Las Vegas may have a light beam shooting out of a massive pyramid that you can see from space, a Colosseum (inspired by the one in Rome), and two—yes, two—Statues of Liberty, but even so, the city is dwarfed by the marvels that surround it. These blazing red rock canyons, surreal landscapes, and sparkling hot springs outshine the Strip’s brightest neon lights. Fall, when summer’s oven-blast temperatures give way to 80-degree days, is one of the best times to see them. And although this outdoor bounty is by no means undiscovered, fall isn’t considered high season—so you’re likely to have a few trails all to yourself. Here, three different scenic areas, and a rundown of ways to explore them.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Thirty miles of incredible hiking and biking trails set a mere 17 miles west of the Strip—not to mention the many Aztec Sandstone cliffs available for rock climbing—make Red Rock Canyon (1000 Scenic Loop Dr., Las Vegas; 702-515-5350; day passes, $15 a car) ideal for those who want a little time out from Las Vegas.
A great way to get your bearings is to stop at the visitors’ center just inside the entrance, pick up a trail map, and drive the 13-mile, one-way scenic loop. This is the only road, so there’s no need to worry about getting lost.
Most hikes start from the loop. A good pick for kids is Lost Creek, toward the back of the loop. The 0.6-mile path passes fascinating cultural sites that showcase pictographs, petroglyphs, and an ancient agave roasting pit.
If you’re up for a longer hike, there’s the two-mile Keystone Thrust trek, leading to a jagged series of limestone rock layers formed by a fault an estimated 65 million years ago. It’s one of Red Rock’s most important features.
To see the canyon from above, plan an outing with Sundance Helicopters (5596 Haven St., Las Vegas; 702-736-1099; tours, from $85 a person). The City Lights Experience (from $250 a person) flies over Red Rock then ends with a champagne picnic at sunset. For another kind of adventure, try Cowboy Trail Rides (4053 Fossil Ridge Rd., Las Vegas; 702-387-2457; two-hour tours, from $129 a person). There are horses and mules at sizes to fit nearly any rider. The Red Rock Camp trip takes you along a canyon rim to see the vibrant Red Rock Escarpment as well as ancient caves and geologic formations.
More to Do
Fuel up before your hike at Andiron Steak and Sea (1720 Festival Plaza Dr., Las Vegas; 702-685-8002; brunch for two, $40*), a chic, airy grill that serves an excellent brunch with seasonal favorites such as blueberry ricotta waffles or apple-pie pancakes.
Valley of Fire State Park
About an hour’s drive north of the Strip lies Valley of Fire (29450 Valley of Fire Hwy., Overton; 702-397-2088; day passes, $10 a car). The park’s name makes sense as soon as you arrive; its 40,000 acres of ruddy rock formations, petrified trees, and a slot canyon look as if they’re on fire in the right light. Get an early start; the park closes at sunset.
If you want to tour Nevada’s oldest, largest, and most colorful state park without hiking, you’re in luck: You can see a lot of great sites from the car. Travel northeast from Las Vegas on Interstate 15, take the Valley of Fire exit (75), and drive right through on the Valley of Fire State Park Scenic Byway past geologic curiosities such as Piano Rock (shaped like its namesake) and Rainbow Vista, loved by photographers for its multicolored sandstone.
Rangers lead hikes for free; check the park’s website for upcoming treks or call the visitors’ center for more information. One hike suitable for just about everyone is Mouse’s Tank, which journeys into a short box canyon (a canyon with a single entry and exit point) whose black walls hold dramatic petroglyphs. Or hike to the psychedelic Fire Wave, a relatively easy but exposed trail—wear a hat!—known for its stripes of sandstone.
There are plenty of moderate options as well for those seeking something a little more challenging. Many of them are named after the amazing formations they lead to, such as Elephant Rock and The Beehives. And don’t miss Atlatl Rock, a giant boulder atop sandstone. Climb up its metal staircase to see the petroglyphs on the rock’s eastern face, some of which depict an atlatl—an ancient device used for launching a spear.
Shutterbugs can visit the park with Adventure Photo Tours (3111 S. Valley View Blvd., Suite 106, Las Vegas; 702-997-7881; Valley of Fire tours, $129 a person). The excursion includes the fascinating Lost City Museum (721 S. Moapa Valley Blvd., Overton; 702-397-2193; admission, $5), opened in 1935 to display artifacts recovered from prehistoric archaeological sites that were submerged once the Hoover Dam was built. (More on the dam soon.)
