National Parks Near Las Vegas
National Parks near Las Vegas. There’s so much more to this beautiful state than Las Vegas. In this article, we’ll familiarize you with the incredible national park sites that are within a five hour drive of Las Vegas.
There are 6 national park sites for you to see on your next visit to the Silver State.
To be clear, this list includes national park sites (as in sites managed by the National Park Service) as well as full-fledged national parks. To learn more about the difference between the various National Park Service designations check out our article that explains everything!
Now lets go ahead with 6 reasons why you’ll want to make a drive of five hours (or less) from Las Vegas to one of these amazing places.
1. Death Valley National Park
Located approximately 130 miles from Las Vegas, Death Valley is only about a 2 hour drive from the Strip.
Death Valley is situated on California’s southeastern border with Nevada, Death Valley National Park spans over 5,000 square miles of otherworldly vistas. The largest national park in the continental United States, Death Valley is a park for superlatives.
Death Valley is the hottest place on earth, the lowest place in North America, and the driest place in the United States. It is also the largest National Park outside of Alaska.
Things to See in Death Valley
Massive slanted valleys that go on forever and seem to lack only the crashed spaceship in the distance, snow-capped mountains, a year round waterfall (insane, right?), expansive forests, abandoned mines, conifer groves, and some of the most stunning dune fields in North America comprise the park with the most morbid name.
If you’re visiting the park be sure to check out our full Death Valley National Park Guide!
Best Things to Do In Death Valley | Eureka Dunes
Located in the remote Eureka Valley and situated at 3000ft elevation, Eureka Dunes is the most stunning dune field (I think) of the five in Death Valley National Park. Eureka Dunes are the tallest in California and perhaps the tallest in North America.
What makes this dune field even more stunning is the backdrop of the massive Last Chance Mountains. As if that isn’t enough to entice one to visit, did I mention they sing?
Best Things to Do In Death Valley | Badwater Basin
Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America at 282ft below sea level. This salty wonderland features dazzling geometric shapes and record temperatures in the Summer.
Visitors can park at the Badwater Basin parking and walk out across the salt flats to the end of the boardwalk and out onto the salt itself which is a truly amazing experience.
Badwater Basin Hike: Most visitors just hike out a few steps beyond the short boardwalk but to truly get a sense of the scale of the salt flats one can do the entire 1.8mile path.
Best Things to Do In Death Valley | Zabriskie Point
Zabriskie Point is one of the most iconic locations in all of Death Valley National Park. This location is perhaps *the* best place in the park to watch a sunrise. This iconic location features panoramic views of the valley and stunning rock formations.
As one of the parks most popular locations crowds here can be quite large especially during the popular seasons. Be sure to show up early for sunrise to get a good spot!
There is a short, steep paved pathway that takes visitors from the parking lot to the viewpoint.
Death Valley National Park & The Twilight Zone
Death Valley National Park made a cameo appearance in two episodes of The Twilight Zone. They were “The Lonely” (1959) and “I Shot An Arrow Into The Air” (1960). Both episodes featured scenes at Zabriskie Point and Desolation Canyon.
The Twilight Zone originally appeared on CBS from 1959 to 1964. It included 156 episodes. It was an anthology series which featured a new story and a different cast each week.
These characters found themselves dealing with the strange and the unknown. They took us along for the ride and what a ride it was.
The Death Valley Video
Death Valley Inspired A Television Show
How many national parks have their own television series? Death Valley did! Death Valley Days was first a series on the radio before being adapted for television. It was an anthology series featuring true accounts of the Old American West.
The show was created in 1930 by Ruth Woodman. The original inspiration was the group of prospectors who perished in the real Death Valley. Little did anyone realize the show would turn out to be one of the most popular westerns on television.
One Of The Longest Running Westerns On Television
The program broadcast on radio until 1945. It came to television in 1952 and ran until 1970. The show continued in syndication until August 1, 1975. This made Death Valley Days one of the longest running western television programs in history.
