Explore Beyond the Bright Lights of Las Vegas at These Stunning Nevada State Parks

Terri Marshall Avatar
Elephant Rock at Valley of Fire State Park, one of the Nevada State Parks
Elephant Rock at Valley of Fire State Park. Photo credit: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada

Mention Nevada and most people immediately think of Las Vegas. But move beyond the bright lights of the strip and you’ll find a state filled with unique places. With two national parks, a national monument, a national recreation area, three national historic trails and 13 state parks, discoveries await at every turn.

Nevada is also home to the Humboldt–Toiyabe National Forest. Covering 6,289,821 acres it is the largest U.S. National Forest outside of Alaska. With jaw-dropping landscapes ranging from alpine lakes to deep canyons to snow-capped mountains Nevada is an ideal destination for adventure-seekers.

Nevada Beyond Las Vegas

Travel Nevada’s roads outside of Las Vegas and you’ll find wide open spaces void of crowds.

And no matter where you go, you’re never far from a state park. On a recent vacation, my husband and I chose not to stay on the Strip in a Las Vegas hotel. Instead, we ventured out each day to explore nature.

Driving just two hours west, we reached Death Valley National Park. Less than an hour northeast, we were in Valley of Fire State Park, near Mesquite NV. And just 15 minutes from our hotel, Red Rock Canyon delighted us with petroglyphs and stunning rock formations.

Carson City or Reno make ideal bases for explorations in northwest and central Nevada. Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, Cave Rock and Sand Harbor are located less than an hour’s drive from either city.

Choose your adventure from biking to boating on Lake Tahoe to hiking to kayaking or a combination. You’ll find plenty of recreation all across the state.

People kayaking at Red Rock Canyon, one of the Nevada State Parks
Kayaking at Red Rock Canyon. Photo credit: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada

Red Rock Canyon

Just 15 miles outside of Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area lies in Nevada’s Mojave Desert. Towering red sandstone formations and ancient petroglyphs are among the highlights of this stunning park.

The short Petroglyph Trail leads to a cliff-side that features historic etchings estimated to be at least 800 years old.

For an excellent overview of Red Rock Canyon, consider hiking the Calico Tanks Trail. A scramble over jumbled sandstone leads to a hidden water pocket and a view of Las Vegas.

Combining elements of the history and geology of Red Rock Calico Tanks is a 2.2-mile hiking trail rated as moderate to strenuous.

Park Ranger looking at trees at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, one of the Nevada State Parks
Photo credit: Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park

Nine miles south of Red Rock Canyon, Spring Mountain Ranch State Park is located within the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The park offers many of the same experiences as Red Rock Canyon but with fewer crowds.

The property has six springs making it a lush green oasis in the Mojave desert. For an easy hiking trail, check out Spring Mountain Ranch Loop which is 1.5 miles. Those seeking a more challenging hike can tackle the 5.4-mile Sandstone Springs and First Creek Trail.

Historically a working ranch and luxury retreat, the park boasts some of the oldest buildings in Nevada. You’ll see an 1860s blacksmith shop and the sandstone cabin that belonged to the founding family. Living history programs provide a look into the past for visitors. The park also has a large amphitheater-style area that seats 200 people.

Elephant Rock at Valley of Fire State Park, one of the Nevada State Parks
Elephant Rock at Valley of Fire State Park. Photo credit: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada

Valley of Fire State Park

A stunner of a park, Valley of Fire State Park consists of 40,000 acres of deep red Aztec sandstone outcrops interspersed with gray and tan limestone mountains. Bighorn sheep make their home here and awe-inspiring views await at every turn. Just 40 minutes northeast of Las Vegas, this park is a must-see.

We began our exploration on the Mouse Tank hiking trail. Named for Mouse, an outlaw, who used the natural water basin for drinking water and hid out there for months. At the end of the trail, you’ll see his hideaway. The trail starts with a concrete walk then switches to red sand. The main attractions are the petrified trees and petroglyphs dating back more than 2,000 years.

For an immersive hike that serves up a smorgasbord of rock formations in colors ranging from red to pink, purple and yellow, combine the Seven Wonders Loop, White Domes Trail and the Fire Wave Trail. You’ll weave in and out of the rock formations in this other-worldly landscape.

If you want to spend the night under the stars, Valley of Fire State Park offers two campgrounds with a combined total of 72 units. The first-come, first-served campsites offer shaded tables, grills, water and restrooms.

View of Cathedral Gorge State Park, one of the Nevada State Parks
Cathedral Gorge State Park. Photo credit: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park

Situated near Nevada’s border with Utah, the Cathedral Gorge State Park covers almost 1800 acres. The park is home to black-tailed jackrabbits, cottontail rabbits, kangaroo rats, mule deer and bobcats. After dark, you may spot coyotes and kit foxes.

Formed from volcanic activity that led to ash hundreds of feet deep. Unique patterns formed in the soft bentonite clay. The region changes shape after each weather event due to the soft and impressional bentonite clay walls.

