17 National Parks Near Las Vegas You Must Visit!

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Las Vegas makes a great base from which to explore some of the best national parks in the USA. From Utah’s Mighty 5 to many of California’s incredible parks, there are more than a dozen national parks within reasonable driving distance of Vegas.

While some national parks are close enough to Vegas such that you can visit them on a day trip (or a guided day tour), others require overnight visits.

We’ve rounded up 17 amazing national parks in this article that you can visit from Las Vegas. You can visit one park, or you can string a few together for an epic road trip from Vegas.

The badlands at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park, California

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The approximate driving time from Vegas we’ve listed for each park is based on Google maps.

Furthest away is Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, at just under eight hours, and the closest is Death Valley National Park, at under two hours. Many of the parks we’ve listed are less than a five-hour drive from Vegas in normal traffic.

If you’ve been reluctant to visit Vegas because you don’t gamble or party, you will be pleasantly surprised to find lots of fun things to do in Vegas that do not involve gambling, even on The Strip!

And easy access to some of the best national parks in the US, and other natural areas nearby, is right at the top of that list! It isn’t a national park, but we highly recommend visiting Valley of Fire from Vegas.

Before we begin, do you have your National Parks Pass yet?

Canyonlands National Park in Utah
Canyonlands National Park in Utah

Get Your National Parks Pass!

While you are planning your outdoor-focused visit to Sin City, consider getting a National Parks Pass! The America the Beautiful pass costs $80.00 and is valid at national parks and other federally-managed recreational lands for twelve months from the time of purchase.

If you visit 3 or 4 national parks, you will likely save money over paying for admission individually, plus all other visits over the year will be totally free!

Just on your Vegas trip, you can use the pass at Red Rock Canyon and Lake Mead National Recreation Area, in addition to the national parks you plan to visit.

Buy the National Parks Pass online at REI now!

And now, let’s get started discovering the amazing national parks to visit from Vegas!

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Distance from Las Vegas: West Rim 126 miles, South Rim 290 miles
Driving time: West Rim 2 hours 10 minutes , South Rim 4 hours and 40 minutes

Grand Canyon National Park is one of the closest national parks to Las Vegas and on the bucket list of many visitors to Vegas. The Grand Canyon is one of the natural wonders of the world and one of the most visited attractions in the country.

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon offers magnificent panoramas.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

There are many fun things to do at the Grand Canyon, and the South Rim is the more popular part of the national park. The South Rim also has more amenities and activities than the North Rim.

The Desert View Watchtower is one of the highlights of the South Rim. It is a tower built to resemble an ancestral Puebloan watchtower. You can climb up the 85 steps for beautiful views up and down the canyon.

Another fun activity is exploring Hermit Road. Between March and November, Hermit Road is closed to private vehicles, but shuttle buses do run. It is also a popular biking road with rentals available at Bright Angel Bicycles at Mather Point. 

Along the way, there are beautiful viewpoints, and you can also view the Hermits Rest historical structure.

You can also see the Big Ditch from above on a helicopter tour! The flight departs from Tusayan, just a few minutes’ drive from the park.

View from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon at sunset.
The Colorado River at the Grand Canyon

The West Rim is the closest section of the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas, although it is not part of the national park. It is easier to visit the West Rim on a day road trip from Vegas. It is owned and operated by the Hualapai Indians.

Buy your Grand Canyon West admission ticket in advance to avoid long lines!

Grand Canyon West is quieter than the South Rim, but has unique attractions like the Grand Canyon Skywalk. You can also experience the Hualapai culture at the Hualapai Ranch.

Visit Grand Canyon National Park in spring or fall for the best weather. Although you will never really find the Grand Canyon completely free of crowds, spring and fall are considered shoulder seasons.

Winter is a good time to visit if you bundle up: crowds are the lowest you’ll find at this insanely popular national park. That’s why you’ll find Grand Canyon National Park on our list of the best national parks to visit in January!

Suggested by Candice from CS Ginger

Guided Tours from Vegas to the Grand Canyon

Adventurous visitors to Vegas that are short on time can enjoy an extended helicopter ride over the West Rim, or this highly-rated helicopter experience that also includes a landing at the Grand Canyon and a champagne toast!