The show’s sponsor was the Pacific Borax Company. The company was famous for its “20 Mule Team Borax” slogan which was the brainchild of its advertising manager Stephen Mather.
This is the same Stephen Mather who would go on to become the first director of the National Park System.
You’ll Never Guess Who Hosted Death Valley Days
2. Joshua Tree National Park
It’s a drive of 229 miles or about 4 hours and 15 minutes from Las Vegas to Joshua Tree.
It’s the iconic southwestern desert park that you’ve probably heard so much about–Joshua Tree National Park. It’s been featured in countless movies, television shows, and yes, of course music videos.
Named for the one-of-a-kind trees that call the area home, Joshua Tree National Park is a true desert wonderland.
Watercolor sunsets and night skies teeming with stars, fairy tale trees and giant boulder piles, warm desert air and endless vistas, these are the hallmarks of this iconic southwestern destination.
Crowds at Joshua Tree
If you’re wondering how crowded Joshua Tree is considering it’s cultural popularity – well the answer depends of course on when you visit. The summer can see heavy visitation in the park with the major highlights and campgrounds bearing the brunt of the burden.
Finding a campsite can be extremely challenging during peak summer visitation.
The spring and fall offer better opportunities for those with time off and the need to visit this one-of-a-kind destination. During those times of year the weather is usually mild and the park feels more in balance with the visitors.
Winter sees very few visitors, but can also be quite cold, especially if you’re planning an overnight trip.
Travels to Joshua Tree National Park
More Than Just Parks Co-Founders Will & Jim Pattiz first traveled to Joshua Tree way back in 2013 on a road trip to the southwest. It was early January and the park was devoid of tourists and seemed magical.
The landscapes were otherworldly and the brothers knew then that they would be coming back for future visits.
Joshua Tree National Park Film
Fast forward two years and another road trip out west and the Pattiz Brothers found themselves with cameras in tow creating what would become their Joshua Tree film.
It was another January and the nights and mornings were bitter cold and filled with the howls of nearby coyotes. Days were spent hopping boulders, exploring abandoned mines, and chasing fleeting shots of wildlife.
The park was so spectacularly quiet and devoid of other humans that it became odd to sight other cars or people outside of a campground. After a few days they soon discovered this vast expanse of desert was actually teeming with wildlife if you were willing to spend the time to become acquainted with it.
Joshua Tree is a park that will make a lasting impact on you if you take the time to experience it right, whether that’s for a day or several days.
The History of Joshua Tree National Park
Like so many other national parks, the story of Joshua Tree National Park can trace its origins to the foresight and dedication of one person. For Joshua Tree National Park that woman was Minerva Hoyt.
In the early 1900’s Minerva Hoyt became deeply interested in the California desert and its native plants after having moved to the state at the end of the 19th century. After the death of her husband in 1918, Minerva threw herself into an effort save these desert plants and landscapes from what she saw as an increasing threat of destruction from development.
Hoyt campaigned tirelessly for the preservation of many of California’s unique desert landscapes, including Death Valley, Anza-Borrego Desert, and Joshua Tree. In 1930 she created the International Desert Conservation League to further campaign for the protection of Southern California’s deserts.
A Change in Fortunes
After years of trying in vain to secure the protection of Joshua Tree, Minerva Hoyt’s pleas finally met a receptive audience in President Franklin Roosevelt, an ardent conservationist himself. In 1936, with the stroke of his pen, Roosevelt proclaimed Joshua Tree National Monument, setting aside over 800,000 acres of precious California desert.
In 1950, Joshua Tree underwent a different change in fortunes when the Truman administration reduced the size of the monument by more than 280,000 acres to allow for mining in the area.
Establishing the Park
Fast forward to 1994, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California introduced the California Desert Protection Act, a bill based on earlier one’s proposed by former Senator Alan Cranston.
The bill would create Death Valley National Park, the Mojave National Preserve, and would elevate Joshua Tree National Monument to a national park while adding an additional 234,000 acres to the park.
