Take a moment to visualize Nevada. If soaring mountains, alpine lakes, and fiery-colored cliffs aren’t part of the image, you’re missing a big piece of the state’s charm.
For anyone who thinks of Nevada mostly as the home of its largest and most famous city, Las Vegas, the state’s hiking opportunities could come as a bit of a revelation.
At least they did for me. On a recent visit, I ventured past the glitz of the Las Vegas Strip and was surprised to find stellar hikes with amazingly diverse terrain -- everything from the pink-and-white pinstriped cliffs of Valley of Fire State Park to the snow-fed alpine lakes of Great Basin National Park.
Certainly, Las Vegas is Nevada’s main draw, attracting more than 42 million visitors a year out of the state’s 56 million annual visitors. But Nevada is huge -- the seventh-largest state by acreage in the United States -- and its natural riches are plentiful and varied.
If you’re looking for mild weather and few crowds, plan to visit Nevada during the shoulder seasons of March/April and October/November, when daytime high temperatures are in the 70s and there is plenty of sunshine. Summer brings extreme heat to much of Nevada, and winter brings a large influx of travelers.
While some of Nevada’s best trails are within a half-hour drive or so from Las Vegas, others require long trips along lonely roads. It’s all part of the fun of exploring the Silver State.
Here are nine of Nevada’s most spectacular hikes.
1. Calico Hills Trail, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
As a major outdoor playground for residents of and visitors to nearby Las Vegas, the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is hardly a hidden gem. The park, with its startlingly red bluffs and valleys, gets about 1.25 million visitors a year.
And many of them head to the Calico Hills Trail for a first taste of Nevada hiking. It’s a great choice. I loved the trail for its deep shady gorges, giant slabs of vermilion sandstone, and big chunky rocks strewn along the way.
The trail’s distance varies from 2 to 6 miles, depending on where you get on it. I recommend accessing it from the Calico II parking lot along the park’s scenic drive and hiking as far as you’re comfortable before doubling back. At the trailhead, you’ll encounter a long staircase down before the trail heads up into the rocks. Along the way, you’ll pass by a pretty creek bed lined with trees and rocks bearing fascinating petroglyphs (ancient rock carvings).
The trail includes a number of steep climbs over rocky terrain and is rated as moderate. Expect to take about 2 hours to get a good taste of the trail.
2. Historic Railroad Trail, Lake Mead National Recreation Area
For an easy outing with interesting railroad history that overlooks incomparable views of Lake Mead, head to the Historic Railroad Trail. The 3.7-mile one-way trail follows the route of an old railroad and ends at the Hoover Dam.
The route is known for its beautiful views of the blue waters of Lake Mead. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to take in the Lake Mead Marina from above, as well as the speedboats on the lake.
You’ll also pass through five tunnels that burrow into the rugged rock walls. As you enter the tunnels, you’ll be treated to distant glimpses of walkers, runners, and cyclists silhouetted against the blue sky.
The route is almost completely flat and is rated as easy, although the hot sun can feel brutal by midday, so plan to get started as early as possible. Expect to take 2 to 3 hours to complete this hike.
3. Alpine Lakes Loop Trail, Great Basin National Park
This is my pick for the best hike in Nevada. Check out TravelAwaits’ picks for the best hikes in all 50 states here. Although many wonderful hikes await at Great Basin National Park, one that stands out for including a bit of everything is the Alpine Lakes Loop Trail. A moderate effort of 2.7 miles and 600 feet of elevation gain will get you to babbling creeks, ancient bristlecone pine trees, wide-open meadows, and two crystalline alpine lakes.
The hike begins at about 10,000 feet and climbs to nearly 11,000 feet, so hikers should expect to feel some high-elevation impacts.
If you are ready for more after finishing the lake loop, the 2.8-mile Bristlecone Trail (also rated moderate) is available from the same trailhead, as is the Wheeler Peak Campground. Expect to spend 2 to 3 hours exploring the area.
4. Fire Wave Trail, Valley Of Fire State Park
The Fire Wave Trail, a 1.5-mile easy trek (round trip) will get you to the highlight of Valley of Fire State Park: a chance to “surf” a rolling wave of pink-and-beige striped rock.
The trail begins in deep sand and transitions to red stone bluffs until you get to the base of the Fire Wave Rock. There, hikers can stroll along the pinstriped rock that resembles a fiery wave.
