Las Vegas 'Off the Beaten Strip'
Las Vegas ‘Off the Beaten Strip’
An RVer’s guide to the natural side of Vegas.
By: Jon & Nadia Bajuelo
There is more to do in Vegas than gamble. Though the resorts, shows, and lights of the world-famous Las Vegas Strip are definitely worth seeing, there's a lesser-known side of Las Vegas.
As an RVer, chances are you'll find yourself in Las Vegas eventually. Most winters, it's a desirable place to RV due to the mild weather. Vegas is also quite popular in late fall and early spring for the same reason. It's within easy striking distance of RV road trip staples like the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and the Hoover Dam.
So, what do you do as an RVer if you don't gamble, or you've already experienced the glitz of the strip? You let Las Vegas wipe off the glamour and show off its natural glow.
Here are a few spots that are near and dear to our road-tripping hearts, complete with where to stay and what to see.
Red Rock Canyon
Perhaps our favorite stop is Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. This 200,000-acre area is BLM managed and home to breathtaking desert scenery, complete with Joshua trees. You're going to head west out to the end of the city, drive right out of the popular Summerlin suburb, and suddenly be greeted by wide-open Mojave Desert landscape.
What to Do
Just a short bit down the road you'll come to Red Rock Canyon. If you arrive before 4:30 p.m., the Visitor's Center is a good place to start your visit.
Even on the shortest of visits, you can choose to go on a scenic drive, hike, or do a combination of both. If you have a bit more time, there's also rock climbing, biking, and some 4x4 roads.
If you're short on time, we highly recommend going on the 13-mile scenic drive. Before you go, be aware that the scenic drive is one-way only. So, there's no turning around to go back to the Visitor's Center or a previous overlook or trailhead.
The scenic drive winds you around beautiful sandstone escarpment and golden desert views. The drive also gives you access to 22 of the 27 hiking trails at Red Rock Canyon. Six of those are rated easy, with the shortest trail, the Petroglyph Wall Trail, clocking in at .15 miles and about 30 minutes to hike.
If you're stopping in on a drive day, you'll be happy to know that you can drive through with your RV. It might be tougher to snag a parking spot at overlooks, but there are some extra-long spots and you just might be able to stretch your legs for a bit on one of the shorter hikes. While on the drive, keep your eye out for Joshua trees, wild burros, and if you're lucky, a desert tortoise.
Where to Stay
Red Rock Canyon has a campground just east of the scenic drive on Highway 159. The campground accommodates tents and RVs. As far as the RVs go, Class As, Bs, Cs, 5th Wheels and travel trailers are all able to camp there.
Of course, if your rig is a large one, you'll want to be sure one of six designated RV sites are available. If you're in a small class C, class B, or shorter towable, you'll be able to fit in one of the regular 53 sites.
The campground is closed during the summer, with season usually running from Labor Day to Memorial Day. The busiest part of the season is mid-October to November and March and April.
Keep in mind, there are no hookups, no dump stations, no showers, and little (if any) cell service. There are also fire restrictions at times. Water and vault toilets are available.
What We Recommend
We highly recommend a stop at Red Rock Canyon. Our latest visit was an October visit starting at 5 p.m. on a Tuesday. If you'd like a little serenity with your visit, we highly recommend visiting on a weekday.
Bring a jacket as it will get cooler as the sun starts to set. Temperatures are comfortable in October and you get a little more time as Red Rock Canyon closes at 7 p.m. From November to February, closing time is 5 p.m. While the campground is closed during the summer, Red Rock Canyon itself is not, but keep in mind temps will reach triple digits.
We've done Red Rock Canyon both in our Winnebago Trend and our tow vehicle. We had no trouble parking the Trend at overlooks, but we did go on a weekday. You will need to pay to go in, however, if you have your America the Beautiful Annual Pass, like us, you'll get in free.
If you don't have a need for cell service, the Red Rock Canyon campground is one of the nicer developed campgrounds in the area and worth a stay. You'll be about 20 miles from the strip.
The Lake Mead National Recreation Area is among one of the first places we ever stayed when we started RVing in the West. The lake was created back in 1936 and is popular for boating and 4x4 adventures.
