6 Amazing Off-the-Radar National Parks Near Vegas

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Tens of thousands of people visit Las Vegas every year and take detour destinations to national parks like the Grand Canyon and Zion, but there are six other amazing national parks nearby that many people don’t know about. They’re all located within three hours of the Las Vegas Strip.

Redstone Dunes Trail.
Redstone Dunes Trail. Photo credit: National Park Service.

The National Park Service is responsible for preserving the natural and cultural history of 424 special locations across America. Below is a list of six National Park Service units near Las Vegas along with their must-see attractions.

Before you hit the road, be sure to read our tips on how to plan a road trip that’s both fun and affordable, and don’t forget to pack a batch of homemade granola and dehydrated snacks.

View of mountains within Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument.
View of mountains within Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument. Photo credit: National Park Service.

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument

Before Vegas became the center of neon, glitz, and glam, mammoths, lions, and camels roamed the deserts of Southern Nevada.

In 2014, Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument was established to preserve the ice age fossils that rest among the park’s 22,650 acres.

With more than 300 different species of animals and plant fossils, it’s one of the most significant sites for paleontological research and education in the country.

Although the park doesn’t have a visitor center yet, tourists can visit the park on their own to hike the fossil beds from sunrise to sunset. The park also offers ranger-led educational hikes and night sky programs.

  • Distance from the Las Vegas Strip: 14 miles / 22 kilometers
  • State: Nevada
  • Must-see feature: Aliante Loop Trail
  • Entrance fee: Free
  • Website: nps.gov/tusk

Ranger Tip: Like all national parks, it is illegal to remove any natural or cultural items from the park, so if you see a fossil, look but don’t touch.

Kayaking down the Colorado River.
Kayaking down the Colorado River. Photo credit: National Park Service.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Don’t let the name Lake Mead fool you. While many consider this national recreation area a boater’s paradise, there are so many things you can do at this national park destination without a boat.

If you want to enjoy the water, consider a paddle-boat cruise to the Hoover Dam or rent a kayak and paddle through steep canyons down the Colorado River.

If hiking is more your thing, there are easy, dog-friendly trails like the River Mountains Loop Trail, which has panoramic views of the lake, or more strenuous trails that lead to hot springs.

If you want to avoid the crowds, head to the Redstone Dunes Trail. It’s an easy trail along colorful redstone sand dunes. There are picnic tables and restrooms on site.

  • Distance from the Las Vegas Strip: 19 miles / 30 kilometers
  • State: Nevada and Arizona
  • Must-see feature: Redstone Dunes
  • Entrance fee: $25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful Pass
  • Website: nps.gov/lake

Ranger Tip: The temperatures at Lake Mead National Recreation Area can surpass 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. Always carry lots of water if you plan to go hiking.

Joshua tree forest.
Joshua tree forest. Photo credit: National Park Service.

Castle Mountains National Monument

If you’re looking for a peaceful getaway where you can sit back and enjoy the sounds and sights of nature, instead of the ringing of slot machines, check out Castle Mountains National Monument.

The landscape is full of Joshua tree forests and rugged peaks that rise up more than 5,500 feet in elevation.

To fully enjoy this park, it’s best to rent a four-wheel drive vehicle because none of the roads are paved. Once you enter the park, just sit back and observe. Desert bighorn sheep and other wildlife travel along corridors in the park between two mountain ranges.

Temperatures are ideal here in the spring or fall, and if you visit in the spring, you may catch one of the colorful spring blooms when the colors of wildflowers blanket the desert landscape.

You can even stay the night in one of the park’s off-the-grid campgrounds to observe the starlit night skies. When it’s time for dinner, try some campfire mac and cheese and steak on a stick

  • Distance from the Las Vegas Strip: 75 miles / 120 kilometers
  • State: California
  • Must-see feature: Spring and early summer wildflower blooms
  • Entrance fee: Free
  • Website: nps.gov/camo

Ranger Tip: To protect the park’s natural and cultural resources, vehicles must remain on designated roads, which are marked with approved road signs.

