There is jaw-dropping scenery and a few state and national parks just outside of Las Vegas. To choose which to visit, it depends on how far you want to drive, how much you like crowds, and what time of year you’re in the city.
Red Rock Canyon was recently classified as a national conservation area (as opposed to simply being a state park) and this designation has brought in exponentially more tourists. Red Rock is about 40 minutes from the center of the Strip and is best to visit on weekdays and non-summer months. It’a a 13-mile scenic loop with more than a dozen opportunities to pull over and hop on a hiking trail. It’s amazing how different the ecology can be on trails that are only a couple miles apart.
Mount Charleston is the best spot to go when temperatures are unbearable in Las Vegas. A 50-minute drive from the Strip, you’ll find that it’s at least 20-degrees cooler on the mountain than in the city. There’s no admission fee, but there are hiking trails, a lodge, and a ranger station where you can stop in for information. There’s camping in the summer and skiing in the winter.
Valley of Fire is a bit farther, taking nearly two hours from the center of the Strip. It’s never too crowded and it’s probably my favorite of all parks. There are so many cool trails and rock formations. It’s in Death Valley, so it’s not recommended for the middle of the summer, but other than that, it is simply lovely.
Tecopa Hot Springs Resort: the best for last! Tecopa, California is a tiny town about 90 minutes from the Strip with a ton of hot springs. Some are in the wild and some are enclosed. My favorites are the springs at the link above. Open 24/7, THSR is quiet during the week and turns into a small festival on weekends, with live music and a bar. Tecopa is peaceful and serene —- and with no cell reception, it’s the consummate getaway.
Now, to turn your your visit to Tecopa into a full on day trip, I recommend leaving Vegas by 9am. GPS how to get from Ash Meadows back to Vegas and save the directions. Then GPS how to get to THSR and start your trip. Along the way you’ll see signs for (1) China Ranch Date Farm and you can take a quick side trip to check out the oasis and kitschy gift shop. Then spend a couple hours at (2) Tecopa Hot Springs Resort. (You’ll need to bring a towel and toiletries, but no swimsuit needed). Then hop on the road toward Shoshone and after about 40 minutes, you’ll run smack into the (3) Armagosa Opera House. There are tours 365 days/year at 9am, 11am, 1pm, 2:30pm, and 5pm. From there, you’ve got a ten minute drive to (4) Ash Meadows Preserve, which is a great nature preserve with a bad ass boardwalk. It’ll take you about 90-120 minutes to get back to Vegas, and you’ll be coming in from the north.
Enjoy your time in nature. There's some gorgeous desert scenery with the surprising oasis here and there. Sometimes a day trip can reconnect you with your environment and restore your soul!