Nevada is a state much overlooked for its natural treasures. Sure, the bright lights and jackpot fever of Las Vegas is still the state’s chief selling point, but the savvy traveler knows there’s much more here than diversions of the artificial variety. After your last game of keno, do yourself a favor and partake in some of the unique adventures in this desert region of the American southwest. Stay at Nevada campgrounds and Nevada RV camping resorts and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at all this state has to offer.
Just outside Las Vegas lies the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. With its multi-colored geologic formations, and eclectic desert wildlife, Red Rock’s driving and hiking trails offer days worth of adventure surrounded by the natural and dramatic beauty of southern Nevada. A one-way scenic drive takes you deep into the canyon where you’ll find the marvelous Calico Hills, capped by the 6,323-foot Turtle Head Peak. Time and weather have turned Red Rock Canyon into something of a marvel, where the history of the world is revealed on the telling faces of these peaks, each demonstrating different eras in geological formation.
In what may be considered a barren wasteland just east of the Las Vegas strip, there is plenty of water and a virtual outdoor playground. The Lake Mead National Recreation Area plays host to water sports of all persuasions and the surrounding areas act as a safe refuge for an array of desert wildlife. This man-made lake (okay, not exactly a natural wonder, but close enough) is the by-product of the 726-foot modern marvel, Hoover Dam, which does its part by blocking up the Colorado River in order to create this water playground. For birders there is the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge (located just north) and the nearly 200 species of birds who live there. This 5,830-acre park features a pair of lakes, as well as scores of marshes and shoreland, combining to form a virtual oasis in the arid landscape of southern Nevada. Feathered tourists in the way of pintail ducks, meadowlarks, sandpipers and quail (to name but a few) all can be found at Pahranagat.
Scenic Great Basin National Park is also nearby. Surrounded by mountains, the park offers Nevada’s famous topography, where a few-mile drive propels travelers through it all – majestic valleys, deep canyons, breathtaking peaks and the kinds of rock formations that postcards just can’t do justice. The north end of the canyon features both the Schell Creek and the Snake Ranges and the area’s two highest peaks – Mount Moriah (12,050 feet) and the Wheeler Peak (13,063 feet). The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, a 12-mile tour, traverses 3,400 feet and several layers of lifezones. From the cavern floor and desert surroundings, the peak reveals pine trees and snow-covered land (in winter, of course). Although the drive comes to an end near the peak itself, it doesn’t mean there isn’t still more adventure to be had. Miles of hiking trails place you “up close and personal” to the area’s diverse and dramatic scenery, as well as some of its local inhabitants. The Great Basin also plays home to Lehman Caves. Inside the quarter-mile long cavern you’ll find an abundance of cavern formations where stalagtites, stalagmites, draperies and flowstone mark the path. At the southern tip of the park lies the Lexington Arch, an anomaly among southwest arches due to its limestone composition rather than the more easily-sculpted sandstone that’s common among the arches of the desert southwest.
While California is home to much of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Nevada does claim a small slice, as well as a small portion of Lake Tahoe; 29 of the lake’s 72 miles of shoreline are within Nevada’s borders. Arguably the most beautiful of all fresh water lakes in North America (just ask all those honeymooners), its scenery, surrounding topography, and pristine shoreline makes Lake Tahoe an unparalleled summer adventure. In addition to the lake itself, there are four other smaller bodies of water, not to mention the neighboring mountain peaks and their altitudes of over 8,000 feet. The varied landscape is also home to a wide range of wildlife, with birders relishing in the array of woodpeckers and mountain birds that haunt the surrounding woodlands and the waterfowl flocking to the lake’s shores.
The variety and charm of the area isn’t lost on the legions of hikers who come here, either. For the more stealthy enthusiast, there are the elusive creatures that dwell around Lake Tahoe. Mule deer, black bear, mountain lions and bobcats are often sighted in this part of the Sierras. For the more adventuresome, don’t miss the Tahoe Rim Trail, 150 miles of hiking trails that completely circles Lake Tahoe. Enjoy rafting and fishing on the nearby Truckee and Carson Rivers, or at beautiful Pyramid Lake (located just north of Reno). The lake is surrounded by the Pyramid Lake Reservation and its Paiute Indian caretakers.
In nearby Carson City, take some time to explore The Flume Trail, located off US 28. Mountain bike enthusiasts will enjoy rides along the ridgeline to dramatic vistas of the Lake Tahoe area. The trail begins at Spooner Lake, one of the most diverse ecosystems in the area.
Few places on earth have spawned as much inspiration as the American West.
And don’t miss Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, a freshwater marsh that’s home to an array of birds, fish and mammals. The Jarbridge Range and Wilderness Area has eight peaks higher than 10,000 feet and more than 125 miles of hiking trails. You can even schedule a week-long dude pack trip into the Jarbridge Rangee.
In the central mountain area of the state lies four side-by-side mountain ranges – the Monitor, Toquima, Shoshone and Toiyabe ranges. Long valleys separate the mountain groups. The Toiyabe Range plays home to the Arc Dome Wilderness, a 115,000-acre wildlife haven for such locals as coyotes, a variety of raptors, bighorn sheep and the elusive mountain lion. Within the Toquima Range, adventurers can’t miss Mount Jefferson and its nearly 12,000-foot peak. On clear days, hikers here are rewarded with sightings of both the White Mountains of the California-Nevada border, as well as mountain ranges in southern Utah. The rugged Monitor Mountains reveal the 98,000-acre Table Mountain Wilderness. Decorated with meandering creeks and lush meadows, the woodlands are also home to elk and mule deer.
After exploring these mountain vistas, try to work a trip along US Highway 50. Known as the Pony Express Territory, this region features unusually long, straight stretches amid the wide-open desert. Near Highway 93 is the magnificent Schell Creek Range at 7,300 feet.
Along the northern Nevada-Oregon border lies the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. Established in the 1920s after hunter/explorer Charles Sheldon sounded the alarm of the dwindling population of wild pronghorn, his namesake refuge now serves as an enormous home for more than 2,000 of these species. Of course, grouse, coyote, bobcats, bighorn sheep and scores of birds have settled here, too. Just south of the refuge is Soldier Meadow, which has witnessed its share of pioneering history in the form of the historic Applegate-Lassen Trail and western explorer John Charles Fremont, known as the “Pathmarker of the West,” who forged a route through here on his way to California. Today, this desert landscape is home to countless animals and delicate streams that host endangered trout species. Across the meadow, the intrepid explorers in your group should enjoy the Black Rock Desert, a dry lakebed more akin to the surface of the moon than perhaps anywhere on earth.
Of course if the bright lights of Las Vegas are calling your name, you can save a pretty penny by staying at Nevada campgrounds and Nevada RV camping resorts instead of costly hotels. Some are even conveniently located on the Las Vegas strip itself, but call ahead for reservations!