Light shining through a lava tube.
Light shining through a lava tube. Photo credit. National Park Service.

Mojave National Preserve

If you like to hike, four-wheel drive, or rock climb, there is so much natural beauty to see in the 1.6 million acres that make up the Mojave National Preserve.

The park has hundreds of miles of unpaved roads that lead to sand dunes, volcanic cinder cones, Joshua tree forests, canyons, and mountain vistas.

Visitors can even hike inside a lava tube that was created thousands of years ago. During certain times of the day, a sunbeam shines inside the cave, creating a glow perfect for those epic social media shots.

In addition to the park’s natural beauty, rangers have preserved the stories of the Native Americans, explorers, miners, and ranchers associated with the lands.

  • Distance from the Las Vegas Strip: 96 miles / 154 kilometers
  • State: California
  • Must-see feature: Lava Tube
  • Entrance fee: Free
  • Website: nps.gov/moja

Ranger Tip: All vehicles must be street legal. All-terrain vehicles like side-by-sides are not allowed within the park. Check the weather before visiting in the summer. Afternoon monsoons can create sudden flood hazards.

Blue and purple hues in a smoke-filled Grand Canyon at sunset.
Blue and purple hues in a smoke-filled Grand Canyon at sunset. Photo credit. National Park Service.

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument

The Grand Canyon can be explored in a variety of ways. Most tourists jump in a car or bus and head to the South Rim, which is located within Grand Canyon National Park. For a more rugged, crowd-free experience, explore the canyon from the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument.

Located in Northern Arizona, the monument offers vast views of the colorful canyon walls along with tall ponderosa pines, soaring raptors, and important archaeological sites, like petroglyphs.

There are several hiking trails, backcountry camping areas, and scenic four-wheel-drive dirt roads. However, if you’re planning to hike down into the canyon itself, you must get a permit from the Grand Canyon National Park.

There are no paved roads and there is no cell signal within the park, so start your adventure at the Interagency Visitor Center in St. George, Utah, to get maps and the latest information on road conditions and permits.

Because it’s so secluded, if you plan to take this trip by yourself, be sure to read our tips on how to travel alone.

  • Distance from the Las Vegas Strip: 124 miles / 200 kilometers
  • State: Arizona
  • Must-see feature: Mount Trumbull Scenic Loop Drive (4×4 required)
  • Entrance fee: Free
  • Website: nps.gov/para

Ranger Tip: This park is not appropriate for cars and minivans. The roads are rough and suitable for four-wheel drive vehicles only. From December to February, many of the roads at higher elevations may be impassible due to snow.

Building and vistas at Pipe Spring National Monument.
Pipe Spring National Monument. Photo credit. National Park Service.

Pipe Spring National Monument

Natural springs have played an important role in human history for centuries. Pipe Spring National Monument protects a spring in Northern Arizona that was used by Native American tribes and Mormon pioneers who traveled along the Old Spanish Trail.

The monument features a restored fort and other historic buildings that were used by early Mormon settlers. Visitors can tour the fort and learn about the daily life of the settlers.

There is also a museum with artifacts and exhibits related to the Kaibab Paiute tribe and the geology, flora, and fauna of the area.

Rangers offer guided tours, including easy indoor tours of curated artifacts, moderate hikes to petroglyph sites, and strenuous hikes to the Vermillion Cliffs.  

  • Distance from the Las Vegas Strip: 179 miles / 288 kilometers
  • State: Arizona
  • Must-see feature: Historic Winsor Castle
  • Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle or America the Beautiful Pass
  • Website: nps.gov/pisp

Ranger Tip: Visit in the summer to enjoy pioneer and Indian crops from the garden. The on-site orchard has historical varieties of fruit trees, including apples, peaches, apricots, and plums.

This article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.

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