5 Ideas for a Nevada Nature Escape

What are some things you associate with travel in Nevada?

Is it kayaking through a canyon on crystal clear waters, frolicking across red boulders on a landscape that looks straight out of Mars, or walking through wetlands where birds outnumber visitors?

If you had asked me a few years ago, I would’ve answered none of the above. In my mind, Nevada conjured up images of the Vegas Strip with its dazzling lights and bright neon signs.

What else was out there? Desert and not much else, I imagined. Isn’t that what we hear all the time?

But now with three visits to Nevada under my belt, I have a different opinion of what the state has to offer. For starters, it’s a great place to get close to nature and it also features a plethora of outdoor activities. I only had a 3-day weekend on my most recent visit to Nevada, yet I was still surprised by how much I was able to pack in, so today I’m sharing a few of those nature escapes:

Walking the Historic Railroad Hiking Trail near Lake Mead

The Historic Railroad Hiking Trail, Nevada

Desert landscapes in Nevada

Views of Lake Mead

Walking the Historic Railroad Hiking Trail

We kicked off our first morning in Nevada with a visit to the Historic Railroad Hiking Trail, which offers great views of Lake Mead. But what makes this trail even more popular is that it leads all the way to Hoover Dam!

The railroad was originally built to connect Boulder City with Hoover Dam, but once the dam was completed, the tracks were dismantled to be sold as scrap and the railroad was mostly forgotten. It wasn’t until 1984 that the site was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, and 2015 that it was designated as a National Historic Trail.

Today, visitors can hike the 3.7 miles from the trailhead to the Hoover Dam Parking Garage going through a series of tunnels, sometimes even seeing some Big Horn Sheep along the way.

We had a car so we only did a bit of hiking, but it’s certainly doable and the scenery is striking!

Kayaking in Black Canyon with Blazin Paddles was another fun nature escape in Nevada

Kayaking down Black Canyon in Nevada

The Emerald Cave in Black Canyon, Nevada

Kayaking in Black Canyon

I’ve never considered myself the athletic type, but kayaking is a sport that I have loved from the first time I tried it. I’ve now been kayaking in Finland, Vietnam, Australia, the Peruvian Amazon, and most recently Nevada. 

On this trip, we joined Blazin Paddles for a half-day excursion in Black Canyon. We departed from Willow Beach and kayaked a total of 4 miles upstream, but even though we had a little bit of a headwind on that particular day, it was still a super relaxing outing. The waters were very calm so this would be a great location for any beginners out there.

We had a really cool guide on this tour who taught us stories about the area, introduced us to the local vegetation, and even brought drinks and snacks along to make sure none of us went ‘hangry’. Halfway through the outing, we pulled up to a pebbly beach where we left our kayaks and went on a hike to a historical overlook. The views were amazing!

One of my favourite stops of that trip was the Emerald Cave where the waters glow the most brilliant shade of green I have ever seen. The cave is only big enough to fit a kayak or two, but it was still a cool experience.

If you’re looking for something a little different, once a month during the full moon, Blazin Paddles also offers a twilight paddle that starts at sunset, followed by marshmallows by a roaring fire. How’s that for something memorable?

Driving to Valley of Fire State Park

Red desert landscapes in Valley of Fire

The views from Rainbow Vista in Valley of Fire

Getting a passport stamp at Valley of Fire

Visiting Valley of Fire State Park

Valley of Fire was breathtaking and I realize I’m using a lot of superlatives in this blog post, but Nevada’s natural beauty really blew us away on this weekend trip.

Sam and I spent a full day exploring Valley of Fire State Park and it looked like we were on a different planet. This park is known for its giant boulders, strange rock formations, and rich red landscapes, and we got to see it all.

My recommendation would be to pack a picnic and make a full day trip out of it because you won’t want to leave sooner. The drive inside the park is beautiful, plus you have so many different trails and lookout points along the way, that you’ll really want to give yourself the extra time to explore the park properly.

Also, as a tip from one avid stamp collector to another: don’t forget to get a cool passport stamp at the Visitor Center on your way out!

Another fun nature escape in Nevada was visiting Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge is a little oasis in the desert

Two lakes with different colours at Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge

Finding an oasis in Pahranagat

We ended up at Pahranagat completely by chance after it piqued our interest on our drive to Alamo. It was getting quite late in the day when we drove past it, but we couldn’t resist the chance to visit this little oasis carved out of the desert, so we got up early and drove back the following morning to do a bit of exploring.

Pahranagat is a National Wildlife Refuge comprised of two lakes – Upper Pahranagat Lake and Lower Pahranagat Lake – and the combination of wetlands, water and meadows makes it a key stop for migratory birds. That means if you’re into birdwatching, this is a pretty cool stop. The first thing we noticed when we arrived at the refuge was a big whiteboard listing all the species of birds that had been spotted in recent days and it was a massive list!

We only had a little bit of time here before we hit the Extraterrestrial Highway, so we went on a short walk, but if was a great way to start the morning. If you visit with a bit more time, you can also go kayaking, fishing, and overnight camping.

The Scenic Drive in Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

Red Rock Canyon is just 20 minutes from the Vegas strip making it a super easy nature escape in Nevada

This is why Red Rock Canyon gets its name

Driving Red Rock Canyon

Last but not least, we couldn’t leave Nevada without a quick trip back to Red Rock Canyon.

We had been here before on our last trip to Nevada and it was one of Sam’s highlights, so since we still had a few hours before we had to part with our rental vehicle, we decided to take a little detour for some dramatic panoramas.

Red Rock Canyon is just a short 20-minute drive from the Vegas Strip, which makes it a popular place for visitors, but we arrived right around sunset and it wasn’t crowded at all. We drove the 13-mile scenic loop stopping at the lookout points, and we even snuck in one more hike at Sandstone Quarry. It was the perfect way to stretch our legs and wrap up our whirlwind weekend in Nevada.

What is your favourite nature escape in Nevada?

This post is a result of the Nevada blog trip created and managed by iambassador in partnership with Expedia and TravelNevada. As always, I maintain full editorial control of the content published here.

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