National parks in Nevada may be some of the state’s best kept secrets. Just like its LGBTQ inclusivity. Seriously – Nevada is one of the most LGBTQ friendly states to visit!
From gay bars and clubs to Las Vegas and Reno Pride festivities, Nevada knows how to make queer travelers feel welcome. While casinos might be top of mind when it comes to things to do in Las Vegas, there are so many incredible outdoor options. Discover the best things to do at national parks in Nevada and the best time of year to visit.
And since I would never leave you hanging, you’ll also learn where to eat and where to stay that’s LGBTQ friendly!
Nevada National Parks Guide
Pop quiz: How many national parks does Nevada have?
Two, plus a national monument and national recreation area. This means there are a total of four National park sites to explore.
What are the 2 national parks within a short drive from Vegas?
Death Valley National Park
Did you know part of Death Valley National Park is in Nevada?
That’s right. You can explore Death Valley from California like I did – or the quieter Nevada side!
Best time to visit?
Winter brings cooler temperatures for hiking so you can make the most of the park. Or visit in spring for the Dark Sky Festival which has astronomy, astrophotography, and expert talks!
How much does it cost to visit?
$15 per person or $30 per car. Save with a National Parks Pass!
What to do in Death Valley National Park?
Death Valley is such a unique landscape. I strongly recommend driving through the park to take it in, then getting out in the landscape by hiking or camping – if the weather is appropriate.
Death Valley’s temperature extremes mean that it may not be safe to do what you want, depending on what you visit.
Always check the weather before you go and take AT LEAST 1 gallon of water per person per day.
Death Valley Highlights Drive Tour
The Death Valley Highlights Driving Tour can all be seen on one day’s drive. Most of the highlights are in the California side of the park, however. Given the recent flooding, these may not be available. Check updated maps when planning your trip.
I drove the Death Valley Highlights Driving Tour a few years back and loved it. There is such a diversity of landscapes in the park and driving is the best way to see them all.
If you enter on Panamint Valley Road north of Trona, CA, you’ll begin the highlights driving tour at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. See Harmony Borax Works, pictured below.
Stop into the Furnace Creek Visitor Center to learn more about Death Valley’s unique landscape before taking in some of its most remarkable features. You will see Devil’s Golf Course, the Badwater Basin salt flats, the Artist’s Drive (pastel tinted rocks), Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View – a vista point showing the highest and lowest spots within the park.
Hikes in Death Valley
If you’re like me, you’ll want to hop out of the car and check out the unique terrain on foot. These two approachable hikes do just that – and they’re both still accessible after the recent floods!
- Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: Near Stovepipe Wells Village are the Mesquite flat sand dunes. The two mile hiking trail takes around 90 minutes to complete. Hiking on sand dunes is quite a workout if you’ve never done it before.
- Mosaic Canyon: This narrow slot canyon offers an adjustable hike. Walk anywhere from half a mile to 1 1/2 miles into the canyon, appreciating the smooth red stone. Turn around when you’re finished, or when the light starts to go. That’s what happened to me, and you don’t want to be in the canyon after dark!
Avoid the canyon hike in cases of rain because you definitely don’t want to be trapped there in the event of a flash flood!
Death Valley has some of the best stargazing in the country.
Visit during the annual Dark Sky Festival to learn more about stargazing and astrophotography in a collaboration between the park, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, SETI Institute and California Institute of Technology and other partners. Brush up on everything you need for an astrophotography trip in this post.
Where to eat in Death Valley National Park?
Pack picnic supplies and enjoy an unforgettable lunch with incredible views. Or sample one of these options from within the National Park:
- The Ranch at Death Valley has the biggest number of options including a general store, cafe and ice cream shop, and The Last Kind Words Saloon – an epic bar name!
- Timbisha Shoshone Village sells Indian tacos and shaved ice. They’re closed Sunday and Monday. I was so bummed to miss them during my Death Valley road trip but I guess it means I have to make another one!
- Stovepipe Wells Village has a casual sit-down restaurant, general store with camping supplies and firewood, and a saloon for more Wild West vibes.
Where to Stay in Death Valley National Park?
- The Oasis at Death Valley (California): Located within the park itself, The Oasis is a stunning and historic resort. You can choose between the elegant Inn at Death Valley or the more family-friendly Ranch at Death Valley. Both offer comfortable accommodations, dining options, and access to natural spring-fed pools.
- Furnace Creek Campground (California): If you prefer camping, Furnace Creek Campground is a fantastic option within Death Valley National Park. It offers both RV and tent camping sites. Staying here gives you a genuine desert camping experience with the convenience of being inside the park.
- Longstreet Inn, Casino, and RV Resort (Nevada): For a Nevada option, consider the Longstreet Inn. It’s located in Amargosa Valley, just a short drive from Death Valley’s eastern entrance. This hotel offers a casino, RV park, and cozy rooms – a great choice if you want to be close to the Nevada side of the park.
Great Basin National Park
Great Basin National Park has beautiful views and dark skies. One thing it doesn’t have is the crowds you’ll find at many of the other national parks. That alone is reason to move it to the top of my bucket list!
How much does it cost to visit?
FREE! No entrance fee is required.
Things to Do in Great Basin National Park
Tour Lehman Caves
Lehman caves are Nevada’s longest cave system. The only way to see the caves is on a guided tour. Visit in summer to choose between the Lodge Room and Grand Palace tours. In winter only Lodge Room tours are offered. Tours sell out in advance so reserve online ahead of time to get the time and date you want.
They’re quite strict about what you can take into the cave. You cannot bring any bags including backpacks, fanny packs, and camera bags.
Fremont Culture Tour
There are two great ways to connect with earlier cultures while visiting Great Basin National Park.
