Fix our last-minute Las Vegas-adjacent hiking plans
July 11, 2017 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Two urban-dwelling Europeans are off to Las Vegas for work $reasons in early August. We're front-loading our trip with some R'n'R, by doing some nearby-ish hiking, travelling by car from the city. Help us not die in a canyon. What are your top recommendations for intermediate hikes a reasonable drive away from Las Vegas, and hotels/motels/whatever we should stay overnight?

We fly in to Las Vegas (McCarran) on Day 1; night 1 staying in airport hotel to rest up. Then renting a car and going ???? to hike & sample the National Parks for Days 2-4. We drive back to Las Vegas, to stay on the strip from evening of Day 4-Day 6 (work times), flying out Day 7.

Relevant information:
- We are above average fit, walk a lot. Not "advanced" hikers, but have walked a lot of terrains previously.
- We can read maps, and follow basic hiking advice, eg packing water.
- Absolutely no camping, or desire to go off-trail.
- A "reasonable drive" for us probably maxes out at 3 or 4 hours for the purposes of this question.

Thank you in advance!
posted by thetarium to Travel & Transportation around Las Vegas, NV (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
#1: If you haven't already, buy a good guidebook, such as Lonely Planet's Southwest USA.

As to your specific question, the two main options are Zion or Grand Canyon National Park. Grand Canyon is a farther drive, but there's nothing like it in Europe. I think it's worth the effort. Do try to make hotel reservations soon.

As to safety, basically don't be an idiot. Realize that your fitness level will be offset by the heat and elevation. Bring more water than you think you'll need. Remember that it takes a lot longer to go back up than it does to go down. Park rangers will answer any specific questions you have when you get there.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:13 AM on July 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Do not miss Valley of Fire State Park.
posted by Melismata at 8:24 AM on July 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

Came in to suggest Valley of Fire State Park as well, and also mention that Lake Mead National Recreation area is near there, and has some good hiking options. Both are relatively close to Hoover Dam if you're interested in checking that out.
posted by czytm at 8:34 AM on July 11, 2017

Seconding Mr.Know-it-some regarding heat. Our wedding was in Las Vegas in August and temperatures hit 45.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:35 AM on July 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Personally, I'd get the car on arrival and drive to your airport hotel. Firstly, the rental car centre shuttle picks up from outside the airport and runs extremely frequently and is free (as opposed to some hotel shuttles) and you ought to be awake enough to drive for 10 mins even after a 10 hr flight. Secondly, it is a lot of faffing about the next morning when really what you should be doing is get up and head out early to find those trails. Because you're going to the desert in the's really really hot. So you want to hike at 6am or in early evening, not the middle of the day. And if you pick up your wheels the following morning you're not going to get anywhere before which point the only thing you should be doing is hit the hotel pool. Sunscreen is your friend.

A 3-4 hr drive can get you quite a long way, including Death Valley NP. I would highly recommend it in December but not in August - too hot.

If you wanted to base yourself in Vegas one of my favourite places less than an hrs drive north of Vegas is Valley of Fire State Park. You could easily spend a couple of days exploring that. Also plenty of recreation options in general round Vegas including not too difficult outdoor walking. That would be excursions from Vegas though.

You can also easily drive up into Utah and make your way to Zion NP. They have a shuttle bus system in that park so you drive to the park entrance and then you get on the bus. The closest and most expensive place to stay is Springdale (literally a village of nothing but hotels, restaurants and gift shops). Personally I'd stay in St George - yes you drive a bit more every day but you get a wider choice of restaurants and some non gift shops etc.

If you're up for driving after your morning hike you can head further in the direction of Bryce. There are extremely picturesque routes connecting these parks - don't just rely on what your sat nav tells you.

As you are kinda doing this fairly short notice now and during peak season investingate lodging in all the out of Vegas locations before you settle on an intinerary. You're basically in remote areas that attract mainly tourists. And there is a limited amount of lodging in some of them, especially Bryce. But you could probably spend a couple of days there and perhaps drive back to Vegas from there. Or vice versus.

If you're used to European driving distances a lot of these drives will seem 'a lot of miles' to you - it's a big place, outside Vegas you'll not hit what I would call really busy roads.

State and National Parks have a lot of information of activities including hikes on their homepages (ok, NPs more so thatn SPs). This includes fairly reliable indication of how difficult or otherwise a hike is. If it says elevation is 350 ft over 3 miles that's what it is. These will also indicate if you have narrow ledges or other features likely to freak out a less hardcore walker.

In summary, it's all really beautiful. It's just about how you, personally, can deal with the heat and the sun and about making sure you're safe in these conditions.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:39 AM on July 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you decide not to drive all the way out to Zion or Bryce Canyon, consider Mt. Charleston where the elevation will offset the heat. You'll want to plan any hiking very very early in the morning and take it easy between 10am and 7pm.
posted by zepheria at 8:53 AM on July 11, 2017

Seconding cautions about hydration, heat, and sunblock. I was last in LV in February and it was pretty hot even at that time of year. August will be like Arrakis.

Last time we were there, we enjoyed hikes at Red Rocks Canyon (sorry, I don't recall the name of which trail we took), and to the farther away Valley of Fire, which has a trail with cool petroglyphs (Mouse Tank, if I recall correctly).

Also, be aware walking around the Strip area of LV, casinos are farther apart than you will expect them to be from foreshortened promotional photos and video. (In other words, in case you were thinking about returning your rental car early, you might want to keep it the whole time, not just when you're day tripping.)

