You’ll draft your own opinion of Nevada, but if you're going to be fair to the Silver State, you need to know the entire story. Nevada is not just the bright lights of Las Vegas or the mysterious aura of Area 51, where apparently aliens have decided to visit. Yes, at one point the U.S. Government thought so little of this desolate space that it tested nuclear bombs here, but that should only intrigue you more. The fact that most don’t appreciate what Nevada's natural beauty only means an experience of wide open lands and very few tourists to ruin the landscape of your exploration.
Is Nevada just a giant bowl of sand and cactus? You might be surprised.
Your paddle pierces the clear, blue water and your stand up paddle board glides across the still surface. It’s early and the entire lake appears to be off limits to everyone but you. This impressive alpine lake that straddles the state line between California and Nevada is deep, clear and cold and attracts a lot of visitors year round except you see no one else. That is the draw of Lake Tahoe. This massive body of water high up in the Sierras is popular but an early paddle along the north shore and you’ll find solitude. The winter brings deep snow drifts and endless skiing. At Heavenly Mountain Resort you can ski all the way to California and back. The peak tops out at over 10,000 feet providing you with views of the lake and the endless slopes of the Eastern Sierras. Summer is adventure season with fun things to do such as zip lines, scenic gondolas rides and endless trails above the tree line. South Lake Tahoe also allows for you to have a little casino gambling mixed in with your outdoor adventures. It's where stereotypical Nevada collides with natural Nevada.
There is nothing natural about visiting an old dusty town except that Virginia City was built around mining and once you hear the stories of gold and silver, you'll realize that this natural resource was the root of so much history in Nevada and much of the west. Take a mine tour and hear about the influx of visitors seeking to get rich and how they paved the way for future development of the West. You’ll also hear about cowboys and shootouts and all the tales of the good old Wild West. The geography of the area and the knowledge that gold and silver still reside in these hills make this a great spot to learn about natural resources and the formation of the Silver State.
Great Basin National Park
Long, dusty desert roads can be scenic, but as you drive to Great Basin National Park the change in scenery is quick and in no time you are among the old trees. The Bristlecone Pine is rumored to be among the oldest tree species alive today. There are some debates on age since these trees grow slowly and have to adapt to the harsh conditions — they often don’t produce growth rings for every season that they survive, and once you experience their habitat you understand why they might be temperamental.
Needless to say, walking among a grove of these ancient natural masterpieces leaves you feeling like you need a chiropractor. Twisted bark and dead limbs intertwined with pine needles in spaces that offer the perfect backdrop for your newfound love of landscape photography are worth the trek to this remote spot in Nevada. While you visit Great Basin National Park the night sky will baffle you with countless shooting stars, and a walk through Lehman Cave will either turn you into a spelunking junkie or remind you that you are claustrophobic.
Big Rocks Wilderness
Located on the outskirts of nowhere, Big Rock Wilderness sits at 6,844 feet of elevation, 121 miles from Ely Nevada and 141 miles from Las Vegas. These large boulder fields are a treat for climbers working on their bouldering technique and the remoteness of this area known as “Mecca” rock is a big draw. If you wish to enjoy a night sky devoid of city lights or pitch a tent in the true desert wilderness, Big Rocks is where you can do it. Steep hikes, challenging trad climbing and wide open spaces are all in abundance. Bring everything you need because this is Nevada wilderness at its best.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
You could choose to set sail on Lake Mead, but leave the wind to cool you down and instead rent a houseboat. If water sports are your thing you’ll be in your very own utopia — the shores of Lake Mead offer multiple marinas and opportunities to put in with your own craft or the option to rent pretty much anything that gives you joy on the water. Kayak, jet ski or paddle board over the clear cool water or even try some SCUBA. The fishing is adequate and the hiking in the surrounding canyons ranges from stress-free and easy to white knuckle adventures. Lake Mead is just 20 minutes from Las Vegas, so you can make your home base on the Las Vegas strip and turn your Sin City vacation into an adrenaline adventure. Drought years have exposed ancient settlements and have changed the shoreline dramatically but glorious coves still exist to lend some solitude to your Las Vegas lake vacation.
Valley of Fire
Your eyes will deceive you as a slot canyon narrows in front of you but the sandstone laminations appear to open the space up. Soft sand beneath your feet reminds you of a tropical beach, and way up above a sliver of sky allows the sunshine in. This wild environment, cut from a raging watershed, is deep in the desert, yet the rock keeps you cool. The colors are radiant reds and oranges; tans and greys that are familiar if only because classic landscape photographers utilize these geologic structures all the time to give their galleries depth.
Valley of Fire State Park is less than an hour away from the bright lights of Las Vegas, but it feels remote and unspoiled by the chaos of the strip. The crowds are non-existent and you’ll be able to hear your thoughts in these high, thin, canyons. The prospect trail is popular for a reason, so be sure not to miss it.
Red Rock Canyon
You’ll be tempted to stay in the car and just do the scenic drive because the slot machines and craft cocktails of Las Vegas, 20 minutes away, are tugging at your motivation, but that would be a mistake. Red Rock Canyon offers over 15 hikes that range from the easy, Lost Creek interpretive trail (perfect for young families) to a strenuous five-mile hike up to Turtlehead Peak. Rock climbers will find multi-pitch routes on strong sandstone faces on the east side of the valley, and bike riders will like the challenge of a long gradual incline to a flat scenic loop within the park. There is a visitor’s center that is open daily and group and individual campsites within the park.