free and with considerably fewer people. As you might expect, most of the hikes are very long and exposed, so generally speaking, you might want to make a hiking excursion into a two (or more) day thing. In that case, you might want to consider staying in the town of Tusayan, or in some of the hotels inside the park.
Hikes not to be missed include:
- Bright Angel Trail – 9.2 mile round trip down into the canyon itself.
- South Kaibab Trail – a much shorter (1.8 mile round trip) hike with a suitably named “Ooh Aah Point” viewpoint.
- The Rim Trail – a 12 mile, minimal elevation hike along the rim of the Canyon.
Great Basin National Park
Drive from Las Vegas – 4hr 27 minutes
Great Basin is probably the outlier in this list, as it’s the only park that seems more alpine than desert/scrubland. It has beautiful blue lakes, vibrant fall colours and even has ancient caves you can explore. It’s home to the highest peak in Nevada (Boundary Peak), Glaciers and some of the oldest trees in the US (Bristlecone Pines). Some of the must do’s are:
- Wheeler Peak (8.6 miles return) – this absolute highlight is a gruelling 3000ft in Elevation and will take you all the way up to 13,064 ft at the summit.
- Lexington Arch Trail (3.4 miles return) – if it’s arches that you’re after, you won’t want to miss this hike. It’s not an easy hike to access, but if you make it to the 6 storey arch, you won’t regret it!
- the Lehman Caves – explore these vast underground caves year round with an experienced National Parks guide. Tickets must be bought and can be booked in advance here.
Capitol Reef National Park
Drive from Las Vegas – 5hr 3 minutes, 327 miles
If I had to guess where most of the cowboy movies I watched growing up were filmed, I’d probably take a stab and guess that it was at Capitol reed (aside from the more obvious Monument Valley movies). It has a stunning mixture of plains, mountains, cliffs, canyons, domes and arches, and it’s well worth the drive if you can find the time.
Generally speaking, it’s quite a long trek from Las Vegas, so we don’t really recommend going as a day trip, but it’s still easily reachable in half a day. If you specifically want to visit Capitol Reef and aren’t too bothered about Vegas, you might want to consider flying in to Salt Lake City instead.
Hiking in Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef offers 15 day hiking trails ranging from 0.25 miles to ten miles, and several backcountry camping options too. If you’re looking for bang for your buck, uniqueness or having your breath taken away, we can definitely recommend this park but would probably recommend visiting somewhere like Arches first. Of the 7 on this list, it’s probably one of the less exciting parks (relatively speaking).
Here’s our top recommendation:
- Rim Overlook and Navajo Knobs Trail – This is a strenuous 9.4 mile (return) hike with some of the most incredible views of the park. It’s gruelling and steep, but you’ll get the best views around
Arches National Park
Drive from Las Vegas – 6 hr 37 minutes, 453 miles
Arches is probably my favourite National Park that’s reachable from Las Vegas, and having made the long drive ourselves, we can easily recommend making the trip. It can be a bit of a long drive at times, but there’s absolutely no shortage of things to see along the route. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, out pops yet another unique landscape that’ll blow your mind.
The great thing about Arches is that you can stop at all the other parks along the way, making the journey absolutely fly by. You really don’t have to or shouldn’t drive the entire 7 hours in one go.
If you decide to visit Arches from Las Vegas, I would definitely recommend staying the night in Moab. It’s literally minutes from the park and it’ll allow you to get up super early and catch the sunrise. Moab is a great little town with plenty of great restaurants to choose from.
As I mentioned, Arches is just minutes from Moab, and one of the best places to catch a good sunrise in the entire US. The orange rock arches are famously stunning when the first morning light hits them, glowing bright orange for just a few short minutes each day. If there’s one place you should definitely get up early for, it’s Arches.
Arches is also a relatively small park, with the vast majority of the more interesting hikes and arches all conveniently located quite close to one another.
The major spots that you can’t afford to miss are;
- Double Arch – This is an incredible natural double arch formed by thousands of years of erosion. It’s very close to the road, and is well worth a quick peak after sunrise, once the sunrise crowds have cleared out and before the ‘normal’ tourists arrive later.
- Turret Arch – Yes, it’s the arch that looks like a turret.. It catches the beautiful morning glow perfectly, and is a favourite sunrise spot for photographers. Get there super early to claim your spot!
- Drive along ‘Park Avenue’ to see some insane rock formations from your car window
- Delicate Arch – the quintessential arch in Arches National Park, but don’t expect to have it all to yourself…
What else can I see apart from National Parks?
Well, as we mentioned, the National Parks are just some of the great outdoor things to see in the vicinity of Las Vegas. Some areas have different designations, like state parks or National Monuments, so be sure to check out those too! Those include places like:
- Grand Staircase Escalante
- Valley of Fire State Park
- Havasupai Reserve
- Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
- Dixie National Forest
- Red Cliffs National Conservation Area,
- Red Rock Canyon
- Page Arizona (Horseshoe Bend & Antelope Canyon)
- Coconino National Forest (Don’t forget to visit Sedona while you’re there!)
….and many more (which hopefully we’ll get to write about sooner rather than later!)
Hopefully by now you can see that there’s really a lifetime of things to see in and around the Las Vegas area, and that there’s way to a trip there than just partying. Happy adventuring!