Bus tours to the West Rim or the South Rim are also available, if you’d rather not drive yourself.

Death Valley National Park, California

Distance from Las Vegas: 93 miles
Driving time: 1 hour and 40 minutes

Death Valley National Park, with its magnificent desert landscapes, is a must-visit if you are planning to visit Vegas: it’s an easy drive, and even doable as a day trip from Las Vegas, if you are prepared for a long day.

The Red Cathedral formation at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park, California
Zabriskie Point in Death Valley

The drive through Death Valley is extremely scenic, and allows you to take in some of the major sights in the park along the way. Dante’s View offers panoramas over Death Valley.

At Zabriskie Point, possibly the best overlook in the park, enjoy up-close views of the fantastic surrounding badlands.

Along Badwater Road, walk the salt flat at Badwater Basin, home to the lowest point in North America. Take the scenic Artist’s Drive to view the beautiful colors at Artist’s Palette viewpoint.

If you enjoy hiking, the trailhead for the Golden Canyon hike, one of Death Valley’s best hikes is on Badwater Road.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes offer the opportunity to play in the golden sand. Hike to the top of the tallest dune, or just enjoy the views from the road.

Mosaic Canyon is a lovely hike nearby: you can see marble and mosaic made by Nature here!

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are one of the must-visit sights at Death Valley National Park, California
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley

Visiting Death Valley National Park in the cooler months allows you to get out of the car and explore. Triple degree daytime temperatures are routine in the summer, which severely restricts opportunities to hike and explore.

Death Valley is one of the best national parks to visit in February. Their Dark Sky festival is held during the month, and later in the month you may see desert wildflowers in bloom!

Suggested by us

Guided Tours from Vegas to Death Valley National Park

If you are short on time, or you’d rather not drive, there are several Vegas to Death Valley guided tours from which to choose.

You can choose this highly-rated day trip, or this small-group tour that allows you to see the sights by day plus enjoy the sunset and stargazing in the evening.

Zion National Park, Utah

Distance from Las Vegas: 160 miles
Driving time: 2 hours and 32 minutes

Zion is one of the most visited national parks in the United States, partially because of its proximity to Las Vegas.

Located in the far southwest corner of Utah, Zion National Park boasts some of the most famous hiking trails in America, including the Narrows and Angel’s Landing.

The Virgin River at Zion National Park in Utah.
Landscape in Zion National Park

However, if visiting Zion with kids, hiking Angel’s Landing isn’t recommended, as the hike is notorious for its dangerous, and even deadly, drop-offs.

But there are plenty of trails within the national park that are perfect for families or for hikers of all levels and abilities.

If you want a hike that is less intimidating than Angel’s Landing, Emerald Pools and Canyon Overlook both offer stunning views of the canyon that carves through Zion. 

Although it is the most crowded time of year, summer is the best time to visit Zion National Park, especially if you plan to hike The Narrows, a trail that requires hikers to walk almost entirely through the water of the North Fork of the Virgin River, which can be frigid even in summer.

A waterfall at Zion National Park in Utah
A waterfall in Zion National Park

Besides hiking, there are several other popular activities within Zion. Driving the scenic Mount Carmel Highway takes you from the top of the canyon down a series of switchbacks, and through several long, dark tunnels, to the bottom of the canyon.

Additionally, the banks of the Virgin River are a great place for a picnic or a relaxing afternoon. The shallow water is perfect for splashing around and cooling off on a hot day. 

Suggested by Melissa from Parenthood and Passports

Guided Tours from Vegas to Zion National Park

If you prefer the structure of a guided tour, check out this well-reviewed small group tour from Las Vegas that allows for lots of time to explore, or this very popular tour that combines Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. The tour is capped at 14 people.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Distance from Las Vegas: 260 miles
Driving time: 3 hours and 48 minutes

With spectacular vistas and unique otherworldly landscapes, Bryce Canyon is a national park like no other.

Located in southern Utah, Bryce Canyon is not actually a canyon, but rather a series of natural amphitheaters carved into the edge of a high plateau. It is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Utah.

The amphitheater in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, from Panorama Point
The amphitheater at Bryce Canyon

The amphitheaters of Bryce are filled with thousands of spire-like rock formations known as “hoodoos.” These unique formations are the result of erosion, and you can find the highest concentration of them in the world at Bryce Canyon.