The bill passed both chambers and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on Halloween Day in 1994. An additional 4,518 acres was added to the park in 2019 under the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act.
These Are A Few Of Our Favorite Things To Do While At Joshua Tree National Park
Explore Hidden Valley: Hidden Valley is home to one of the largest and most beautiful Joshua Tree forests on the planet with some of the craziest looking trees you’ll lay your eyes on. A hike through this unique and otherworldly landscape is a must for everyone visiting the park.
Take in a Sunset at Cottonwood Springs Oasis: Of all the places to watch a sunset in Joshua Tree National Park, our favorite may be from one of the lesser visited areas of Cottonwood Springs. Birds of prey including hawks and kestrels soar overhead while the sky above lights up with the setting sun making for a dazzling display.
Stargazing At Joshua Tree: Some of the best stargazing in the country happens every night in the crown jewel of the Mojave, Joshua Tree National Park. It’s hard to choose a bad spot in this park to simply gaze up at the galaxy around you through one of the darkest skies you’ll find in America.
Discover Arch Rock: This 30 foot natural arch is one of the most popular and heavily photographed spots in all of Joshua Tree National Park – and it makes sense why! It’s pretty darn cool! The hike to the arch is great as well. Add this one to your list for sure.
3. Lake Mead National Recreation Area | National Parks Near Las Vegas
A trip to Lake Mead is only a short distance from Las Vegas. It’s the largest reservoir in the United States in maximum water capacity. It is located on the Colorado River about 24 mi (39 km) from the Strip southeast of Las Vegas, Nevada, in the states of Nevada and Arizona.
Formed by the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead is an impressive place: 112 miles long when the lake is full, 550 miles of shoreline, around 500 feet at greatest depth, 247 square miles of surface, and when filled to capacity, 28 million acre-feet of water.
What can you do at Lake Mead? Swim, boat, hike, cycle, camp and fish. This geologic wonderland includes 1.5 million acres of mountains, canyons, valleys and two vast lakes.
Outdoor Activities At Lake Mead
Boating is one popular activity. On Lake Mead there’s more than 290 square miles of waterway to navigate. Boaters can enjoy the thrill of open water or relax in a private cove. Before you go, however, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations.
Fishing is another popular activity. Fish include rainbow trout, catfish, sunfish, largemouth bass, striped bass, smallmouth bass and crappie.
If you love aquatic activities, swimming is also available. There are many places to swim in the waters of Lake Mead and Lake Mohave.
Hiking Trails At Lake Mead
Some of my favorite hiking trails include:
- The Historic Railroad Trail which is a wide and flat gravel trail consisting of five tunnels that lead to Hoover Dam.
- The Rivers Mountain Loop which is a 12-foot-wide paved path that surrounds the River Mountains, connecting Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Hoover Dam, Henderson, Boulder City and the rest of the Las Vegas Valley and is 34 miles in total length.
- Redstone where hikers can wind through large, red sandstone rocks and learn about the geology of the area. Interpretive signs are provided at the trailhead and picnic area.
- Lake View which provides opportunities to take in the beautiful, mountainous landscape with views of the harbor, Lake Mohave and Telephone Cove.
If you prefer biking to hiking bicyclists are welcome to ride at Lake Mead National Recreation Area on park roads and on routes designated for bicycle use.
4. Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument | National Parks Near Las Vegas
I’m a retired World History teacher so I realize that there’s old and then there’s old.
Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument is located less than 20 miles from the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada. The monument is 35 square miles and stretches along US Highway 95 north of Aliante and Centennial Hills to Creech Air Force Base.
The monument preserves thousands of Pleistocene (Ice Age) fossils that help tell the story of an ever-changing ecosystem. These fossils were preserved within expanding and contracting wetlands between 100,000-12,500 years ago.
