NEVADA OUTDOOR TRAVEL GUIDE
Nevada is a land of fascinating contrasts. It’s home to the lowest place on earth, as well as 34 peaks over 10,000 feet high. It’s hot and dry in the desert, but also snowy and cold in the mountains. It’s got old historic ghost towns and modern luxurious cities. Many people descend on Nevada for one reason – the bright lights and money filled dreams of Las Vegas. While you can get your fill of thrilling adventures in this city alone, don’t stop there. The rest of Nevada is waiting to be explored.
Outdoor adventure in Nevada means bombing down a single track trail on a bike, hiking to hidden hot springs, skiing virgin snow in the backcountry, and marveling at the incredible night sky. When you look beyond the allure of Vegas and tumbleweed of the desert, you’ll discover a place that meets all your outdoor adventure needs.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT NEVADA
People assume it is always hot and dry in Nevada, but the temperature and weather vary greatly across the state. If you’re headed to the desert areas, avoid visiting in the summer, unless your plan is to sit by your Vegas hotel pool. The temperature can get as high as 120 in the heat of the day – there is not much you can comfortably and safely do in that kind of heat.
The best time of year to visit the desert areas of Nevada is fall and spring. March to April and October to November have highs in the 70’s and lots of sun – perfect for exploring outside. The northern part of the state gets heavy snowfall and cold temperatures for most of the winter, plus warm and sunny days in the summer. The state averages only 7 inches of rain a year, so chances are inclement weather won’t be an issue. Like anywhere else, deciding on a time to visit Nevada depends on what it is you want to do.
TOP NEVADA TOWNS TO EXPLORE
The South Shore of Lake Tahoe is made up of the small towns of Stateline, Zypher Cove, and Incline City + the ski resorts of Heavenly, Kirkwood and Sierra-at-Tahoe. The atmosphere is laidback, carefree, and fun loving with a huge plethora of activities. It’s a year round haven for outdoor lovers with hiking, biking, and watersports in the summer, and skiing and snowboarding in the winter.
Las Vegas, known for many things, is more than a gluttonous and extravagant city. While you could spend your time casino hopping and eating until you burst, you can also partake in a lot of outdoor activities. Within an hour of Las Vegas you will find incredible hiking, biking, boating, fishing and exploring. For live music fans, the Brooklyn Bowl is an incredible venue right in the heart of the strip and features an awesome lineup of jam bands, blues artists, and DJs.
Boulder City is home of the Hoover Dam and sits on the shores of Lake Mead. The town is full of funky antique shops, cute diners, a new brewery, and Bootleg Canyon, a top destination for advanced mountain bikers.
GETTING TO NEVADA
There are two main airports in Nevada. Las Vegas McCarran Airport is your best bet if you’re traveling to the southern part of the state, and the Reno-Tahoe Airport is where you want to arrive if you are spending time in the north.
Greyhound Buses provide service to various parts of the state, and Amtrak’s California Zephyr Train makes a daily stop in Reno.
If you are staying in Vegas, having a car isn’t necessary to get around. A monorail serves the city and an extensive bus system (RTC Transit) serves the whole Las Vegas Valley. If you will be traveling to the remote corners of the desert, having a car is a good idea – rent one at the airport.
TOP OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES IN NEVADA
Star Gazing – Nevada is one of the best places in the country to stare up into the dark night sky. Most of the state, away from the bright lights of the cities, has ideal conditions for stargazing: no clouds and dry climate. Tonopah and Great Basin National Park are two excellent places to give it a go.
Hot Springs – With so many opportunities for adventure, taking a dip in a hot spring is the best way to ease sore muscles – and Nevada is a great place to do that. . There are many to choose from, and embarking on an adventure to find the perfect one adds to the appeal. Goldstrike Hot Springs near Vegas has several pools to discover on a six-mile hike or overnight kayak trip. Trego Hot Springs in the Black Rock Desert is great for big groups, and Ruby Valley Hot Springs are a series of hot pools in the middle of a large marsh. Check out our post mapping out over 20 hot springs in Nevada.
Rock Climbing – Nevada is one of the most important climbing states in the country – stacked with incredible routes to challenge all levels. Red Rock Canyon is where you will find some of the best climbing in the state.