One of the best ways to see the hoodoos is to hike the combination Queen’s Garden and Navajo Loop, perhaps the most famous hike in the park.

This hike allows you to get up close and personal with the hoodoos, as well as give you a glimpse of some of the most iconic rock formations in the park.

The park is also famous for its stunning viewpoints, especially along the Bryce Amphitheater. Here, you will find four of the most iconic views in the park: Sunset Point, Sunrise Point, Bryce Point, and Inspiration Point.

The easiest way to see them is to drive to each of them, but if you are up for an adventure, you can also see them while hiking the Rim Trail (sometimes the only way to see them in the winter).

View from Sunset Point at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah
View from Sunset Point in Bryce Canyon

Another popular hike is the Fairyland Loop, which connects the rim to Fairyland Point, home to some of the park’s youngest hoodoos. This hike will give you a different perspective of the rock formations, as well as give you an eye-to-eye view.

Also do not miss the Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive, which will also take you to several other scenic viewpoints, as well as the highest elevation in the park.

Ideally, you would want to allow two or three days to explore the park at leisure, but even if you just have one day in Bryce Canyon, you can still see and do a lot.

There is really no bad time to visit the park. Visiting in the summer offers the best weather and is the most popular time to visit (and brings the most crowds).

Winter transforms the landscape, as the amphitheater becomes dusted with snow (but be aware of road and trail closures). Shoulder season (spring and fall) are also great times to visit.

Suggested by Caroline from Pictures and Words Blog

Guided Tours from Vegas to Bryce Canyon National Park

Want to visit Bryce Canyon from Vegas on a guided tour? Consider this well-reviewed small group tour from Las Vegas that combines Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. The tour is capped at 14 people.

Multi-Day National Parks Guided Tour from Las Vegas

On this 3-day tour, you can enjoy the wonders of Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce Canyon from Vegas. The price includes two nights at hotels and a boat ride on Lake Powell.

This tour is a great option if you want to see multiple parks with structured itineraries and without driving!

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Distance from Las Vegas: 327 miles
Driving time: 4 hours and 55 minutes

Many travelers that visit Utah for the state’s spectacular national parks tend to overlook Capitol Reef National Park. But that’s what makes it so special. Its unique geological landscapes will likely be much less crowded than what you’re used to in the more well-known parks.

Landscape in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah

With its massive red rocks, which look stunning against a bright blue sky, Capitol Reef National park is a landscape photographer’s delight. The park is also home to many of Utah’s spectacular slot canyons. In the Fruita area, you can pick your own fruit.

The best way to explore the park is on your feet, hitting some of the best Capitol Reef hikes. Many of the park’s hikes are family friendly. The Hickman Bridge Trail, for example, is less than two miles round trip, and leads to the beautiful natural bridge.

Hickman Bridge in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah
Hickman Bridge in Capitol Reef National Park

If you have the time for a long hike, combine the Grand Wash, a light version of The Narrows in Zion, with the Cassidy Arch. The arch can be reached on a hike of its own without the wash, but you’ll be missing some of the most interesting features if you skip out on that one.

For easy scenic sites that you can access in a vehicle, stop at the petroglyphs west of Hickman Bridge, the Castle on the other side of the visitor’s center, and Panorama Point for one of the best views of the park from above.

The best time to visit Capitol Reef is the fall, as any travelers that are interested in a visit will likely do so in the late spring and summer. Fall offers cool temperatures perfect for hiking.

Suggested by Agnes from Travel on the Reg

Arches National Park, Utah

Distance from Las Vegas: 453 miles
Driving time: 6 hours and 11 minutes

Arches National Park holds the highest concentration of natural sandstone arches in the world. There are more than 2,000 arches in the park’s relatively small 119 square miles. If you want to be awed by the staggering beauty of these formations, you should plan a visit to Arches!

Double Arch at Arches National Park in Utah
Double Arch in Arches National Park

One of Utah’s Mighty 5, Arches National Park can be conveniently visited from Las Vegas, either on its own, or in combination with some of the other Utah parks.

The Scenic Drive should be at the top of your itinerary for Arches. The drive takes two to three hours, and takes you past stunning viewpoints of valleys, spires, and arches, many within minutes of the parking areas. 