What to Do
Lake Mead is known for its scenic drives, which is how we came to love this area in the first place. The Lake Mead rec area is large, so if you don't have much time, be sure to explore the area closest to your desired route or destination. You can also stop for a picnic or grab lunch at one of Lake Mead's marina restaurants right on the lake. There is a visitor's center to gather information, if needed.
With a little more time, you can swim, hike, fish, or book a rafting trip. Boat rentals are also available at the marinas.
If you do hike be sure not to hike in the middle of the day during the summer. Even during the milder seasons, winds can suddenly whip up and the mid-day temps and sun are harsh. Otherwise, the eight hikes at Lake Mead are easy or moderate in difficulty with little elevation change. Only one of the hikes is longer than five miles.
Where to Stay
Lake Mead has both developed camping and wild camping. The Lake Mead area has 10 campgrounds. Four of those are privately run while the rest are run by the National Park Service. The NPS campgrounds are first-come, first-served and they have no hook-ups or showers. The privately-run campgrounds have RV hook-ups and showers available. Five more developed campgrounds are located near the Lake Mojave area at the southern end of the Lake Mead National Rec Area.
What We Recommend
We have boondocked during our stays at Lake Mead. One of our favorite areas to boondock is the Government Wash area. We've been there in the winter (February), spring (April), and in the fall (October). Our favorite has been the fall, but all three seasons have had some beautiful days.
The only thing we'd warn you about are the high desert winds. This is probably a known thing to those of you from the west or the plains, but it can catch you by surprise if you grew up in less windy areas! Overall, it's not a problem, but you will inevitably find yourself dusting off your things. And, in our case, one of our dogs is not a fan of the wind.
Our favorite hike has been the Redstone Hike off Northshore Road. The scenic drives off of Northshore have been beautiful too. Pearce Ferry road is good if you want to see some Joshua trees though.
Staying at Lake Mead also puts you within very easy striking distance of a Hoover Dam visit. Leave your rig behind and drive down to the Hoover Dam Visitor's Center.
With your America the Beautiful Annual Pass, you get into Lake Mead for free. Otherwise, you'll want to decide if the Lake Mead Annual Vehicle Pass or Daily Vehicle Pass is best for you.
With the relatively wide-open views at Lake Mead, we think you'll find that sunset is always a treat.
Valley of Fire
Valley of Fire is a stunningly gorgeous 40,000-acre state park known for its beautiful Red Aztec sandstone. Valley of Fire State Park borders the Lake Mead Rec Area's northernmost tip just to the west.
What to Do
We suppose you may see a theme developing here, but Valley of Fire makes for an epic scenic drive. The striking contrast between the red Aztec sandstone and the grey and tan limestone is just eye-popping.
As you're driving through, which you can do in your RV, you can stop for some hikes along the way. There are also nice picnic areas along the way to stop for a snack or lunch.
If you're in a bit of a hurry, most of the hikes here are relatively short. Six of them are under three miles. If you can only do a few, stick to White Domes Loop, Elephant Rock Loop, and Rainbow Vista Trail.
Where to Stay
Valley of Fire State Park has two campgrounds that are both first-come, first-served. RV sites with hookups are available. The campground also has a dump station and showers.
If you're unable to grab a spot, try wild camping over in the Poverty Flats BLM area. This spot will place you close to both Valley of Fire State Park and Lake Mead Rec Area.
What We Recommend
Don't miss Valley of Fire State Park! Seriously, we missed it on our first visit out to Vegas and when we finally saw it this past winter, we couldn't believe we hadn't prioritized a visit here. It's worth the entrance fee even if you can only just drive through.
We've visited on both a weekend and a weekday and, as usual, if you're able to plan for a weekday visit, you'll encounter less of a crowd.
Early morning visits here are nice, but you might be too early to make it into the Visitor's Center.
We've yet to be able to stay inside the park's campground, but we've boondocked numerous times in the Poverty Flats BLM area just outside. Our favorite spot is a cliffside spot not too far from Overton. Again, high winds do suddenly pick up here. Overton and Moapa Valley in general are a little light in restaurant and grocery store options, but you'll have no problem finding gas, water, and propane.
We've come to love camping in Las Vegas and the desert! Please remember that the desert, while beautiful, can also be harsh. Don't forget to fill your fresh-water tanks, pack your sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, and sturdy closed-toe shoes. Let us know in the comments if your RV travels will take you into the desert as the temps cool down.