Las Vegas Sun

October 23, 2017

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Exploring federal land in Southern Nevada


Steve Marcus

Hiking and a bit of climbing come into play just getting to Keyhole Canyon. And watch out for tarantulas.


Target shooting is legal on most public lands, but it is not allowed in the following areas: Apex, Nellis Dunes, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area and Sunrise Mountain. Shooting is also not permitted within the Las Vegas Valley.

Take a step outside. Breathe the fresh air. Look around.

We’ve got imported palm trees, blooming flowers, patches of grass — and a whole lot of concrete. It’s enough to make almost anyone a little stir crazy.

Now take another deep breath. There’s good news: Outdoor recreation, away from cookie-cutter suburbia and the boozy tourist corridor, is only a short drive from Las Vegas. Southern Nevada is home to more than 500,000 acres of federal land, including two national conservation areas, 15 wilderness areas and five wilderness study areas. And much of this Bureau of Land Management acreage is ripe for exploration and recreation.

Consider this your user guide to getting to know our neighboring, government-owned land.


      If you’re looking for primitive campsites — i.e., no facilities or running water — you don’t have to wander too far. Southern Nevada offers plenty of prime locations, such as the ones listed below, but keep in mind these environment-friendly rules: Respect wildlife, properly dispose of waste, camp on durable surfaces, use existing campfire sites and don’t bring pieces of nature home with you.

      • Knob Hill: Hunters and rock climbers enjoy this location, which is south of Nelson and north of Searchlight. Take U.S. 95 south to a sign for the Nelson turnoff. Travel east on the turnoff for 2 miles until you reach Powerline Road. Continue traveling east on Powerline Road for 4 miles to a granite outcropping.

      • Logandale Trails System: This trails system offers campsites with some tables along the 13-mile loop. Take Interstate 15 north to the Logandale exit. Turn right on Liston Drive. Follow road for about 5 miles to get to the trails system.

      • Virgin Mountains: This area near Mesquite features good hiking and mountaineering opportunities. Take Interstate 15 north to the exit for State Road 170. Turn right.

      • Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area: Red Rock has a campground with 71 individual campsites and seven group sites, but people wanting a more primitive camping experience can head to elevations above 5,000 feet. Take Interstate 215 to State Road 159 west. Turn right on Scenic Loop Drive and continue until reaching the Willow Springs turnoff. Continue on the turnoff for 1.5 miles to reach the higher elevations.


      Enjoy scenic views along these three backcountry byways, which can be traveled using high-clearance vehicles capable of traversing rough terrain.

      • Bitter Springs Backcountry Byway: Located 40 miles north of Las Vegas. Take Interstate 15 to the Valley of Fire State Park exit. The byway begins 2.5 miles from the exit. Byway length: 28 miles

      • Gold Butte Backcountry Byway: Located 5 miles south of Mesquite and Bunkerville. Take Interstate 15 to exit 112. Byway length: 62 miles

      • Red Rock Canyon Backcountry Byway: Located west of Summerlin. Take Interstate 215 to State Route 159. Byway length: 13 miles


      Southern Nevada has a few treasured secrets: petroglyphs and pictographs adorning rock walls on federal land. The Bureau of Land Management purposely doesn’t disclose locations of cultural resources, such as rock art, that haven’t been properly developed for public visitation. But here are a few prehistoric sites that are open to visitors:

      • Archeological and paleontological resources at Tule Springs

      • Archeological complex at Willow Springs in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

      • Rock art in Keyhole Canyon in the Eldorado Mountains


      Southern Nevada’s many rock formations provide ample opportunity for climbing enthusiasts to stretch their skills. But remember: The stunning scenery is also home to ancient rock art. Climbing is not allowed on or within 50 feet of cultural sites. Here are a few rock-climbing locations:

      Keyhole Canyon

      • Rock type: quartz monzonite

      • Location: Off U.S. 95 south of Boulder City

      Arrow Canyon

      • Rock type: limestone

      • Location: Off State Road 168 northeast of Las Vegas

      Urban Crag

      • Rock type: limestone

      • Location: On Lone Mountain in northwest Las Vegas

      Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area also offers many climbing opportunities on its mostly sandstone rock. Climbers can get permits to stay in the scenic drive area for two hours beyond its closure time. Call 702-515-5050 to ask for a permit.


      Visitors to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area cannot:

      • Feed, ride, handle or disturb wild horses or burros without a permit.

      • Possess a loaded weapon unless hunting in the conservation area in accordance with state law.

      • Possess or use fireworks or other explosive devices without a permit.

      • Ride bicycles outside of paved roads, parking lots, roads designated for motor vehicles and routes and trails designated for bicycle use without a permit.

      • Leave pets unattended or fail to remove waste deposited by pets.

      • Smoke within caves and caverns.


      All-terrain vehicles provide another way for residents to appreciate Southern Nevada’s natural beauty. ATVs, however, cannot be used within the Las Vegas Valley or Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area and wilderness areas. Here are some off-highway vehicle routes:

      • Big Dune (About 15 miles south of Beatty)

      • Jean/Roach Dry Lake Bed Area (About 20 miles south of Las Vegas and east of Jean)

      • Eldorado Valley (About 5 miles southwest of Boulder City)

      • Nelson Hills (About 17 miles south of Las Vegas)

      • Nellis Dunes (Just north of Nellis Air Force Base)


      BLM officials ask target shooters to follow these rules:

      • Stay at least 1,000 feet away from roads and houses.

      • Never shoot from or over any road or highway.

      • Use a safe backdrop.

      • Do not use glass targets.

      • Remove all litter, brass and shell casings.

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