The one hike you must do in Arches National Park is to the iconic Delicate Arch. This is the park’s largest free-standing arch, and the most famous arch in Arches National Park The most beautiful time to be at the arch is sunset, when the setting sun’s rays make the arch look a glowing red. 

Delicate Arch in Arches NP, Utah, at sunset
Delicate Arch

The trail to Delicate Arch is not easy, though, so if it does not fall within your skill level, you can still view Delicate Arch from about one mile away, from the Lower or Upper Viewpoint along the park road. Of course, the arch looks much more dramatic up close.

Other hikes worth doing in Arches National Park are in the Windows area and the Devil’s Garden area. Night sky viewing at Arches is spectacular, because light pollution is negligible.

While summer may be a tempting time to visit, it can reach 90-100°F in the Utah desert and it gets crowded to the point where they stop letting people in. To ensure a better experience, visit Arches in the spring, fall, or winter, when temperatures drop.

Suggested by Xin from Xinventure

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Distance from Las Vegas: 218 miles
Driving time: 3 hours and 21 minutes

Joshua Tree National Park is such a great park to visit on your Vegas trip! Whether you like adventure such as rock climbing or bouldering, or just want a scenic drive and some simple hikes, Joshua Tree National Park will keep you entertained. 

There are so many great things to do here! 2 days in Joshua Tree National Park will give you ample time to experience the highlights of this magical park! 

The Arch Rock formation in Joshua Tree National Park, California
Arch Rock in Joshua Tree

The best way to start your visit is by driving to Keys View. From here you can look out over Coachella Valley, and if it’s a clear day, you can see the Salton Sea and the San Andreas Fault.  

Leave Keys view and continue your drive all the way through the park. This will take a few hours because you will want to stop at many scenic pullouts. Don’t miss Skull Rock, which looks exactly like a skull!

There are great hikes to do in Joshua Tree, with trails for all levels of hiking ability. The most popular trails include Barker Dam, Wall Street Mill, and Ryan Mountain. There are also several “hikes” that are simple paved walks.

Barker Dam in Joshua Tree National Park, California, in the fall
Barker Dam in Joshua Tree

One of the best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park is to visit the Cholla Cactus Garden at sunrise. These fuzzy cacti reflect the morning light, making for a breathtaking experience.  

The BEST thing to do at Joshua Tree, is to stay after dark and observe the night sky. There is very little light pollution here, and you can see the stars and the Milky Way like you have never seen them before! 

The best time to visit Joshua Tree is in the spring or fall. Since it is a desert park, temperatures here get extremely hot. Even on cooler days, be sure to wear sun protection and drink plenty of water.  

Suggested by Chantelle from Flannels or Flipflops

Yosemite National Park, California

Distance from Las Vegas: 340 miles
Driving time: 5 hours and 21 minutes

Yosemite National Park is the most popular national park in California. But what many don’t realize is that it is also driving distance from out-of-state metro areas like Las Vegas!

Yosemite Valley, which contains the major sights in the park, is about 400 miles from Las Vegas, making for the perfect weekend getaway.

Iconic Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, California
Half Dome in Yosemite

Yosemite is one of the most popular national parks in the country for a reason, and one of the most popular weekend getaways in California. The scenery here is simply out of this world. You will find breathtaking waterfalls, bucket list hikes, stunning canyon views, and must-do scenic drives.

Don’t miss some of the park’s best hikes, including Sentinel Dome, Taft Point, and Mirror Lake. For a more challenging hike, you can get a permit to hike to the top of Half Dome, the most famous rock formation in the park.

Taking a scenic drive is a must for any day in Yosemite National Park. Drive through the ultra-scenic Yosemite Valley and tour Glacier Point Road at sunset.

Tioga Road, the road you will take if you enter the park from the east, is a beautiful drive through Yosemite. Tioga Road is only open in the summer and fall.

View of El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite NP, California
El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

The best time to visit Yosemite is in spring or fall. In spring, the park’s many waterfalls flow at full force. Don’t miss exploring Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Falls, and Nevada and Vernal Falls.

In the fall, the crowds thin out and fall colors cover the park. Summer is the most crowded time at Yosemite, so plan your visit for the shoulder months instead.

