State Parks within Driving Distance of Las Vegas

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Spring Mountain Ranch Park in the wintertime. Photo by Carlos Flores.

You have probably heard of some of the great national parks around us. Death Valley, Bryce Canyon, Mt. Zion. All national parks that are within driving distance to us. But did you know that there is an abundance of state parks that are close by? But first, what is the difference between state parks and national parks?

National parks are maintained by the federal government, while state parks are maintained by the state government. It goes much further than that. While national parks are preserved and usually have much more sweeping landscapes and undeveloped land, State parks usually have more amenities and are less traveled to. 

While both have their pros and cons, state parks offer a different level of convenience that lets us city folk enjoy the great outdoors without traveling to a completely different state. In fact, there is a historic state park right in the middle of the city!

Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort, is the first permanent, non-native settlement in the Las Vegas Valley. Along a spring-fed creek lies the historic remains of an adobe fort that was built by Mormon missionaries in 1855. This creek provides irrigation for fields and orchards and is the only free-flowing water for miles around. The outpost here served as a way station for early Las Vegas travelers and is located in what is now Downtown Las Vegas.  Along with the creek and fort, there is a Visitors Center which contains exhibits and photos that illustrate the history of the park. 

To our west lies Spring Mountain Ranch State Park which lies adjacent to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Some of the oldest buildings in Nevada have been preserved for visitors to explore, including the Sandstone Cabin, which housed the founding family and an 1860s blacksmith shop. Every year, Super Summer Theatre offers a variety of shows and musicals for everyone to enjoy. Past shows that have made their way here include “ You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” “Annie “ and “Chicago”. With upcoming shows like “Mary Poppins” and “Matilda” making their way over, along with plenty of great hiking and historical sites to visit, Spring Valley Ranch State Park is another great park to visit that is only 40 minutes away from Las Vegas.

One of the first four state parks in Nevada rests to the north of us about 160 miles away. Cathedral Gorge State Park is home to stunning views of red canyons that have been formed through volcanic activity that fractured the bedrock, creating the valleys that would fill with fresh water and, over millions of years of erosion, create the slot canyons that seem to stretch forever. Cave-like formations and cathedral spires are scattered throughout all the walking trails for visitors to explore. Here, it is almost impossible to take a bad photo, with incredible views of the canyon, along with animals like jackrabbits, gophers, and kit foxes, there are plenty of opportunities to brag on Instagram of your adventures.

One of the most requested wedding destinations in Vegas is also home to 40,000 acres of stunning red Aztec sandstone mixed with gray and tan limestone. Petrified trees and petroglyphs from more than 2,000 years ago carved into the rocks by the Basketmaker culture are scattered along the Valley of Fire State Park. Seven Sisters, Atlatl Rock, and White Domes are some of the more incredible rock formations located here and is where many couples choose to say their “I Do”s . Exhibits on the geology, ecology and history of the park are provided by the Visitor Center at the heart of this park. Another photographer’s paradise, sunset and sunrise here are colorful shades of pink, purple and orange as the sun hits the red sandstone, giving this park its namesake.
Whether you decide to go North, South, East or West, there is a state park nearby that makes it convenient for us to get out and explore what nature has to offer. These parks are only the tip of the iceberg and more information can be had at the official website for Nevada State Parks at http://parks.nv.gov. Information on camping, trails and fees can be found there along with more information on the history of each park. Happy trails!

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