If you’re staying in Las Vegas but want to see any of the national parks in the Southwest, you’ll be happy to know that there are numerous excellent options within driving distance of the Strip. A handful is close enough to visit in a day, while others are better suited to a longer vacation or as a pit stop on a road trip.
From California to Colorado, you can go to locations you’ve never seen before. Although Las Vegas may appear to be an otherworldly place, nothing compares to the grandeur of the United States’ national parks.
Keep an eye on the weather at your destination and along with your travel. Many national parks are located in isolated areas with seasonal road closures, and extreme temperatures (both high and cold) need planning ahead of time.
To help preserve the natural environment, several of these parks charge admission fees. The fee varies from park to park and is usually charged per car, not per person. If you plan on visiting many parks, you can purchase a National Park Annual Pass for $80, which grants you access to all of the country’s parks.
1. Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is the nearest U.S. National Park to Las Vegas, and it’s only 120 miles distant across the state line in California. It’s simply a two-hour drive from Las Vegas to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, which can be done in one day.
Death Valley is most known for having the world’s highest air temperature, with summer days frequently exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 C). Winter and spring are, admittedly, the most popular times to visit, when the weather is mild and the landscape is blanketed in wildflowers. However, there’s something immensely tempting about arriving in the dead of summer to feel the scorching heat (just bring plenty of water and stay close to your car).
It’s a renowned camping spot if you wish to spend longer than a day. The best way to see all of the top attractions in Death Valley, from Badwater Basin to the Salt Flat, is to spend the night.
2. Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is home to the park’s namesake tree, which grows where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet. Although Joshua trees have gnarled limbs, their ugly appearance has captivated humanity since the area’s indigenous peoples first came into the desert. These trees can only be found in the Southwest, and the national park’s biological features make it one of the greatest sites to see them.
It’s about a three-hour journey from Las Vegas, or 180 miles. If you’re planning a road trip to or from Vegas, Joshua Tree National Park is a great place to stop if you’re passing through Los Angeles or San Diego.
If you go in the spring after it has rained, not only will the ground be covered in wildflowers, but you might also find Joshua trees in blossom. Hikes in the park provide more than enough opportunities to gaze at the trees and take photographs, and if you have the time, the park is regarded as one of the best sites in the country for camping.
3. Zion National Park
The distance between Las Vegas and Zion National Park in Utah is only 168 miles, making it a two- to three-hour journey. You’ll pass through a few canyons cut out by the Virgin River along the trip, so make the most of opportunities to pull over and take some shots.
When you get to the park, you can park your car in one of the National Park Service’s lots and take a free shuttle around the park. Visitors can learn about areas of interest as well as popular hiking paths and views on this guided trip. The Narrows, a 16-mile journey through a slotted canyon that winds through a stream, is possibly Zion’s most famous hike.
Biking, horseback riding, and tubing on the Virgin River are all popular activities at Zion National Park. There are three overnight campgrounds in the park if you want to camp. Campsites are generally reserved months in advance, as they are in most national parks, especially during the summer high season. Make sure you reserve your spot as soon as possible or look into nearby lodging options.
4. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is around 210 miles (four hours) from Las Vegas and features stunning sandstone cliffs towering above deep canyon ravines. During the winter, you can go on guided or unguided excursions through the carved-out scenery, or stop at Brian Head for a few laps down the mountain.
Bryce Canyon National Park is a fantastic weekend retreat from the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas, with biking routes and various camping sites, and bird lovers will enjoy the countless kinds of local avians that can be observed from the rock formations that encircle the canyons.
5. The Grand Canyon
Canyon. When you’re traveling four and a half hours to get there, it may not seem near, but its proximity and the grandeur of the Canyon make this one of the most popular trips for visitors to Vegas. The North Rim and the South Rim are both roughly 270 miles from Las Vegas and may be reached by car. (The South Rim is the busiest, whereas the North Rim is more peaceful.)
The so-called West Rim, which isn’t formally part of Grand Canyon National Park, is another much closer option. You’ll want to drive the extra distance to the North or South rims if you want to view the iconic canyon you’ve seen in the images. The West Rim, on the other hand, features the colossal SkyWalk. It’s also only a two-hour trip from Las Vegas and can be seen in a single day.
To get acquainted with the National Park, start at the visitor center at Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim, where you’ll find lectures, movies, and rangers to help you. The Bright Angel Trail leads directly to the canyon’s bottom if you wish to climb down it.
A word of caution, though: Getting to the bottom of the Grand Canyon is at least nine miles over a steep path, so if you’re not a regular hiker or have trouble with rough terrain, you might want to consider taking a tour of the Canyon on a donkey, mule, or horse instead.
6. Monument Valley and Four Corners
Because the federal government does not have authority over this tract of land, Monument Valley is not a United States National Park. Monument Valley is entirely within the Navajo Nation Reservation, and it has been recognized as a Navajo Tribe Park by the tribal government (which is the local equivalent of a U.S. national park). Monument Valley, which straddles the Utah-Arizona border, is 400 miles east of Las Vegas and takes around six hours to get.
Monument Valley, like Arches National Park, has some of the most spectacular geology in the region. Towers of red rock rising out against the bright, blue sky, like ancient monuments, can be seen across the desert. They’ve become one of the most recognizable elements of the American Southwest thanks to their use in movies and art. Some of the most popular destinations, such as Antelope Canyon, can only be reached by taking a guided tour.
A Navajo village is also featured at the park, where children and adults can participate in live reenactments of tribal customs and traditions. If you take a guided tour, your party will be led by a local Navajo guide who will provide cultural context to your natural experience.
While you’re there, head southeast to the Four Corners Monument, which symbolizes the exact spot where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona collide. Even though the monument itself is not particularly long, there are several tiny businesses nearby that sell Native American and Americana items.
7. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park may appear to be a long way from Las Vegas, but depending on the time of year you visit, it is well worth the trip. From late spring to late fall, the travel from Vegas to Yosemite is approximately 450 miles or seven hours (certainly a long drive, but one of California’s most gorgeous routes). When the snow starts to fall, however, the most direct route along Tioga Pass closes for the season, forcing travelers to take some considerable detours, making the journey a 12-hour struggle.
Camping, rafting, hiking, and a glimpse of Yosemite Falls, North America’s largest waterfall, are all available in Yosemite National Park. Half Dome, a massive block of granite sliced in half by glaciers, and the famous Mariposa Grove, home to over 200 sequoia trees, some of which are over 1,500 years old, are among the other attractions.
In the summer, if you’re driving from Las Vegas, you’ll pass by Tuolomne Meadows, one of the park’s hidden jewels. Before heading down to Yosemite Valley, it’s the ideal stop for sightseeing and backcountry trekking. You can enjoy a picnic beside the Merced River, breathe in the mist from a waterfall, or watch climbers scale El Capitan.