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November 22, 2017

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Labor Day getaways: 11 national parks worth a drive from Las Vegas


Leila Navidi

The sunrise is seen at Great Basin National Park on Sunday, August 7, 2011.

Have plans for Labor Day weekend? If not, a tank of gas or a day’s drive can take you to some of the most stunning landscapes on Earth. The Southwest is home to dozens of national parks, monuments and preserves, many of which are less than a few hours from Las Vegas. As 300,000 visitors flood the Las Vegas Valley, you may want to spend your holiday at a slower pace and take in the offerings of Mother Nature. Here’s a sampling of nationally preserved destinations fewer than 450 miles away according to MapQuest:

    • Lake Mead C.R.E.W
      Photo by Justin M. Bowen

      Lake Mead Recreation Area — 27 miles

      A popular destination for locals and tourists, Lake Mead is 1.5 million acres of water and land and was designated the nation’s first recreation area. Three of America’s four ecosystems meet there — the Mojave, Great Basin and Sonoran deserts. Boating, canoeing, diving, hiking, fishing, swimming and sightseeing are popular activities. Campsites are available, but explore the grounds cautiously. Wildlife such as the desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, coyotes, foxes, lizards and snakes inhabit the area.

    • Lightning
      Photo by Steve Marcus

      Death Valley — 145 miles

      Known at the hottest spot in North America, Death Valley was designated a national park in 1994. Despite temperatures reaching well above 120 degrees during summer months, hundreds of species and plants live in the park’s boundaries consisting of sand dunes, rugged canyons and snow-covered peaks. Several campgrounds are in the area for individuals who want to stay for hiking, biking and sightseeing.

    • World War I memorial
      /Associated Press file

      Mojave National Preserve — 150 miles

      Between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Mojave National Preserve was established in 1994. Mojave is home to the Kelso Dunes, the third largest in America capping out at 600 feet. When quantities of the sands move, they can create a booming sound. Visitors can run down the slopes to try to make the dunes boom. Two campsites are available year round and while few hiking trails have been developed, backpackers are welcome to explore the 700,000 acres of designated wilderness.

    • Zion
      /AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, file photo

      Zion — 160 miles

      Canyon walls of Zion National Park were carved out over millions of years by trickling creeks and the rushing Virgin River. Sky-high towers and cliffs of multicolored sandstone rocks range from 2,000 to 3,000 feet high. There are many trails for hiking and exploring, and sidewalks for those who want to keep closer to the park’s facilities. The park is filled with an array of wildlife including elk, desert tortoise, peregrine falcons, hummingbirds and bats. Food and lodging are available near the park with most accommodations in St. George, Utah.

    • Skywalk Grand Canyon West Glass Repair
      Photo by Justin M. Bowen

      Grand Canyon — 120 miles to West Rim, 270 miles to North Rim, 291 miles to the South Rim

      Established as a national park in 1919 and declared a world heritage site in 1979, the Grand Canyon is one of the most amazing examples of erosion in the world. Spanning 277 miles long and 18 miles wide in some places, the Colorado River curves around the canyon’s walls that are layered with limestone, shale, granite, pink and brown sandstone.

      The National Park Service collects a $25-per-vehicle entrance fee that is good for seven days on both the South and North Rims. A $12 fee applies to bicyclists or those on foot.

      Five years ago, Grand Canyon West Rim opened in a joint business venture between the Hualapai tribe and businessman David Jin with the Skywalk as the main attraction. Although the commute from Las Vegas may be a few hours less than going to the South Rim, you’ll take a hit on your pocket book in entrance fees. Upon arrival, all individuals are required to purchase a Legacy pass that is $35 for children and $43 for adults. Seniors and military personnel with valid ID receive a discounted rate of $39. An additional ticket purchase to enjoy the Skywalk costs $25.

    • Cedar Breaks National Monument

      Cedar Breaks — 172 miles

      Although not a national park, Cedar Breaks national monument is a beautiful scenic drive. Lined with wildflowers and a forest of spruce and fir pines, the monument houses a large multicolored geological amphitheater 2,500 feet deep. Drive up State Route 148 for a view from the top of the canyon that spans more than three miles. Park amenities include 30-site campground on a first-come, first-served basis, two hiking trails and a picnic area. Nearby lodging can be found in Brian Head or Cedar City.

    • Bryce Canyon
      /AP Photo/John Blemer

      Bryce Canyon — 260 miles

      Located in the south-central part of Utah and about a four-hour drive from Las Vegas, Bryce Canyon is a gorgeous destination, from pine trees and sandstone. The canyon is filled with arches, towering spires and pinnacles in colors of tan, gold, red and pale white. These formations are called “hoodoos.” Ponderosa pines, spruce fir forests and meadows line the rim. Visitors can drive the park themselves or take an environmentally friendly shuttle bus.

    • The Loneliest Road: Day One
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      Great Basin — 305 miles

      Designated in 1986 as the nation’s 47th national park, Great Basin is the only national park in Nevada: 77,000-acres carved out of the Humboldt National Forest and surrounding Lehman Caves National Monument. Other attractions include an ice field on Wheeler Peak, an ancient bristlecone-pine forest and Lexington Arch. There are four campgrounds and a group camping area. Other lodging accommodations can be found in Baker and Ely.

    • Capitol Reef
      /AP Photo/Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance/Ray Bloxham

      Capitol Reef — 338 miles

      Proclaimed a national monument in 1937 and designated a national park in 1971, Capitol Reef was established to protect the park’s Waterpocket Fold, a giant sinuous wrinkle in the Earth’s crust created 75 million years ago. The 110-mile colorful geologic feature extends from Thousand Lakes Mountain to the Colorado River. The park also protects portions of the Fremont River, the site of the prehistoric Fremont culture, remains of a Mormon pioneer settlement and Orchards of Fruita. Three campsites are available at the park and a free backcountry permit is required for camping outside of campgrounds.

    • Yosemite
      Photo by Gary Kazanjian/The Associated Press

      Yosemite National Park — 403 miles

      One of the first wilderness parks in the United States and declared a World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite’s elevations range from 2,000 feet to 13,000 feet above sea level. Best known for its waterfalls, Yosemite is home to giant sequoias more than 2,000 years old, deep valleys, granite faces and Yosemite Falls, which drops 2,425 feet. The park is open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, and no reservations are required to visit, but some roads may be closed because of weather.

    • Petrified Forest
      /AP Photo/National Park Service

      Petrified Forest — 444 miles

      Located in northeast Arizona, the park is one of the world’s largest concentrations of petrified wood in the world. More than 93,000 acres include archaeological sites, 235-million-year-old fossils and colorful multihued badlands of desert.

      Gift shops sell petrified wood that has been legally obtained outside the park boundaries. Backpack camping is allowed within the park’s wilderness area, requiring a distance of at least a mile hike away from two designated parking spots. A free backcountry permit is available from one of the visitor centers from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. MST.

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