Hiking – From remote desert hikes to gorgeous lake vistas to high mountain terrain, there are all kinds of hiking opportunities in Nevada. Red Rock Canyon is just outside Vegas with lots of hikes to choose from. The Tahoe Rim Trail is 165 miles of hiking around Lake Tahoe, and Boundary Peak – part of the White Mountains – is the highest peak in the state.
Kayaking – In a state as dry as Nevada, the lakes and rivers provide a sanctuary from the heat. You’ll find both white water and serene lakes for paddling. Lake Mead, Lake Tahoe, and the Colorado River are top spots for kayaking.
Geocaching – A GPS-powered, real-life treasure hunt. There are millions of geocaching locations around the world, and none better than in Nevada. The Extraterrestrial Highway has over 1,500 hidden objects to discover.
Mining/Panning – Discover hidden gems (literally) in the sandstone of Nevada. There is gold, silver, mineral and gems dispersed all over the state, giving you the opportunity to make like an old fashioned prospector. While you can’t actually mine for gold, you can pan for it in Virginia City after exploring the old gold mines. You can mine for opal in the Royal Peacock Opal Mine.
Ghost Hunting – With more ghost towns than inhabited towns in the state, searching for ghosts is a fun, unique, and spooky outdoor adventure. Many ghost tours throughout Nevada will have you exploring abandoned cabins, buildings and cemeteries. Or you can take it upon yourself to discover the many ghost towns that dot the land. Rhyolite and Goldfield are two well-known ghost towns. Check out our favorite Nevada ghost towns in this blog post.
Mountain Biking – Nevada has thousands of miles of biking routes. From switchbacks through the mountains to single tracks through valleys – you’ll find whatever kind of biking interests you. The area around Lake Tahoe has a huge range of mountain biking trails and Bootleg Canyon in Boulder City is one of the top rated (and expert-level) biking areas in the state.
Skiing and Snowboarding – The northern part of the state features some of the excellent skiing and snowboarding conditions. The untouched backcountry of the Sierra Mountains is where you will want to go for fresh snow and challenging terrain. Lee Canyon is the closest skiing option from Vegas, and a popular activity is to go helicopter skiing in the Ruby Mountains.
NATIONAL PARKS IN NEVADA
Great Basin National Park is one of the most remote national parks in the lower 48, and about equal-distant from Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. In this park, you can take your pick from the incredible geographic diversity. Hike to the top of Wheeler Peak, swim in one of the mountain lakes, explore the old forests, and tour limestone caves.
Red Rock National Conservation Area, a 20,000-acre park, is about twenty miles west of the Las Vegas Strip. It’s a beautiful respite from the busy city; filled with 30 miles of trails perfect for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area was created from the dams of the Colorado River. Opportunities for boating, hiking, fishing and camping are available here year round.
Death Valley National Park stands on both sides of Nevada and California, and has the lowest elevation in North America. It’s got a varied desert environment that includes canyons, salt flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys, and mountains. You can hike, bike, get off-road, stargaze, and camp in the park – though it’s best to avoid in the hot summer months. Check out our Death Valley itinerary here.
OTHER MUST-SEE NEVADA DESTINATIONS
Valley of Fire State Park is the largest and oldest park in the state. The red rock formations resemble fire (hence the name), and ancient trees, hiking trails and petroglyphs fill the park. It’s a good place to get away from the chaos of Vegas.
Lamoille Canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon of Nevada, has over 100 miles of Northern Nevada hiking and biking trails, scenic picnic spots, and campsites. The Lamoille Canyon Scenic drive is 12 miles of windy roads that follow the canyon walls.
Visiting Cathedral Gorge State Park is like stepping onto another planet. The impressive rock formations are often compared to Bryce Canyon in Utah. Go for a hike, explore the cave-like formations, and camp overnight.
Black Rock Desert is in a dry lakebed surrounded by bare mountains. It’s a remote desert region with undeveloped campsites and isolated hiking trails. This desert is where Burning Man takes place once a year.
The Hoover Dam is a national Historical Landmark found just outside of Vegas. It’s a massive concrete structure that provides power to Arizona, Nevada and California, and an amazing piece of architecture. Go on the dam tour for interesting history and great views.