Many of the Pleistocene animals of Tule Springs are still alive today, including the coyote (Canis latrans), jackrabbit (Lepus sp.), and aquatic snails. Some animals went extinct, disappearing from North America entirely. (Source: NPS)
Tule Springs is a relatively new park so the trails are a work in progress. That having been said I would recommend taking the Aliante Loop Trail which offers year-round scenic views of Mojave Desert scrub habitat and the Las Vegas Range. There are also wildflower blooms in spring and summer.
Tule Springs, like Lake Mead, is only a half hour’s drive from Las Vegas which means that you can have an incredible outdoor adventure and still return to the casinos that evening to see if your luck has changed.
5. Zion National Park | National Parks Near Las Vegas
Zion National Park is located 160 miles (2.5-hour-drive) from Las Vegas. Most of the drive is along Interstate 15, which has some beautiful sights for you to see.
Zion is unlike anywhere else on the planet. Looking up at those impossibly big canyon walls for the first time is a feeling you don’t ever forget.
It’s no wonder why millions of people every year come to visit this breathtaking place. Millions of people visit lots of national parks each year that don’t have the sort of overcrowding issues that Zion does – so what gives?
The major difference is that most national parks that see millions of viewers a year have a larger area for folks to spread out. In Zion, the main canyon is extremely narrow and just a mere 15 miles long.
Don’t let that deter you from visiting! There are still ways to see Zion without the crowds.
One Of The Most Stunning Places On Earth
Exquisitely carved by the Virgin River over millions of years, Zion Canyon is one of the most stunning places on earth. But don’t stop there!
This park has so much more to offer outside of the main canyon. Golden meadows, sweeping vistas, red rock mountains, towering white temples, and powerful ancient rivers comprise this incredible treasure.
Zion National Park History
As a former history teacher, I’m always fascinated by the story behind places that I visit. Zion National Park has quite an interesting story to tell.
The earliest known human inhabitants of the area now conserved as Zion National Park were present about 8,000 years ago during the Archaic period. These peoples were primarily hunter-gatherers.
At around 2,000 years ago the inhabitants of Zion began building structures, planting crops, and settling in the area. Eventually the Anasazi people arrived to the area, approximately 1,500 to 800 years ago and inhabited the area for hundreds of years.
When the Europeans eventually arrived on the scene the native occupants of the area were primarily the Paiute people.
Arrival Of The Mormon Pioneers
In the 1800s Mormon pioneers and explorers began to filter into the area settling the Virgin River area in 1847. They gave the area the name “Kolob” which in Mormon scripture is a heavenly place.
In 1851, Nephi Johnson, a Mormon missionary led by a Southern Paiute guide, entered the Virgin Canyon area for the first time and wrote about it’s agricultural potential.
Those reports reached Isaac Behunin who settled the Zion canyon floor in 1863 residing near the area where the Zion Lodge is located today. It was Behunin who is given credit for naming the area Zion after the biblical place of peace.
The Powell Expedition in Zion
In 1869, the Powell Expedition led by the famous John Wesley Powell entered the canyon for the first time bringing with them survey photographers.
One of these photographers, John K. Hiller, took photos (featured above) that eventually made it back east and stimulated excitement about the area.
Establishment of Mukuntuweap National Monument
In 1909, the hype around the Zion area (largely due to depictions of it being present at the 1904 World’s Fair) was sufficient enough for President William Howard Taft to conserve it as Mukuntuweap National Monument.
The name coming from a word John Wesley Powell mistakenly thought was what the Paiute called the area.
The name was changed to Zion on recommendation of the acting park service director as a result of complaints by the local Mormon population.
RELATED: If you’re interested in learning more about island history, check out our Cumberland Island post.
Establishment of Zion National Park
In 1923, the park was visited by it’s first sitting President of the United States, Warren G. Harding, as part of a larger trip to the west (a trip he would never return from). Harding toured the park on horseback and was deeply impressed by what he saw.
Zion National Park Film
ZION is the culmination of nearly a month spent by the Pattiz Brothers exploring Zion National Park during peak fall color. Exquisitely carved by the Virgin River over millions of years, Zion Canyon is one of the most stunning places on earth.
