If you're staying in Las Vegas but looking to explore some of the Southwestern United States' national parks, there are fortunately several great destinations within driving distance of the Vegas Strip.
Utah, Colorado, Arizona, California, and Nevada's National Parks all offer gorgeous views, immersive nature hikes and tours, camping spots and plenty of opportunities for entertainment along the way from Vegas.
Remember when planning your Las Vegas vacation that the journey doesn't end in the city and that there are plenty of ways to get out and explore the Southwest. Make sure to check the weather, too, as all these adventures are outdoors.
Keep in mind that unless you have a National Parks Access Pass, many of these parks charge a fee for entry to help maintain the natural environment. In order to plan for these expenses in your trip budget, check out the official website for each park for up-to-date pricing details.
Yosemite National Park: California, 7 Hours
Although you'll technically need to stay the night in or near Yosemite, this day trip from Vegas is well-worth the seemingly long drive. You can also check out Death Valley National Park, Manzanar National Historic Site, Alabama Hills, Mammoth Lakes, Mono Lake, and Tuolumne Meadows along the way.
Yosemite National Park offers camping, rafting, hiking, and a view of the highest waterfall in North America, Yosemite Falls. Other attractions include Half Dome, a large slab of granite cut in half by glaciers, and the famous Mariposa Grove that is home to over 200 sequoia trees, some of which are over 1,500 years old.
Yosemite Valley is so vast that you'll find a spot for yourself along the Merced River, in the shadow of El Capita, or within view of a waterfall. Find out more about the history, attractions, and hours of Yosemite National Park on its official website.
Zion National Park: Utah, 3 Hours
Zion National Park is only 168 miles from Las Vegas, making it between a two and three-hour drive from the city. Along the way, you'll drive through a few canyons carved out by the Virgin River, so don't miss the opportunity to snap some photos along the way.
Once you arrive at Zion National Park, you can leave your vehicle on one of the lots provided by the National Parks Service and hop in a free shuttle around the park. This guided tour offers visitors information on points of interest as well as popular hiking trails and views.
Popular activities at Zion National Park include biking, horseback riding, and tubing on the Virgin River. The park also offers three overnight campgrounds, but according to the official National Parks website, spots fill-up by mid-morning from March through November, so if you're hoping to secure a spot, you should arrive early or reserve a space at Watchman Campground.
Arches National Park: Utah, 8 Hours
The Arches National Park is between 470 and 530 miles from Las Vegas, depending on where you enter this breathtaking nature preserve. Arches National Park is one of those natural wonders that make you stop and stare, mouth agape, at the geology of the American Southwest.
Named for the dozens of naturally-formed arches strewn across the park, Arches is definitely worth exploring if you have an extra few days on your trip to Las Vegas. You can also get to Arches by going through Capitol Reef National Park or along Escalante Canyon, so even though the drive is eight hours, there's plenty of beautiful nature to see along your route.
Bryce Canyon National Park: Utah, 4.5 Hours
Bryce Canyon National Park is about 210 miles away from Las Vegas and offers beautiful vistas of sandstone cliffs towering over Bryce Canyon. Here, you can take guided or unguided hikes through the carved out landscape, or during ski season, you can stop off at Brian Head and makes a few runs down the mountain.
With biking trails and numerous camping sites, Bryce Canyon National Park is a perfect day trip getaway from the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas, and bird lovers will enjoy the numerous species of native avians that can be seen from the pentacles that surround the canyons.
Monument Valley and Four Corners: Southwest US, 8 Hours
Monument Valley is another national park, like Arches National Park, that features some of the most epic geology of the American Southwest. Looking across the desert, you'll see towers of red rock jutting up against the clear, blue sky like monuments from an ancient time.
The park also features a Navajo village where children and adults alike can immerse themselves in live reenactments of tribal customs and traditions or explore the village and really get a chance to learn more about their fascinating culture.
While you're there, drive a little further southeast and stop by the Four Corners Monument, which marks the exact location where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona meet. Although the monument itself won't take too long to look at, there are a number of small shops nearby offering Native American products and Americana souvenirs.
Mesa Verde National Park: Colorado, 8 Hours
Mesa Verde National Park features the ruins of the Anasazi's cliff dwellings, a series of abodes carved right into the side of a mountain that was mysteriously abandoned over 1,000 years ago. To look across the ravines upon the ruins or to step inside one of these ancient "pueblos" is simply remarkable.
Climb the ladder to Balcony House or crawl between rocks to get to Cliff Palace and you’ll begin to imagine how these ancient people lived. With over 4,000 known archeological sites and over 600 cliff dwellings in the park. you're sure to be entertained for hours, especially if you're a fan of Native American history and culture.
Mesa Verde is 514 miles southeast of Las Vegas, but the drive is peppered with beautiful scenery and plenty of tourist attractions along the highways. Make sure to keep an eye out for billboards on the side of the road that might point you toward a nice little pit stop on your eight-hour drive.
Road Trip to the Grand Canyon: Arizona, 4.5 Hours
The Grand Canyon is visited by approximately 5 million people each year and consists of 277 miles of the Colorado River, which massively reshaped the area thousands of years ago. The Grand Canyon can be enjoyed from either the south or the north rims, but if you're coming from Vegas you'll want to visit the north side unless you plan to travel south to Flagstaff afterward.
Visit Grand Canyon Village to get oriented within the National Park. The visitors center is located in the village and offers lectures, videos, and rangers to assist you, and you can get on the Bright Angel Trail directly from this visitor's center to explore the bottom of the canyon.
A word of warning, though: It's at least nine miles along a steep path to get to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, so if you're not an avid hiker or have difficulty on rough terrain, you might want to consider taking a tour of the Canyon on a donkey, mule, or horse instead.