The sandy trail surface gets piping hot during the summer, so the Fire Wave Trail hike is recommended during the cooler weather of the fall, winter, or spring.
Expect to spend an hour or two exploring the Fire Wave Trail.
5. Cathedral Gorge Trail, Cathedral Gorge State Park
Traveling through Nevada will yield views of many otherworldly rocks, and Cathedral Gorge is just one more example of the state’s one-of-a-kind formations.
Located near Panaca along U.S. Highway 93, Cathedral Gorge State Park offers the 3.3-mile Cathedral Gorge Trail, which takes in many of the park’s natural features. Along the way, you’ll pass by chalky-white moonscape terrain and through narrow slot canyons. The hike also takes in a number of moon caves.
The hike has an elevation gain of about 200 feet and is rated as easy. Plan to spend an hour or two wandering amidst the park’s slot canyons.
6. Ice Box Canyon Trail, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Just miles from the ruddy Calico Hills of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is the deep white-rock gorge called Ice Box Canyon.
The Ice Box Canyon Trail begins at a trailhead along the park’s scenic drive and crosses dry, rocky desert before beginning to climb steeply toward the mouth of the canyon. Hikers must scramble over boulders and navigate loose rocks to get to the canyon, named for its cool shade.
The trail is only about 2.2 miles round trip, but it is rated as difficult because of the steep climb and rugged terrain. The hike takes about 2 hours to complete.
7. Hunter Creek Trail, Toiyabe National Forest
The Hunter Creek Trail offers a moderately difficult hike that takes in a 30-foot waterfall, pine trees, and the sound of running water.
Beginning close to town, the trail traverses a 5.7-mile out-and-back route and includes a 1,210-foot elevation gain.
Experts caution that the hike can be hot, with little to no shade until the route reaches the forest. The waterfall is located at the midway point. The hike is rated moderate. Expect to spend 2 to 3 hours on the route.
8. Mount Rose Summit Trail, Mount Rose Wilderness
Incline Village-Crystal Bay
Located between North Lake Tahoe and Reno, the Mount Rose Summit Trail offers incomparable views of Lake Tahoe, Washoe Valley, Reno, and the Truckee Meadows area. Along with its stunning views, the loop features a waterfall, flowing streams, and wildflowers.
The 10.5-mile trail climbs about 2,290 feet and is rated moderate to difficult. Expect to take about 3 to 4 hours to complete the loop.
9. Van Sickle Rim Trail, Van Sickle Bi-State Park
Located near the community of Stateline, the Van Sickle Rim Trail overlooks the stunning blue waters of Lake Tahoe. The trail is within the Van Sickle Bi-State Park, and the website notes that the park’s “easy to moderate trails are studded with rock outcroppings that present great views of the largest alpine lake in North America and the surrounding peaks.”
The Van Sickle Rim Trail also provides a tie-in to the famed Tahoe Rim Trail, which was designated one of the nation’s top 10 trails by National Geographic Adventure.
The 6.3-mile round-trip Van Sickle Rim Trail features wildflowers, bird-watching, sweeping vistas, and a lake. The hike involves a 1,360-foot elevation gain and is rated moderate. Plan to spend 2 to 3 hours on the trail.
What To Know Before You Go
Nevada runs nearly 500 miles north to south and is 300 miles wide. With so much territory, conditions and elevations vary greatly throughout the state. Hikers should be prepared with a variety of footwear and clothing.
Expect extreme heat for much of the late spring, summer, and early fall in the Las Vegas area (elevation 2,000 feet). But venture about 300 miles north to Great Basin National Park, and be prepared for 11,000-feet-plus elevations and temperatures that can run 30 to 40 degrees cooler. The Reno and Lake Tahoe climates are milder at elevations of 4,500 to 6,200 feet.
Regardless of the conditions, it is crucial to carry plenty of water and snacks on Nevada’s remote trails.
This article is presented by KEEN Footwear. Their SOLR Sandal is perfect for many of the trails in Nevada, especially those that pass through creeks and riverbeds. The sandals are light and airy, with a nice bounce to them. I took my new pair right out of the box and headed to the Red Rock Canyon trails, and they worked out great from the start. The sandals are designed to have a serious underwater grip, but I also found that they offered great control on the sandstone trails of Nevada. Shop KEEN’s SOLR and other hiking shoes here.