Good to know: If Tioga Road (California Highway 120 over Tioga Pass) is closed when you plan to visit (generally between November and the end of May), the drive to Yosemite from Vegas is longer, at about 8.5 hours.

Suggested by Julia from Well Planned Journey

Sequoia National Park, California

Distance from Las Vegas: 380 miles
Driving time: 6 hours and 40 minutes

Home to the largest known tree on the planet — a giant sequoia named General Sherman — and groves of other mature giant sequoias, Sequoia National Park is a must-visit from Vegas if you enjoy epic hikes and stunning landscapes.

While gawking at the majesty of General Sherman, and strolling Big Trees Trail, are top things to do in Sequoia National Park, there are many other cool activities in the park that draw outdoor enthusiasts to Sequoia, (and nearby Kings Canyon).

A giant sequoia in Sequoia National Park in California
A giant sequoia in Sequoia National Park

The High Sierra Trail is arguably the most epic adventure in the park: the backpacking trail starts at Giant Forest, and ends at Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous US. The trail through the Sierra Nevada is 60 miles one way.

Moro Rock, located near the Three Rivers entrance to the park, makes for a fun climb. A staircase leads to the top of the granite dome.

From the top, you get panoramic views of the mountains and the surrounding forests. Nearby, the Crescent Meadow Loop is a scenic hiking trail.

Tokopah Falls and Marble Falls are two popular waterfall hikes in Sequoia National Park. The water flow at these falls is best in the spring. Tokopah Falls is just about four miles round trip and relatively easier than the hike to Marble Falls.

The drive through Sequoia National Park is extremely scenic, so allow plenty of time. There are viewpoints where you can stop for photos, and attractions such as Tunnel Rock.

Also allow time to browse Giant Forest Museum to learn more about California’s famous giant sequoias.

Black bear sightings are common in Sequoia National Park, California
A bear in Sequoia National Park

You can visit Sequoia National Park in any season. In winter, you can enjoy cross country skiing and snowshoe hikes. Bundle up and enjoy the silence and snow-covered landscapes! From late spring through early fall, you can hike, climb, enjoy scenic drives, and even explore a cavern.

Suggested by us

Kings Canyon National Park, California

Distance from Las Vegas: 417 miles
Driving time: 6 hours and 36 minutes

Kings Canyon National Park sits right by Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevada in California. Many visitors choose to visit both parks in one trip, driving the spectacular Generals Highway that connects the two park for an added scenic bonus.

Featuring granite domes and deep canyons, much like the more famous neighboring Yosemite National Park, Kings Canyon is likely to be less crowded in high season than Yosemite.

The park is home to General Grant, a giant sequoia also called “The Nation’s Christmas Tree.”

Gamlin Cabin in Grant Grove, Kings Canyon National Park, California

Grant Grove, and Cedar Grove, which includes Zumwalt Meadow, are the areas of note within Kings Canyon National Park.

Grant Grove features a number of trails that take you through sequoia groves, including Redwood Canyon, the largest grove of giant sequoias on the planet. Grant Grove is where you can admire the General Grant Tree.

The Zumwalt Meadow Trail is a super scenic easy trail that meanders along meadows, granite walls, and the beautiful Kings River. It is a must-do hiking trail in the park.

On the other hand, Lookout Peak is an all-day strenuous trail that rewards seasoned hikers with awesome vistas.

If you love chasing waterfalls, Kings Canyon offers several beautiful options. There are hiking trails in the park to the impressive Grizzly Falls, Roaring River Falls, and Mist Falls.

All these waterfalls are best in the spring, when snow melt causes the flow to become thunderous.

Roaring River Falls in Kings Canyon National Park, California
Roaring River Falls in Kings Canyon

You can visit Kings Canyon any time of the year, although some roads may be closed in winter. Winter visitors can enjoy snow play, sledding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoe hikes in Grant Grove.

From late spring through early fall, you can enjoy a broad range of activities.

Suggested by us

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Distance from Las Vegas: 465 miles
Driving time: 6 hours and 32 minutes

Canyonlands National Park in Utah was carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. The park offers over 500 square miles of colorful landscapes, with deep canyons, buttes, mesas, cliffs, rivers, and arches.