The park contains seven hiking trails. Favorites include the 3.3-mile Juniper Draw Loop Trail with an elevation gain of 216 feet. The longest trail in Cathedral Gorge State Park is Hawk’s Ridge Trail at 4.2 miles.

The park campground offers 22 sites featuring year-round water and flush restrooms with showers, large shade ramadas, grills and picnic tables.

Spring Valley State Park

Also located near the border with Utah, Spring Valley State Park is a public recreation area adjoining the 65-acre Eagle Valley Reservoir which is the park’s main attraction.

Fishing, swimming and boating are popular pursuits along with water skiing on Eagle Valley Reservoir Lake, which spans 59 acres. Fishermen typically catch three types of trout: rainbow, tiger and German brown trout. The Spring Valley State Park harbors waterfowl and shore birds including mallards, herons, eagles, hawks and songbirds.

The reservoir has a boat launch. There’s also a day-use picnic area that includes eight sites with a table and grill, restrooms and a fish cleaning station. Popular hikes in the park include the five-mile moderate Stone Cabin Trail and the easy 0.9-mile Horsethief Gulch Campground and Eagle Valley Reservoir Loop.

Originally settled by Mormon pioneers in the 1860s, some of the original homesteads remain in the park. You’ll also find ranch buildings from the 19th century within the park.

The park contains two campgrounds. Horsethief Gulch Campground is located west of Eagle Valley Reservoir and has 39 campsites. Each site features a table, grill and shade ramada. There are also three restrooms, two with showers.

Ranch Campground sits two miles north of Horsethief Gulch had provides seven campsites. Camping is offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Building in the ghost town at Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, one of the Nevada State Parks
Nevada ghost town building. Photo credit: Lora Robb/TravelNevada

Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park

In the far northwestern Nye County, Nevada, Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park is a state recreation area that contains a town built in the 1890s which is now a true Nevada ghost town.

It contains many of Berlin’s original buildings and some of the original residents are buried in the town’s cemetery. The park also preserves the most abundant concentration and largest known remains of Ichthyosaurs — an ancient marine reptile that swam in the ocean that once covered central Nevada over 225 million years ago.

Pick up a map for a self-guided Berline Townsite Tour. Guided Fossil House tours are also available seasonally.

The park also features a campground with 14 well-spaced campsites open year-round. Some are suitable for RVs up to 25 feet. Amenities include fire rings, grills, converted tables and restrooms nearby.

Couple looking at old concrete blocks at Dayton State Park, one of the Nevada State Parks
Credit: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada

Dayton State Park

A 152-acre public recreation area, Dayton State Park preserves the site of the Rock Point Stamp Mill. Built in 1861, the mill was used to process silver ore mined from the Comstock Lode.

Located at the foot of the Virginia Range, and on the banks of the Carson River, the park is home to hawks, foxes, porcupines, mule deer, cottontails and squirrels. This picturesque park provides a scenic site to camp, picnic and hike.

Fun fact: There are several geocache sites hidden throughout the park.

The park features 10 campsites that can accommodate 34-foot RVs, with picnic tables and barbecues. A dump station and restrooms with flush toilets are also available. The camping limit is seven days in a 30-day period.

View of gazebo overlooking Washoe Lake State Park, one of the Nevada State Parks
Photo credit: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada

Washoe Lake State Park

Located east of Lake Tahoe, Washoe Lake State Park occupies 3,775 acres on the southeast shore of Washoe Lake. The park features hiking trails, camping, picnicking, water sports, equestrian activities, bird watching and fishing. Windsurfing is also popular on the lake.

Trails throughout the park accommodate motorized and non-motorized users. Non-motorized trails accommodate hikers, mountain bikers and equestrian riders. Washoe Lake State Park is home to a band of free-roaming wild horses.

The park has 49 campsites featuring tables, grills and fire rings. Several sites can accommodate RVs up to 45 feet in length.

Three people mountain biking at Cave Lake State Park, one of the Nevada State Parks
Mountain biking at Cave Lake State Park. Photo credit: John Watson/TravelNevada

Cave Lake State Park

Occupying more than 4,000 acres in the Schell Creek Range adjacent to Humboldt National Forest, Cave Lake State Park sits at an elevation of 7,300 feet. Park activities include fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, camping, mountain biking, ice fishing, skating, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.

The park features two campgrounds. Elk Flat Campground opens early May and closes mid-October. Lake View Campground is located near the lake and open year-round.

Hiking trail at Beaver Dam State Park, one of the Nevada State Parks
Hiking trail at Beaver Dam State Park. Photo credit: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada

Beaver Dam State Park

Considered to be one of Nevada’s most remote state parks, Beaver Dam State Park encompasses more than 2,000 acres on the Nevada and Utah state line.

Immigrants moved through the area on their way to find gold in California thinking the area would be a shortcut. But many of the canyons were impassable and most of the people moved on. The Hamblin family stayed and the ruins of the Hamblin Ranch remain.

Hiking trails in the park lead to stunning vistas. The Overlook Trail offers 360-degree panoramic views of the canyon. At the southern boundary of the park, Waterfall Trail features streams, warm springs and waterfalls.