Not sure if you're into food, but there are also some great restaurants in LV, including what some consider to be the best Thai restaurant in the US, Lotus of Siam. (Also, Yelp reviews in LV are only semi-reliable because of vacation-and-booze-frenzy grade inflation.)
posted by aught at 8:56 AM on July 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

You want to do some combination of the following three parks:
* Zion National Park
* North Rim of the Grand Canyon
* Bryce Canyon National Park
with a possible quick stop in Valley of Fire State Park

Las Vegas to Zion is 2.5 hours. The other three parks are all within two to three hours of one another. You could do all three parks and do one day in each, but it would be a fairly busy itinerary. If you're going to short one of the three, make it the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. You're not going to hike terribly far into the canyon on the timeframe you have, so you'd mostly be hiking or driving to viewpoints on the north rim. You could also do the North Rim as a long day trip, either on your way back to Las Vegas (Zion, then Bryce, then Grand Canyon) or as a half day stop on the way to Bryce from Zion, which is the way I would do it.

If you start in Zion (the closest of the three), I might recommend driving the day of your flight, if possible. It makes for a long day, but it allows you to get up early the next morning and avoid the heat of the day when you're hiking. Mornings and evenings will be relatively cool.

Zion will be the hottest of the three places listed above, and August is the hottest time of the year. Count on it being in the high 30's or low 40's Celsius during the hottest part of the day (1 PM to 6 PM) in Zion. The other two parks will be cooler (low to mid 30s Celsius as a high). This is the desert, so humidity is generally very low. There may be thunderstorms that pass through, so bring a rain jacket. I would also strongly recommend getting a Camelbak-type device (or two) that will hold 2-3 liters of water, if you don't already have one. All of these parks are extremely well traveled, so as long as you stay on marked trails, take water and sunscreen, and don't try to do thousands of feet in elevation change, you'll be fine.

Obviously, you could also pick two of the three parks. They're all spectacular and like nothing you've ever seen. Zion has the most to do of the three, and if you go, make sure you drive through Eastern Zion and stop wherever possible along the way. The scenery is unreal. If you end up in Zion mid-day, look into doing the Narrows. It's *much* cooler in there, though you can't always do it in August due to thunderstorms. If you do the Narrows, rent water shoes and a walking stick at one of the outfitters in town. They're well worth it.

Good luck and have a great trip!
posted by cnc at 9:00 AM on July 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

I agree with the others that you want to look at Zion, Bryce, and the north rim of the Grand Canyon, with a stop at Valley of Fire on the way there or back.

Be ready for it to be HOT. Consider bringing headlamps so that you can hike in the evening and come back when it starts getting toward twilight. Obviously you don't want to pick a difficult trail if you're potentially hiking it after dark, but most of the trails in Zion & Bryce start out & finish very developed (concrete, even). Headlamps will also be useful if you want to get a very early morning start, again, to beat the heat.

Pay attention to the elevation that you're at - that will impact the temperatures the most. If I were you, I'd be very strongly considering Ceder Breaks National Monument - it's on the way between Zion & Bryce, it's supposed to be gorgeous (I haven't had a chance to visit yet), AND it's above 10,000 feet, which means it'll be the most temperate park to visit.
posted by Jaclyn at 11:33 AM on July 11, 2017

Response by poster: Stupid question: can we pick up hot-weather hiking gear easily when we arrive at hiking locations (eg headlamp, camelbak), or should we bring with us?
posted by thetarium at 11:42 AM on July 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

National parks have stores with gear, but they tend to be small and expensive. Best to get it in Vegas, where you'll have dozens of stores to choose from, from upscale outdoors places like REI and Desert Rock Sports, to big-box stores like Target and Walmart.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:31 PM on July 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

In response to your update - if you have preferred gear bring it, if not my personal preference would be to head up towards Zion and there is at least one town with Walmart just off I-15 (sign posted) and another Walmart just after you leave the interstate north of St George to drive to Zion. As a rule I prefer navigating these smaller locations to finding these places in densely populated places.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:03 PM on July 11, 2017

@thetarium - You can pick up gear in Las Vegas for sure, but you may have to trek around town to do it.

You'd probably find something in Springdale, UT (right outside Zion NP) but I'm not 100% sure. My guess would be that one of the several adventure companies/outfitters in town would have what you're looking for, but they're small stores so their stock will be limited. You will definitely pay more there.

You might also be able to find something in St. George, UT, which is between Las Vegas and Zion. You won't find much at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon as there's no town at the rim. I'm pretty sure Ruby's Inn General Store at Bryce would have both water bladders and headlamps.

One more tip - when in Springdale (Zion) eat at the Whiptail Grill. They tend to be slow, but the food is really tasty.

Hope that helps!
posted by cnc at 4:18 PM on July 11, 2017

While you could do all three places that people list, it would be a lot of time in the car. I suggest picking one to focus on or at worse one as base camp and another to visit for a day trip. For example, stay in Zion and day trip once to Bryce NP for the really cool hoodoos.

As other mentioned, it will be hot so you will want to start early, hide out somewhere in the middle of the day and then leverage the late afternoon to hike some more. If you time things right, the deep slot canyons of Zion can provide a lot of shade past mid day. (A warning however, that this advantage also means that it can get dangerous dark very early).

You will definitely find outfitters in Springdale to rent from (as well as an assortment of accommodations). If you were going to buy gear I'd do that in Las Vegas or in Utah when you get off the Interstate.

Have fun...Zion is one of my most favorite places in the world.
posted by mmascolino at 7:51 PM on July 11, 2017

I did something like what you're describing back in April, and wholeheartedly endorse staying in St. George and planning a day trip out to Zion NP. I would have loved to see Bryce too, but was on a tight schedule. Zion was gorgeous and the shuttle bus system made it simple to access various trailheads.

The driving was easy and there seemed to be a good number of cheaper motels and places to stay in St. George. I would absolutely return for a longer stay in the future.
posted by betafilter at 5:39 AM on July 12, 2017

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