But don’t stop there! This park has so much more to offer outside of the main canyon. Golden meadows, sweeping vistas, red rock mountains, towering white temples, and powerful ancient rivers comprise this incredible treasure. This was filmed primarily in stunning UHD 8K.
The Pattiz Brothers chose to capture this film in Autumn to showcase the stunning and little known fall color of Zion National Park. Fall is also a time when visitation dies down from peak summer months and one can find more solace in the park.
Best Things to Do in Zion National Park
There are so many incredible, breathtaking, and life-changing things to do in Zion National Park.
Whether it’s exploring slot canyons like The Narrows or The Subway, hiking to stunning overlooks like Angels Landing, and scenic drives like the Zion Mt. Carmel Highway.
These are a few of our favorite things:
1. Hike the Narrows
The Narrows is one of the absolute coolest hikes and things to do in Zion National Park and the entire national park system for that matter. Hikers hike, walk, and wade through a narrow canyon of massive red rock canyon walls where the Virgin River has been at work for millions of years.
Distance: 16 miles (but most only hike the first few miles which are incredible)
Time: Typically 2-3 hours depending on how far you go
The total hike is 16 miles long but most folks only do the first few which are incredible. You’ll need some good water shoes for this hike and a hiking pole is recommended although most folks go without (water shoes can be rented in Springdale at a number of places).
The deepest the water gets is about 3-4 feet, but most of the hike is in ankle deep water.
From time to time toxic algae blooms occur in the Virgin River which can be harmful to humans so make sure to check the NPS site before visiting.
2. Ascend Angels Landing
Angel’s Landing is the most popular, well-known hike in Zion National Park leading to one of the most iconic views in all the National Park system. The Angel’s Landing trail is a steep 5 miles with about 1,500ft of elevation gain.
Distance: 5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1500 feet
Time: Typically 3-4 hours
This hike is not for the faint of heart as one section of the trail involves holding onto a chain bolted onto a cliff side with sheer drop offs.
3. Soak it all in at Canyon Overlook
Canyon Overlook is one of the most spectacular and relatively easy to access overlooks in all of Zion National Park. Located on the Zion Mt. Carmel (East) side of the park, the Canyon Overlook Trail is a popular one.
Distance: 1 mile roundtrip
Time: Typically 1-2 hours
The trail itself is about a mile round trip with little elevation gain. Hikers will be rewarded with sweeping views of Zion National Park.
4. Explore Pine Creek Gorge Slot Canyon
Pine Creek Gorge Slot Canyon is one of the most popular technical canyoneering spots in Zion National Park. If you’re not up for technical rappelling then no problem!
Drive toward the east entrance a bit and find another part of the Pine Creek Gorge to hike around. The creek bed is long and provides lots of great entry points for hikers.
5. Catch a Sunset From Lava Point
Lava Point is best spot in Zion National Park to watch a sunset. Located in the Kolob Terrace section of the park, this lesser-visited destination is worth a stop.
Escape the crowds here with a very different kind of beauty than the red rock canyons. This overlook does not require any sort of a hike and is situated next to our favorite campground in Zion National Park, Lava Point Campground.
6. Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon located about 130 miles from the heart of Las Vegas. On average, the drive takes approximately two and a half hours.
Sure we could try to describe to you the singular beauty and majesty of one of the great wonders of the world or we could let one of America’s greatest presidents do it.
In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world.
I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is.
I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon.Theodore Roosevelt
Yes the South Rim of the Grand Canyon sees crowds in the summer that are reminiscent of a Disney World parking lot, but the Grand Canyon is a large national park.
You might be surprised to learn that there are many areas in the park with the same jaw-dropping views that won’t make you feel like you’re in the busiest terminal of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Christmas Eve.
If you’re looking to avoid the crowds head to the less visited North Rim!
Map Of National Park Sites Near Las Vegas
List Of National Park Sites Near Las Vegas
- Death Valley National Park
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Lake Mead National Recreation Area
- Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument
- Zion National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park