Nevada DVO

Bootleg Canyon Gravity Racing

Bootleg Canyon Gravity Racing

12 Reasons To Hit Las Vegas In Winter (That Have Nothing To Do With The Strip)

1. Warming up at Gold Strike Hot Springs
Nevada DVO
sky dive
4. Unplugging at Mount Charleston Lodge
5. Climbing the Best Outdoor Climbing Gym on the Planet
6. Getting Behind the Wheel of a Dune Buggy
7. Wandering Amid Sculpted Stone at the Valley of Fire
8. Scoping Out a Nevada Ghost Town
9. Strolling Springs Preserve
river mountains biking
death valley national park sand dunes
lee canyon ski
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1. Warming up at Gold Strike Hot Springs

Every hike needs a rewarding destination, and it doesn’t get much better than this canyon scramble on the way to a relaxing soak in one of the state’s finest natural hot springs. Take note: The 6.5-mile round-trip route is no casual stroll. Small sections require basic climbing and rappelling, with ropes attached to ease the journey. Stop along the way to bathe in various pools — try to find the secret Cave of Wonders — or hike to the bottom and take a break on the bank of the Colorado River. The trailhead is along Gold Strike Canyon Road, just off US 93.

Gold Strike Hot Spring

2. Tearing Down Bootleg Canyon’s Mountain Bike Trails

This Boulder City canyon just outside of Vegas has 36 miles of single track, ranging from beginner-friendly cross-country to white-knuckle downhill (how about the Elevator Shaft’s 22% grade?), all cutting through a seriously scenic southern Nevada landscape. All Mountain Cyclery runs shuttles to the top for $5 a trip, as well as trail tours ($179 including rental) and bike rentals, so you can tackle an epic ride without lugging your gear from home.

Bootleg Canyon Mountain Bike Park

Bootleg Canyon Gravity Racing

3. Flying the Friendly Skies

Sure, you can jump out of a plane any time of year, but winter’s bright, clear skies make it prime time for killer views on the way down. Skydive Las Vegas takes rookies up for tandem jumps, each pair free-falling for up to a minute at well over 100mph before pulling their parachute and coasting back to solid ground. Resist the urge to put it all on black while the adrenaline is still pumping.

Skydive Las Vegas

4. Unplugging at Mount Charleston Lodge

If you think winter days are best spent surrounded by snowy pines in a woodsy lodge, grab your Pendleton blanket and head for Mt. Charleston Cabins. Located at 7,717 feet in the thick of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and just 45 minutes from downtown Las Vegas, this rustic retreat is a serious escape, albeit with amenities like jetted tubs, fireplaces, and the nearby lodge where you can grab a hot toddy and an elk burger while gazing out over the snow-dusted trees. And since cell reception is spotty at best (and there’s no cable, wifi, or land lines in the cabins), you won’t feel pressured to live-tweet the weekend. Rates start from $118.

Mt. Charleston Lodge

5. Climbing the Best Outdoor Climbing Gym on the Planet

Glowing in terracotta tones on the western edge of the Las Vegas Valley, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is home to some of the best rock climbing in the US, as well as stunning geological formations, hiking trails, petroglyphs, and even a few fossilized dinosaur tracks. Winter brings cool days and plenty of sun — a great combo for climbers looking to take on the park’s sandstone cliffs with sport climbs or multi-pitch ascents. Check out routes with names like Epinephrine and Sour Mash, or go straight for the Original — a 14-pitch, 1,000ft route up Juniper Canyon’s Rainbow Wall.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Vanessa Portillo

6. Getting Behind the Wheel of a Dune Buggy

Your 4WD SUV has nothing on these rough and rugged desert warriors that are perfectly suited for tackling sandy dunes and other off-road gnarliness. Just outside the city, SunBuggy runs relaxed, scenic drives ($149+), as well as the Mini Baja Chase ($199+), an edge-of-your-seat mock race where you’ll be blasting over challenging terrain in the driver’s seat.

Sun Buggy Fun Racing

7. Wandering Amid Sculpted Stone at the Valley of Fire

As the name suggests, this scenic Nevada State Park— Nevada’s oldest and largest — can get rather warm during the summer, and by warm we mean temperatures up to 120 degrees. Best to take in its stunning sandstone formations, ancient petroglyphs, and winding trails during the cool season. Pack a picnic lunch for a day trip, or load up the car and snag one of 72 first-come, first-served campsites for an overnight among the park’s undulating rocks and canyons. At less than an hour’s drive northeast of downtown Las Vegas, you’ll have no trouble getting there.

Valley of Fire State Park

8. Scoping Out a Nevada Ghost Town

Rich with metals and minerals, southern Nevada mines brought big money and big crowds to the region in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But when the mines gave out, the miners moved on, leaving behind homes, roads, and communities to slowly decay in the baking heat. These days, those abandoned towns are tourist attractions that make for great places to catch a glimpse of the past. Check out Goldfield (a living ghost town), Nelson (population 37 as of 2010 census), or Rhyolite for Nevada’s most photographed ghost town, or visit St. Thomas, a town that was submerged by Lake Mead in the 1930s and has reemerged in recent years as the water level has dropped.

Rhyolite Ghost Town

9. Strolling Springs Preserve

Las Vegas was named for spring-fed meadows in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and this outdoor attraction in the middle of the city was built around the town’s original water source. Today’s Springs Preserve is home to sprawling gardens featuring cacti and other native plants, and family-friendly walking and biking trails that are best enjoyed when the valley isn’t blistering in the sun. You’ll also find the Nevada State Museum here, with some stellar natural history exhibits.

Springs Preserve

10. Cycling the River Mountains Loop Trail

This 34-mile loop around the River Mountains is a favorite among locals, who hit the paved trail for casual rides as well as serious training. Take it in sections — along the shore of Lake Mead, up the Three Sisters hills, or through Boulder City where you can stop for a pint at Boulder Dam Brewing Co. — or pull on some bike shorts and ride the whole damn thing. Just be sure to pack plenty of water…it’s a desert out there, winter or not. Find trailheads in Boulder City, Henderson, and Lake Mead NRA.

River Mountains Loop Trail

11. Not Frying in Death Valley

“Hottest, driest, lowest,” brags the website for this national park straddling the border of Nevada and California. Highs average 116 degrees in July, putting something of a damper on exploring outside the air-conditioned confines of your vehicle. In contrast, winter is hiking season, with polished canyons, rolling sand dunes, and snowy peaks to traverse. Even the Badwater salt flats, nearly 200 miles of barren landscape that sits 282 feet below sea level, can be downright pleasant. The gateway communities of Pahrump and Beatty are 1 hour and 1:45 from Vegas, respectively.

Death Valley National Park

12. Shredding the Slopes at Lee Canyon

No one pictures alpine sports when they think Vegas, but less than an hour from downtown, Lee Canyon has three lifts and 30 trails with options for everyone from noob to pro (bring your avalanche kit and expect to hike for the latter). Located in the Spring Mountains district of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the slopes receive an average 212 inches of snow annually. And with Vegas a short drive away, you can spend the day working your turns and then be back at your hotel in time for happy hour — or a well-earned soak in the hot tub.

Lee Canyon

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Lookin’ for even more things to see and do in and around Las Vegas? Read up on the Neon to Nature Road trip here.