Ryan Robinson takes you for a ride in the passenger seat of his RV, off the grid, deep among the dramatic rock formations of the Utah Desert. Robinson and friends chill by the fire, tell stories, and of course, rig a one of a kind highline over the Looking Glass Arch in Moab, UT.
Las Vegas is often called the “Entertainment Capital of the World” and the “City of Neon Lights.” But this high desert city is also a convenient jumping-off point for RV trips to explore some of the most beautiful national parks in the Southwest as well as lesser-known attractions that are worthy destinations their own right.
Here’s a sampling of scenic parks and interesting attractions within a few hours of Las Vegas that can make terrific mid-week or long weekend escapes, with links to campgrounds that can serve as base camps along the way:
(Photo courtesy of Village Camp Flagstaff)
Mount Charleston: Located less than an hour’s drive of Las Vegas, the Spring Mountain Recreation Area features bristlecone pine forests, hiking trails, and views of 11,916-foot Charleston Peak, the tallest peak in southern Nevada. This recreation area is a popular location to escape the desert heat and to enjoy a change of scenery. Several campgrounds are located inside the park.
Death Valley National Park, California: While Death Valley was temporarily closed at the time of this posting due to road damage from the remnants of Hurricane Hilary, the park will likely openagain soon after road repairs are completed, offering Las Vegas-based RVers a scenic destination with majestic canyons, sand dunes, mountains, and valleys to explore. Attractions include Badwater, which, at 282 feet below sea level, is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. RV enthusiasts towing jeeps and other four-wheel drive vehicles may also wish explore Titus Canyon and The Racetrack, a remote dry lake bed where small boulders blown by fierce desert winds across the centuries have moved across the crusty lake bed, leaving lengthy trails. Several campgroundsare located inside the park, which is about a four-hour drive from Las Vegas. Campgrounds outside the park include:
Zion National Park in Utah: With its towering cliffs, deep canyons, and waterfalls, Zion offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the Southwest. As the weather cools in fall, the cottonwood trees that line the Virgin River turn bright yellow and gold. This park is about a 2.5 hours from Las Vegas. Several campgrounds are located inside the park. Nearby campgrounds outside the park include:
Cedar Breaks National Monument:This 10,000-foot elevation park, which is typically open from late May through mid-October, is a great escape for people who are looking for lesser known, less heavily traveled scenic destinations. In many ways, Cedar Breaks resembles Bryce Canyon National Park with its brilliantly colored cliffs, pinnacles, arches and canyons. The Native Americans called Cedar Breaks the "Circle of Painted Cliffs.” But Cedar Breaks also offers dense forests, aspen trees, and ancient bristlecone pines, which can be seen along the Spectra Point Trail. Campgrounds are available inside the park. Campgrounds outside the park include Cedar City RV Resort, an Rjourney park in Cedar City.
Bryce National Park in Utah: Bryce is famous for its red, white, and orange rock formations, particularly its distinctive hoodoos, which can be seen inside the natural amphitheaters that nature has carved from the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Bryce Canyon has one main 18-mile road that runs north-south through the park. Hiking trails can be accessed from various viewpoints throughout the park, which is a little over four hours from Las Vegas. Campgrounds inside Bryce are generally open from April or May until October. Campgrounds outside the park include Ruby's Red Inn RV Park and Campground in Bryce Canyon City.
North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona:The North Rim is generally open from May 15 to October 15, offering spectacular views of the Grand Canyon without the crowds typically encountered on the South Rim. Services are more much more limited on the North Rim, however. The North Rim has one campgroundinside the park.The closest independently-owned and operated campground is Kaibab Camper Village in Jacob Lake, which is 45 miles north of the North Rim.
Attractions in Williams, Arizona, near the South Rim
Williams is about a 3.5-hour drive from Las Vegas and about a 90-minute drive from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, so it is a convenient base camp for excursions there. However, Williams also has several attractions that can nicely complement a trip to the Grand Canyon, including:
Bearizona: This is a wild animal park that gives visitors a chance to drive through a 3-mile route with opportunities to see black bears, arctic wolves, gray wolves, bison, big horn sheep, and mountain goats. The park also has a petting zoo and several animal shows, including a bird of prey show.
Grand Canyon Deer Farm: This is a kid-friendly petting zoo with a variety of animals, including, deer, goats and pigs.
Grand Canyon Railway:Visitors to the Grand Canyon have the option of taking a scenic train ride from Williams. Trains depart daily at 9:30 a.m. and arrive at the South Rim at 11:45 a.m. The train begins the return trip at 3:30 p.m., arrive back at Williams at 5:45 p.m. The Grand Canyon Railway offers six different classes of train service. An entertaining Western-style holdup also takes place during the ride.
Keyhole Sink Petroglyphs: These petroglyphs are accessible via a short trail that takes visitors through a ponderosa pine forest to a scenic box canyon where the petroglyphs are located. The trailhead is about a 20 minute drive from Williams.
Flagstaff is about four hours from Las Vegas and can also serve as a base camp for trips to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Flagstaff also has many local and nearby attractions that are worthwhile destinations, including:
Lowell Observatory: A national historic landmark, Lowell Observatory is one of the oldest observatories in the United States. Research conducted at this observatory had led to several important discoveries, including the realization that the universe is expanding; the discovery of the planet Pluto in 1930; the co-discovery of the rings of Uranus in 1977; the discovery of periodic variations in the brightness of Halley’s Comet; and the first detection of water in the atmosphere of an extrasolar planet. The observatory has nighttime sessions scheduled throughout the summer where visitors can meet an astronomer, ask questions, and see real-time video images of planets, stars, galaxies, and other celestial objects. Daytime tours are also available as well as opportunities to view the sun with special equipment.
Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff: This museum’s award-winning, permanent anthropology exhibit documents 12,000 years of Native American tribal life on the Colorado Plateau. The Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni are among the tribes featured. The museum also has annual festivals that feature the music, dance and artwork of Native American tribes.
Riordan Mansion State Historic Park in Flagstaff: Timothy and Michael Riordan developed the Arizona Lumber and Timber Company and used the railroad to market their lumber. Their family’s 13,000-square foot mansion, built in 1904 in the Arts and Crafts style, is now a museum. The house is fully furnished with original Riordan family furnishings, including Harvey Ellis furniture and the family’s original dishes. Historical lectures are also regularly scheduled.
Sunset Crater at Volcano National Monument: This park, located roughly 30 minutes from Flagstaff, features a crater created by the eruption of a volcano. Park attractions also include astronomy presentations courtesy of park staff and volunteers.
Walnut Canyon National Monument: This monument, located just 12 miles east of Flagstaff, has some of the best preserved Native American cliff dwellings in Arizona.
Wupatki National Monument: This park’s attractions include an ancient 100-room Native American “pueblo” with a community room and ball court. Archaeologists believe the settlement was occupied between 1120 and 1200.
Jeff Crider, President and CEO of Crider Public Relations, has been involved in covering the campground industry for over 25 years. Jeff has worked as a freelance writer for publications such as RV Business, Motor Home Magazine, Trailer Life, Highways and other Affinity Group Inc. publications since 1995. He has also successfully pitched many of the nation's top tier media outlets, including CNN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Financial Times, Reuters, The Associated Press and National Public Radio. In addition to writing, Jeff is also a talented photographer and humanitarian.