THE BLOG
02/18/2014 03:40 pm ET | Updated Apr 20, 2014

The Secret Side of Las Vegas

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Las Vegas -- my hometown. There is no place like it in the world.

Where else can you walk down the street drinking a day-glow, yard-tall cocktail, taking in the sights of New York, Paris, and Venice while peddlers shove flyers for escorts and strippers in your hand?

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But what many visitors don't know, and locals are happy to keep a secret, is that Las Vegas is a serious outdoor town. It's brimming with hikers, climbers, skiers, and mountaineers of all stripes.

Within an hour of the Strip, you've got:

  • Red Rock Canyon: Great for great short hikes and a wide variety of climbing routes, Red Rock is just 25 minutes from the heart of the city and a world away. Drive the beautiful 13 mile loop, stopping to walk, take photos, picnic, etc. If you're feeling particularly energetic, rent a road bike and try to keep up with one of the many local riding groups. Don't forget to take the long way back into the city, making a pit stop at biker hangout Mountain Springs Saloon for a beer, BBQ, people watching, and live music on the weekends.
  • Mount Charleston: The highest peak in Southern Nevada, Mount Charleston is a killer hike and offers vastly cooler summer temps, peace and quiet, a 10,000ish year-old bristle cone pine forest, and spectacular 360 degree views. If you're still feeling the effects of the previous evening, there are plenty of shorter, easier trails - two favorites are Mary Jane Falls and Cathedral Rock.
  • Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort: Skiing? Just 45 minutes from Las Vegas? Yep. It's nothing to write home about (there are only three chairlifts, one being the bunny hill). Still, if you need your ski fix and don't have a ton of time, it works. Go early to avoid crowds.
  • Valley of Fire State Park: Nevada's oldest and largest state park offers Mars-like scenery, petrified wood, and 3,000 year-old Indian petroglyphs. Bring your DSLR.
  • Lake Mead National Recreation Area: Created by Hoover Dam in 1935, Lake Mead supplies water for Southern Nevada, Arizona, and Southern California, though water levels are dropping rapidly. For now, chilling out at the lake is a great way to spend a hot desert day.

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If you're up for a side trip, check out Zion National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley National Park, and the Grand Canyon. In the winter, you'll find world-class skiing in Northern Nevada, Utah, and California.

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Do yourself a favor and take a break from the debauchery and excess. A little fresh air will do you good, and the other Las Vegas will still be waiting for you.

Courtney and H.J. Derr are travel junkies currently on a year+ motorcycle journey through SE Asia. Read about their adventures at www.wanderrlust.com, and channel your inner nomad on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Flickr.