Spires at Canyonlands National Park in Utah
Rock spires at Canyonlands

One of Utah’s Mighty 5, Canyonlands is a great national park to add to your itinerary when you visit Vegas. It is located just a short distance from Arches, and you can see both parks in one trip!

Canyonlands National Park is composed of different districts: Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Rivers and the Maze. Island in the Sky is the most popular and most accessible district in Canyonlands. The Needles and Maze districts call for a 4WD and off-road driving skills.

The best time to visit Canyonlands National Park is in the spring (April through May) or fall (mid-September through October), when daytime highs average 60º to 80ºF. Summers in the park are sweltering hot.

If you have limited time for your visit, the best option is to see Canyonlands from the overlooks. From the parking lots, short paths offer easy access to viewpoints. Do not miss Green River Overlook, Grand View Point, and Visitor Center Viewpoint.

The red rock landscape of Canyonlands National Park in Utah is stunning.
The red rock landscape of Canyonlands

Canyonlands offers breathtaking hiking trails, with varying levels of difficulty. One of the best hikes in the park, which makes you speechless with awe if you go at sunrise, is Mesa Arch.

Other great hikes in the park include Grand View Point, White Rim Overlook, Upheaval Dome, and Aztec Butte.

If you have a 4×4 vehicle and substantial driving experience, White Rim Road, a 71.2-mile-long unpaved road with switchbacks and red rock formations, offers a fabulous adventure.

The River District is to be experienced from the river level. But you must take organized rafting or boat trips, and you will find lots of options in Moab.

Suggested by Agnes from The Van Escape

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Distance from Las Vegas: 497 miles
Driving time: 7 hours and 51 minutes

Mesa Verde is not only the only US national park created for its human history rather than its natural features, it is also one of the most fascinating. There are about 600 cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde: villages, temples, or storage rooms built by the Ancestral Puebloan people in alcoves in the side of cliffs. 

Cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde

To see the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde is to step back in time to a fascinating period in history. There are other cliff dwellings in the southwest, but none so extensive and well-preserved as those at Mesa Verde.

The number one thing to do in Mesa Verde is to visit the cliff dwellings. 

The largest and most famous is Cliff Palace. It was actually a village with a large ceremonial site rather than a palace. It has been partially restored and you can climb down steep steps to walk right past the buildings and kiva (temple) sites. 

Cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado
Cliff dwellings in the park

In addition, some of the smaller dwellings are opened each year for small group back-country hikes. Highlights include Square Tower House and Oak Tree House.

There are also other self-guided hikes in the park that you can do. A recommended trail is the Petroglyph trail that ends at some well-preserved ancient petroglyphs.

It’s also possible to drive around the mesa top, stopping off at viewpoints to see the cliff dwellings in their entirety, visiting some mesa-top historic sites and stopping off at the small but interesting Chapin Archaeological Museum.

The best time to visit Mesa Verde is late spring to early fall, as this is when some of the dwellings are open for tours. Although you can access most of the park in winter and see the cliff dwellings from overlooks, tours are not offered then.

Suggested by James from Parks Collecting

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Distance from Las Vegas: 405 miles
Driving time: 6 hours and 8 minutes

An often overlooked park, Saguaro National Park in Arizona is a must-visit if you enjoy desert landscapes. It’s one of the best US national parks to visit in January, to escape winter!

The park is made up of two parts, east and west, spread out on either side of the city of Tucson. Both sides of the park have wonderful things to offer, but if you’re limited on time, the west is best. 

Sunset at Saguaro National Park in Arizona
Landscape in Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park Home protects the magnificent saguaro cactus, the largest cactus in the USA and symbol of the American Southwest. Being in the park in the evening offers the chance to see the saguaro silhouetted against colorful desert skies.

On the east side of the park, the Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive is a great way to get an up close look at mature saguaro and to enjoy desert landscapes. The road is paved and features several overlooks and pullouts. You can also bike the loop, and many hikes lead off the scenic drive.

On the west side of Saguaro National Park, the Scenic Bajada Loop Drive offers you the opportunity to explore the foothills of the Tucson Mountain District. Bajada Loop is graded dirt, and features pullouts and trailheads. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the picnic areas.

Valley View Overlook Trail and the Petroglyphs at King Canyon are must-dos on the west side if you enjoy hiking. Valley View Overlook is just 0.8 mile and family friendly. The Petroglyphs Trail is moderate, at about 2.2 miles.

On the east side, the moderate Bridal Wreath Falls Trail offers both a waterfall and spectacular views en route.

Petroglyphs at Saguaro National Park in Arizona at golden hour.
Petroglyphs in Saguaro National Park

And even though it isn’t technically in the park, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a must-visit in the area. The complex houses a famous zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden.

The best time to visit Saguaro National Park is definitely winter, when daytime temperatures are mild, or late spring if you want to see the cacti blooming. 

Suggested by Megan from Red Around the World

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Distance from Las Vegas: 369 miles
Driving time: 5 hours and 15 minutes

Petrified Forest National Park is a unique park filled with colorful badland hills, many petrified trees, petroglyphs, and historic houses of the ancestral Puebloan people from over 600 years ago.

If you are a history buff, you will fall in love with the beautiful, colorful, and well-preserved Petrified Forest National Park.

Petrified log at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona
A petrified log in the park

This compact national park only needs one day. All the main attractions are located along the Petrified Forest Road, so it is easy to stop at each attraction, and walk around to explore if you choose.

Your first stop should be the Visitor Center. You can legally buy petrified wood at the Visitor Center: it is illegal to pick any of the petrified wood inside the park.

Next, stop at the popular Kachina Point and have lunch in this area. The hills are a bright red and orange color, and it is a perfect place for photography.

If you would like to see a completely different colored painted hill, check out Blue Mesa. Blue Mesa is probably the most epic area in the park, as the hills are bright blue, purple, and pink.

The Blue Mesa Hiking Trail in Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
The Blue Mesa landscape in Petrified Forest

Of course, you should also check out the sites with the petrified wood. The park is called Petrified Forest, after all. The best spots to check out the petrified wood are the Crystal Forest, Giant Logs, Agate House, and Jasper Forest. 

Popular hiking trails in Petrified Forest National Park include the super short walk to see petroglyphs and an ancient village at Puerco Pueblo, and the one-mile trail at Blue Mesa that lets you get close to the Painted Desert badlands.

The best time to visit Petrified Forest National Park is in the spring and fall, when the weather is mild.

Suggested by Michelle from The Wandering Queen

Channel Islands National Park, California

Distance from Las Vegas: 321 miles (to Ventura, CA)
Driving time: 5 hours and 12 minutes

Located off the coast of Southern California, Channel Islands National Park is the perfect park to visit for peace and solitude. Because you can only access the park by boat or plane, you’ll share the islands with few people, and have hiking trails almost all to yourself.

Plus, the beaches at Channel Islands are pristine, the waters crystal clear, and the views divine – what’s not to love?

Lighthouse on Anacapa Island in Channel Islands National Park, California
Lighthouse on Anacapa Island

Channel Islands is made up of several islands, and when you visit the park, you’ll have to choose one to explore. The most popular and accessible is Santa Cruz Island: it is perfect for a day trip to Channel Islands.

One of the best things to do in the park is to hit the hiking trails. In Santa Cruz, there are two hiking trails with breathtaking views: Cavern Point Loop and Scorpion Canyon Loop. Both of these hikes give you panoramic ocean views, with cliffs often flanked by wildflowers and cool ocean breezes.

There are also ocean kayaking tours you can take on Santa Cruz Island, and the clear waters make for good snorkeling. Wildlife viewing is also a popular activity at Channel Islands National Park – there’s certain species, like the island fox, that can only be found here! 

An island fox on Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park, California
An island fox!

The Channel Islands are perfect to visit year-round, but spring tends to bring on a display of gorgeous wildflowers that photograph beautifully. No matter when you go, you’ll be glad to have made the trip out to this underrated national park. 

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Pinnacles National Park, California

Distance from Las Vegas: 468 miles
Driving time: 7 hours and 36 minutes

Pinnacles National Park in Central California should be on your list of national parks to visit from Vegas if you enjoy hiking. The park does not have a “through” road, so you have to be able to hike to explore it.

Volcanic spires at Pinnacles National Park in California
Spires at Pinnacles National Park

California’s smallest and newest national park is one of the Golden State’s less visited national parks, making it a delight for outdoor enthusiasts that want to enjoy its unique natural features in relative solitude. Here you will find talus caves to explore, and the namesake pinnacles to climb.

Pinnacles National Park is one of the few places in California where California condors bred in captivity are released into the wild. The mighty birds have wingspans of 9.5 feet. You may see them flying overhead as you hike, or even see one roosting on one of the spires.

Two talus caves in the park can be explored, as long as they are not closed on account of breeding bats. Bear Gulch Cave is located a short hike from the east entrance to Pinnacles, and Balconies Cave a short hike from the west entrance.

There are over 30 miles of hiking trails in Pinnacles National Park, and you can find trails of varying lengths and difficulty levels. You can even combine trails to explore the entire park, including doing the High Peaks Trail to discover the views from the tops of the spires.

A hiking trail goes through a tunnel at Pinnacles National Park in California
A tunnel in the park

One day in Pinnacles National Park gives you plenty of time to enjoy hiking your choice of trails and to explore a talus cave. If you do decide to spend the night at the single campground, you will enjoy the dark skies at Pinnacles.

Spring is the best time to visit Pinnacles National Park, when you can see lots of wildflowers along the trails as you hike. Late fall and winter also provide good hiking weather, provided you dress appropriately. Avoid the extreme heat of summer.

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Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Distance from Las Vegas: 291 miles
Driving time: 4 hours and 24 minutes

Great Basin National Park is the only national park entirely in Nevada and makes for a great weekend getaway from Vegas.

Located in the eastern part of the state, close to the border with Utah, it’s one of the lesser visited parks in the USA, all the better for enjoying time outdoors without rubbing elbows with other visitors.

Beautiful landscape at Great Basin National Park in Nevada
Landscape in Great Basin National Park

And yet, Great Basin National Park is not short on the wow factor when it comes to scenery and natural wonders. The park is home to Wheeler Peak, the second tallest peak in the state, and you can drive Wheeler Peak Road up to an elevation of 10,000 feet.

You can also tackle the Wheeler Peak Summit Trail if you are up for the challenge. The hike is 8.2 miles round trip, with an elevation gain of 2,900 feet. The views en route to the top are nothing short of epic.

Another awesome hike in Great Basin is the Bristlecone Trail. Bristlecones are the oldest known living organisms on the planet, and their sculptural twisted forms make for fabulous photo ops. If you like, you can continue further and add in views of Nevada’s only remaining glacier!

Great Basin National Park features several beautiful alpine lakes, and the Alpine Lakes Loop Trail takes you past some of them. You will also have fabulous views of the surrounding mountains from this trail.

Stella Lake in Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Stella Lake

If you love exploring caves, you will want to book the tour of Lehman Caves in Great Basin National Park. The caves offer spectacular stalagmites and stalactites, plus you can view helictites and shields here, as well as creatures that are endemic to these caves.

Although the park is open year-round, part of Wheeler Peak Road is closed between November and May. You will want to visit when the road is fully open! Fall is a great time to visit, as colors are beautiful.

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Map of National Parks from Vegas You Must Visit

Given that Vegas has an international airport, the city makes a convenient landing point for visitors from outside the USA that want to add some of the country’s iconic national parks to their itinerary.

With so many options for national parks to visit from Vegas, you will want to allow lots of time for your trip, whether you visit from within the US or from another country.

Furthermore, there are other beautiful natural areas nearby that you can visit on day trips from Vegas, including the gorgeous Valley of Fire State Park, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

And if you are planning a first visit to Vegas, be sure to check out our Vegas travel guide, with lots of helpful information and tips.

More Inspiration for US National Parks Travel

Planning more visits to US national parks? Check out our round-up of the most exciting national parks in the west, from Yosemite to Yellowstone.

If you want national park choices by season, we have an extensive round-up of national parks to visit in the summer, plus national parks to visit in the fall, and US national parks that are perfect for winter visits.

Visiting a US national park in another month? Check out our other round-ups of the best national parks to visit by month!

And don’t forget to buy a National Parks annual pass online at REI for savings if you are a regular national parks visitor!

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Dhara's travel interests are eclectic, spanning everything from natural wonders to history, culture, art and architecture. She has visited 22 countries, many more than once, plus almost all 50 states of the USA, and has amassed a hoard of cherished travel moments.

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