You’ve probably seen the zombies in Vegas. They aren’t the flesh eating kind that you might expect when you think of the undead. You can usually recognize their hollow sunken eyes staring deadly at a slot machine or watch them dragging their stiff corpses through the casino at 4 am. If you’re not seeing them, it might be you…..Las Vegas can be a blast for a few days of gambling and shows, but eventually Sin City can take its toll on even the hardiest of travelers. What do you do when you’ve already seen Carrot Top 3 times and the ATM knows your name? Road trip! Many travelers don’t realize how accessible Las Vegas is to some of America’s top national parks.
Zion National Park is only 3 hours from Vegas and is one of America’s greatest parks. You can drive through the middle of it in about an hour but it’s real treasures are only reachable by trail. In high season, there’s shuttle buses that take you to the far reaches of the park to start your adventure. Angel’s landing is a 4-hour hike and considered to be one of the best (and scariest) hikes in North America. There are 6 other well marked trails throughout the park, with some taking as little as half an hour. If that still seems too difficult, there are lots of viewpoints where you can pull over and do a little exploring just a few minutes from the safety of your rental car. The drive is beautiful and has rewarding views of wildlife and cool geological formations. We saw a herd of rams that let us get within a few yards of them before they headed for the hills. I felt like I was in a Dodge commercial.
Zion’s winding roads explore the bottom of it’s canyons and find you looking up at the majestic cliffs that surround it’s valleys. Bryce is the exactly the opposite. When you arrive at the park, you’re at the top looking down into the canyon. The trails either skirt the rim or take you into the other-worldly red rock scenery. Bryce’s beauty is its red hoodoos that dot the canyon floor. Like giant sandcastles full of red twisted spires, the canyon is an amazing site. The trails are shorter and less challenging than Zion and every turn reveals a breathtaking viewpoint as you descend into the valley. There’s a small restaurant that serves great Elk chili near the entrance. There’s accommodation in both parks, so it’s entirely possible to do a quick 1 1/2 or day trip from Vegas and visit both parks.
The Grand Canyon is one of America’s greatest wonders and it’s actually possible to visit from Las Vegas in a day: albeit a long day. The south rim is the most popular tourist spot and is about 5 hours from Las Vegas. The North Rim is a little further, but less than 3 hours from Zion if you decide to combine parks. There are less crowds on the north side and there’s definitely a more intimate feel than its southern neighbor. Many travelers visiting these parks opt stay in Kanab, since its situated perfectly in the middle of Bryce, Zion and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Much closer to Vegas is the western side of the Grand Canyon which isn’t part of the national park and is on a Hualapai reservation a little over 2 hours drive from Sin City. For about $80, tourists can access the tribal lands and walk on the clear controversial sky bridge to view the almost 5,000 foot drop off directly below their feet. If driving isn’t your thing, there are lots of helicopter rides offered in the Vegas strip that can get you to the canyon and back in time to have dinner and see your cirque show.
Death Valley is the closest national park to Vegas and can be reached in about 2 hours driving west. There’s a couple places to stay inside the park and nearby, but you could visit a great deal of the park in a day if you get an early start. Death Valley is more beautiful than the name implies, with it’s stark unearthly views. It’s been used for a lot of Star Wars scenes because it really does look like an alien planet. It is also the hottest place on earth, so summer months might not be the best time to explore it. On your way back, you can stop in a ghost town like Rhyolite. On a side note, naming a town Rhyolite is never a good idea if you want it to last.
So next time you’re in Vegas and your the slots have hypnotized you and your days start running together, take a break and see some of America’s natural wonders.