More to Do
When you return to Las Vegas, head to La Comida (100 S. Sixth St., Las Vegas; 702-463-9900; dinner for two, $40) for a huge selection of tequilas, sophisticated Mexican cuisine, and an understated vibe. Understated for Vegas, that is; Lady Gaga recently dined here with 50 friends after her show at the Park Theater.
You may not have heard of Boulder City, 45 minutes south of the Strip, but you probably know its major attraction: the Hoover Dam (Hoover Dam tours, $30 a person; must be purchased in person; power-plant tours, $15 a person; can be purchased online or in person), which obstructs the Colorado River and forms Lake Mead to the north. The dam is a must, especially if you have a head for heights; it’s more than 700 feet tall. But there’s also a ton of gorgeous nature surrounding it. So come for the dam, but stay for all of the area’s other offerings.
It’s all about the river not the road here. Instead of driving, consider going kayaking with Desert Adventures (1647-A Nevada Hwy., Boulder City; 702-293-5026; Black Canyon tours, from $199 a person plus $27 National Park Service permit fee). Paddlers set off at the base of Hoover Dam and move through parts of Black Canyon, a water trail along the Colorado River. On the way, you’ll catch sight of the water-filled Emerald Cave, which glows bright green when the sun hits it, and wildlife, including bighorn sheep and bald eagles.
The 36 miles of Bootleg Canyon trails, north of Boulder City, are renowned for their stellar hiking, mountain biking, and views of Lake Mead. One of the most famous is Historic Railroad, a trail leading through five cavernous tunnels carved for the railway that carried equipment needed to build the Hoover Dam. Only recently designated a National Recreation Trail, it follows the southern edge of Lake Mead.
FlightLinez Bootleg Canyon (1644 Boulder City Pkwy., Boulder City; 702-293-6885; daytime tours, $159 a person) operates a three-hour, four-zip-line path that covers more than a mile and a half of the canyon. Go early in the day to spot chuckwallas, a kind of lizard.
More to Do
Don’t leave the area without a walk through the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum (1305 Arizona St., Boulder City; 702-294-1988; admission, free), which shows how thousands of workers lived as they constructed the dam. At dinnertime, try The Dillinger Food & Drinkery (1224 Arizona St., Boulder City; 702-293-4001; dinner for two, $30), in a former Bank of Nevada building and named for bank robber John Dillinger. Order the signature burger, topped with cheddar cheese, smoked bacon, and barbecue beef brisket. After all, you’ve earned it.
New in Las Vegas
Lady Gaga takes a break from her Las Vegas residency, Enigma, in the summer but returns in October and November. Hear her belt out Cole Porter and Billy Strayhorn classics at the “Jazz & Piano” performances. Park Theater; 3770 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 844-600-7275; ticket prices vary
The latest ultra-high-end Chinese restaurant in town is Mott 32, which borrows from its Hong Kong and Vancouver predecessors while adding a Vegas stamp: a chandelier dripping with feathers and a dining table made from a vintage roulette wheel. 3325 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702-607-3232; dinner for two, $100
This winter a new permanent exhibition space comes to the Strip: Pop Vegas. Expect a rotating lineup focused on all things pop culture as well as live performances and artist demonstrations with local talent. LINQ Promenade, 3545 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
RCI® affiliated resorts in Las Vegas include:
A family-friendly getaway with a sundeck and four pools. 9940 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Member Review: “The services and staff were wonderful.”
This property has a range of on-site dining options and a bold look inspired by Parisian Art Deco. 372 E. Tropicana Ave.
Member Review: “It was perfect!”
These private villas offer a quiet retreat a mere block from the Strip. 3950 Koval Lane
Member Review: “All the comforts of your own home.”
Well-equipped studios and suites in a 64-story gold tower. 2000 Fashion Show Dr.
Member Review: “Exquisitely beautiful.”
Luxury and amenities—right on the Strip. 2650 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Member Review: “Would certainly return.”
So many water features—from the lazy river to the waterfall—you’ll forget you’re in the desert. 7200 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Member Review: “Just off the Strip.”
For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
Non-RCI affiliated resorts in Las Vegas include:
Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spa
Furnished in the natural hues of the desert. 11011 W. Charleston Blvd.; 702-797-7777; redrock.sclv.com; doubles from $239 a night
El Cortez Hotel & Casino
One of the city’s longest and continuously running hotels. 600 E. Fremont St.; 702-623-3918; elcortezhotelcasino.com; doubles from $29 a night
- *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: Fall 2019