Vegas outdoors and on 2 wheels

I'm off to Vegas this weekend for the first time and am quite excited. I'm renting a car and I'm looking to get out hiking/mountain biking, so do you have any suggestions? So far it's either Red Rock Canyon, Lake Mead or Vally of Fire. Thoughts?

Also, is it possible to rent a bicycle and tour the Strip or Fremont Street that way? I only have a few days and want to take in as much as possible.

Thanks in advance!

(Welland, Ontario, Canada)

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It sounds like you plan on staying busy during your stay, doing more outdoor-sightseeing than the typical Las Vegas visitor. There are no bike tours along the Strip or Downtown, but bike rentals are available through Las Vegas Cyclery if you REALLY want to try to fight traffic in these areas. I would not recommend it, though. In fact, I'd strongly advise against it. The Strip is not at all bicycle friendly. Auto and pedestrian traffic is constant, heavy and completely unpredictable. Trying to navigate on a bike would be frustrating at best, very dangerous at worst. Downtown is simply too small to justify renting a bicycle. The main area of Fremont Street is only a few blocks, easily walkable in 10 or 15 minutes.

Order of preference Red Rock Valley of Fire Lake MeadBooking excursions

Take a look at the Las Vegas sections of Orbitz and Travelocity for excursion packages. Both sites sell tickets for full- and part-day outings.

But it sounds like you're looking for outdoor adventure, and Las Vegas is a great destination. Red Rock Canyon is about a half-hour from the heart of town, heading west on Charleston Blvd. Once there the Conservation Area offers a one-way 13-mile scenic drive, hiking, biking, rock climbing and seasonal camping (there is a small entrance fee for the scenic drive). There are two main bike paths. One shares the road with motorists and traffic tends to be heavier on the weekends, so plan accordingly. The highway ride may begin at either the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center, to go downhill, or in the community of Blue Diamond to go uphill. Parking is available at the city park in Blue Diamond and at the Visitor Center. Beware of gravel around the secondary entrance roads and burro droppings along the road shoulder. Bring your own water as none is available along the highway.

The Scenic Loop Drive is a one-way 14.7-mile round trip, including highway portion, offering an excellent workout for the experienced rider. The first five miles of very steep, undulating grades will test your gearing skills. Switchbacks at the top of the ride require careful control. The 1,000-foot drop back to the Visitor Center can be exhilarating in places, but keep in mind that the speed limit is 35 mph. Things to look out for are falling rocks, debris at road cross washes and loose gravel. Also, check with the Red Rock office for any guided tours available that day.

Las Vegas Cyclery offers bike tours that include shuttles to and from the Strip, bike rental, helmet/gloves, water and guide. Visit their website for hours and pricing.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a 30-mile ride east of Las Vegas. The lake is the world's largest man-made reservoir and provides a wide variety of year-round recreational activities, including boating, swimming, hiking, scuba diving and sport fishing. Three of the nation's four desert ecosystems meet at the 1.5-million acre recreation area that surrounds the lake -- the Great Basin, Mojave and Sonoran deserts. Lake Mead is open year-round. A small admission fee is required. A network of back-country roads provide access to the lake shore and other areas of interest in the back country. Approved roads are signed with a yellow arrow. The black number in the center of the arrow designates the road number. Driving on roads or trails not marked with the yellow arrow is prohibited. Driving off roads, in washes, or cross country damages is prohibited by National Park Service regulations. Anyone planning to take the back-country roads is asked to check with local rangers on the road conditions.

Six miles from Lake Mead, and an easy 55-mile drive from Las Vegas, is the Valley of Fire State Park -- Nevada's oldest and biggest state park. Take exit 75 from Interstate 15. Some points of interest at Valley of Fire are the Atlatl Rock -- (at'-lat-l), a notched stick used to throw primitive spears. The atlatl was a predecessor to the bow and arrow. The adjacent Atlatl Rock Campground provides a modern restroom and shower building.

Arch Rock: Near Atlatl Rock Campground is the more primitive Arch Rock Campground with more secluded campsites. A two-mile scenic loop road provides views of some of the Valley's most interesting rock formations, such as Arch Rock and Piano Rock. Fire Canyon/Silica Dome offers an excellent view of the deep red sandstone of Fire Canyon, and the unique geological features of Silica Dome.

Mouse's Tank: Named for a renegade Indian who used the area as a hideout in the 1890's. Mouse's Tank is a natural basin in the rock where water collects after rainfalls, sometimes remaining for months. A half-mile round trip trail leads to Mouse's Tank from the trail head parking area, passing numerous examples of prehistoric Indian petroglyphs. Rainbow Vista is a favorite photo point with a panoramic view of multicolored sandstone.

Seven Sisters are red rock formations easily accessible from the road.

White Domes -- sandstone formations with contrasting colors; picnic area and trail head. White Domes is an eleven-mile (17.7 km) round trip drive from the Visitor Center. Duck Rock is a short hike away.

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