Beaver dams can be spotted throughout the streams and tributaries in the area.

Couple boating on the Echo Canyon Reservoir, one of the Nevada State Parks
Boating on the Echo Canyon Reservoir. Photo credit: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada

Echo Canyon State Park

The Echo Canyon State Park surrounds the 70-acre Echo Canyon Reservoir. Park activities include boating, swimming, fishing, camping and hiking.

A park highlight, the Ash Canyon hiking trail leads into the park’s backcountry. A 2.5-mile trail, it begins in the upper campground, climbs 300 feet in 1/3 of a mile to the valley rim and descends into the dramatic steep-sided walls of Ash Canyon.

The north campground has 33 campsites open on a first-come, first-served basis. Drinking water is available near each site. The RV campground has 20 full hook-up sites situated on a hill overlooking Dry Valley. Campground facilities include flush toilets and an RV dump station. A camping limit of 14 days in a 30-day period is enforced.

Informational sign at Mormon Station State Historic Park in Genoa, one of the Nevada State Parks
Photo credit: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada

Mormon Station State Historic Park

Located in Genoa, the oldest town in Nevada, Mormon Station State Historic Park interprets the site of the first non-native settlement in Nevada. Originally settled by Mormon pioneers, the settlement served as a respite for travelers on the Carson Route of the California Trail.

The park features a reconstructed 1851 trading post and a museum with original pioneer artifacts. The park also has a memorial statue of Snowshoe Thompson, a famous Norwegian adventurer who delivered mail across the Sierra Nevada for no pay using his skis to trek across the snowy mountains.

Stairs leading up to old mining site at Kershaw-Ryan State Park, one of the Nevada State Parks
Photo credit: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada

Kershaw-Ryan State Park

An oasis in the desert, Kershaw-Ryan State Park boasts natural springs that provide a children’s wading pool. The park’s abundance of water allows many things to grow including white oaks, wild grapevines, fruit trees and willows.

The park features an area for horseshoe pits, volleyball and a playground structure. Kershaw-Ryan State Park has 14 miles of hiking/mountain biking trails. Experienced hikers enjoy the park’s backcountry accessed via the 1.5-mile Overlook Trail.

Fields of yellow wildflowers bloom at the Wild Horse State Recreation Area, one of the Nevada State Parks
Wildflowers bloom at the Wild Horse State Recreation Area. Photo credit: Nevada State Parks/ TravelNevada

Wild Horse State Recreation Area

Located on the northeast shore of Wild Horse Reservoir, Wild Horse State Recreation Area is popular for fishing, ice fishing, ice skating, snowmobiling, skiing and sledding. It’s also known for wildflower blooms in the spring and summer.

An ideal place to camp, the park campground has 34 campsites including pull-through sites to accommodate large RVs. There are also three cabins available for rent year-round featuring a stunning view of Wild Horse Reservoir and the surrounding mountains.

Woman taking photo at Death Valley National Park, one of the Nevada State Parks
Death Valley National Park. Credit: Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada

Death Valley National Park

An easy two-hour drive west from Las Vegas, Death Valley National Park straddles the border of Nevada and California.

This remote park boasts more than 300 miles of paved roads, 300 miles of improved dirt roads and several hundred miles of unmaintained 4×4 roads.

Hiking trails meander across wide-open spaces, up canyons and along ridges. The trails include cultural history, scenic vistas, easy strolls and challenging summits.

The Badwater Basin Salt Flats offer an easy one-mile out-and-back hike across fascinating salt flats 282 feet below sea level. For perspective on just how low you are, look for the sea level marker on the rocks located behind the parking lot.

Lehman Caves at Great Basin National Park, one of the Nevada State Parks
Lehman Caves at Great Basin National Park. Photo credit: Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada

Great Basin National Park

Situated in the Great Basin Desert and containing most of the South Snake Mountains, Great Basin National Park is in eastern Nevada near the Utah border. The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive leads to the 13,063-foot summit of Wheeler Peak. Nearby is one of several ancient bristlecone pine groves.

Great Basin is known for the Lehman Caves which may only be entered with a ranger-led tour. Open year-round except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day, rangers share the history, ecology and geology of the caves.


Based in New York City, Terri Marshall is an award-winning writer covering cultural travel, multi-generational travel, road trips, soft-adventure, camping, cars and characters. From hanging out with penguins in Antarctica to fishing for piranhas in Peru to road-tripping through the jungles of Belize, Terri’s always up for an adventure. Drop her into a landscape filled with mountains, towering evergreens, waterfalls and a glacier or two and she’ll be in heaven. But what thrills her most of all is traveling with her teenage grandkids. Terri serves on the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Committee for the North American Travel Journalist Association (NATJA). She also serves as the First Vice-Chair of the Eastern Chapter for the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). In addition to writing for SheBuysTravel, Terri’s publication credits include AARP, Island Soul, Girl Camper Magazine, A Girls Guide to Cars, CHILLED, World Footprints, North Hills Monthly, Alaska Business Monthly, Alaska Contractor and more. Follow her on Instagram at TrippingWithTerri.
Read full bio

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *