The great part about Las Vegas is that once you flee from its sprawl, you quickly find yourself in the middle of mountainous desert wilderness a million times more impressive than the Bellagio’s dancing waters could ever be. The only real limit to your outdoor pursuits is the season. In summer, hit the higher elevations and mountain peaks for hiking, biking or climbing; at cooler times of year, you'll generally want to head for the canyon floors. Here are my recommendations:
Las Vegas Adventures: Paddle the Colorado River
Millions of people have taken in the iconic view of the Hoover Dam from the road above, but few get to see it from below. Evolutions Expeditions Kayaking runs a day-long trip on the Colorado River that launches at the base of the dam. You’ll explore slot canyons, take dips in hot springs, and have plenty of time to view completely different forms of wildlife than what you’ll find on the Las Vegas Strip. Trips cost $165.
Las Vegas Adventures: Hike Red Rock Canyon
Just 20 miles outside of Las Vegas, the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area spreads across a patch of the Mojave Desert twice the size of the city itself. Even with thousands of people coming to hike and enjoy the canyon's world-renowned rock climbing, there's still plenty of solitude to be found. Try hiking the six-mile White Rock/La Madre Springs Loop; although the spring is more like a tiny pond, and the trail can be snow-dusted at times in the winter, you're unlikely to have any company. Plus, the views of mountain peaks and rock formations are worth the area's $7 per car entrance fee.
Las Vegas Adventures: Mountain Bike Cottonwood Valley
Located in a section of the Red Rock preserve where hikers don’t usually venture, the Cottonwood Valley trail network has challenges for riders of all levels, even mountain bike racers. The premier ride is on a roughly 13-mile NORBA-sanctioned, roller-coastering singletrack racecourse called the Dead Horse Loop. Las Vegas Cyclery rents bikes and leads half-day ($119 with bike rental) and day-long tours ($159 with bike rental) of the area.