Explore Baker Village, an excavated Fremont Indian Village. At the site you will find physical remnants of the Fremont, who lived around the same time as the Puebloans. Archaeologists discovered Pottery shards and stone on the raised mound at this site.
Then visit Pictograph Cave to see the Fremont’s ancient rock art. Wall paintings show a mixture of people and animals. Hematite mineral gives the paintings their reddish hue.
See Nevada’s Only Glacier
Nevada has a glacier? Apparently – and you can see it by hiking the Bristlecone Pine Trail. This Trail also takes you to Bristlecone Pines which are the oldest non-clonal type of pine on the planet. The pines have a windblown look, making this trail a must do for landscape photographers.
Hike Wheeler Peak
Wheeler Peak is the highest peak in the state of Nevada. Hike it if you are up for a challenge. Or drive up the Park Road for incredible views.
Where to Eat in Great Basin National Park
Baker, Nevada is the gateway town to Great Basin. There are a handful of restaurants there. Sandra’s Mexican Food, a family-run food truck, serves tacos, burritos, birria and horchata.
Inside the park, you’ll find snacks and light meals during summer only at the visitor center near Lehman Caves.
Where to Stay in Great Basin National Park
Run by the family behind Sandra’s Mexican Food, Sandra’s Little Villas offer budget cabin rentals outside Great Basin National Park.
Stargazer Inn & Bristlecone General Store sells camping food and surprisingly good coffee. The motel is cozy, with clean rooms and comfortable beds. Right outside the park entrance, it offers—you guessed it—incredible stargazing opportunities.
Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument
Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument is a relatively newish addition to the National Park system. You won’t find visitor centers or much in the way of programming here. But if you’re visiting Las Vegas, it’s well worth a detour.
How much does it cost to visit?
FREE! No entrance fee is required.
Best time to visit?
Spring for the wildflower bloom; October for National Fossil Day programming.
Things to Do in Tule Springs?
This annual fossil lovers event takes place every October. Learn about ice Age Las Vegas from National Park Service staff and volunteer. This family friendly event has live animals and junior paleontologist programming.
Wildflower Bloom Walk
The wildflowers here might not be as famous as at Anza Borrego, one of California’s best state parks, but they are still impressive. The Aliante Loop Temporary Trail offers the best Wildflower views. The 3.25 mile trail is relatively level with a flat compacted surface.
Another good hiking option is the Durango Loop Temporary Trail. The landscape is modern Mojave Desert, with scrub brush and desert wildlife. You’ll have views of multiple mountain ranges including the Las Vegas range. This loop hike offers several routes ranging from 1.7 miles to 2.25 miles loop, and takes approximately 30 to 90 minutes.
Where to Eat in Tule Springs?
Route 95 between Kyle Canyon and Centennial hills has lots of grab and go places for a quick lunch option.
For something fancier, Aliante Casino in the nearby Aliante neighborhood, offers several dining options including steakhouses, Italian, and casual dining.
Where to Stay in Tule Springs?
Since Tule Springs is so close to downtown Las Vegas, you can stay at any gay friendly Las Vegas hotel!
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
If you want to know where the bodies are buried, check out Lake Mead.
I went here on my first cross country road trip and – spoiler alert – there was barely any water. The water situation in Lake Mead has gotten worse… to the point where some bodies that mysteriously disappeared were actually found in the lake!
The water situation is so critical because this area rarely gets rain and the climate is extremely hot. It’s best to visit during winter when temperatures are reasonable!
Lake Mead was created when the Colorado River was dammed. The lake spans Nevada and Arizona and is technically the largest Reservoir within the US in terms of its capacity in the Southwestern United States. It is located in the states of Nevada and Arizona, 24 mi east of Las Vegas. It is the largest reservoir in the US in terms of water capacity.
The lake offers multiple hiking and cycling trails, camping and water sports.
Things to Do in Lake Mead?
Hike the Railroad Trail to Hoover Dam
Get a unique Vista on the Lake Mead Recreation Area and Hoover Dam by hiking an old railroad trail. The trail was created to ferry building materials to the Hoover Dam site.
This 7.4-mile out-and-back trail passes through 5 old railroad tunnels, each 300 feet long and 30 feet high. The trail is very exposed with no shade (other than the tunnels), so avoid hiking in high temperatures.
Cycle Lake Mead to Hoover Dam
The historic railroad trail is also open to cyclists, so biking is another option.
For a longer bike trail, don’t miss the River Mountains Loop Trail connecting Henderson and Boulder City, Nevada, with Lake Mead and Hoover Dam. The full loop trail runs 34 miles with an elevation change of 750 feet.
There are tons of other hikes through canyons and Mojave Desert washes. Hanging in this area is only recommended in winter because summertime temperatures can soar well over 100° F even in the shade.
Where to Eat in Lake Mead?
The floating Boat House Restaurant at Lake Mead Marina puts you right on the lake for stunning 360 degree views. Visit for a cold drink and a snack or a full meal.
Or bring picnic supplies and nab a spot on the lake shores at Boulder Beach for a budget lunch option!
Where to Stay in Lake Mead?
Lake Mead is so close to Vegas that you can easily day trip. But if you want more time in nature, Lake Mead has multiple campgrounds.
Boulder Beach Campground has tent and RV sites. It’s right on the water so perfect for boaters.
Las Vegas Bay Campground also has tent and RV sites. The atmosphere is quieter than at Boulder Beach.
To really get away from it all, pick up a backcountry camping permit from a visitor center and find your wild.
Use these tips as inspiration for planning your perfect trip to National Parks in Nevada.
To make your getaway easier, I’ve created an annotated map with my recommendations for making the most of National Parks in Nevada trips, including where to eat and LGBTQ friendly things to do.
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