Hot Spring Hike near Las Vegas
Oh, Vegas. Sin City can be ridiculously fun, but it's definitely an alternate universe of glitter and debauchery. After all the glitz, I always feel the need lace up my boots for a solid hiking adventure in the southern Nevada desert.
Goldstrike Canyon totally fits the bill -- it's a 6.5-mile trek through an austere desert canyon. Don't let the proximity to Las Vegas fool you, this sucker is pretty tough (especially if you're trying to sweat out a booze-fueled Vegas bender!) This hike is a borderline-canyoneering expedition that requires you to scramble over boulders and lower yourself down fixed handlines. You're rewarded at the end with glorious natural hot spring pools and a killer view of the Colorado River, just below Hoover Dam.
To get to the Goldstrike Canyon Trailhead, head south from Las Vegas along Highway 93. Take Exit 2, just past the Hoover Dam Lodge. Take the first right after the exit, followed by a quick left onto a good dirt road. Despite signs recommending a 4WD vehicle, the road was totally fine for my passenger car. The trailhead is the end of this road, less than 1/2 miles from the stop sign.
Navigation to the hot springs in Goldstrike Canyon is fairly straightforward. The trail isn't officially signed along the way, but it's popular enough that you can follow the footprints, graffiti, and trash (blah) of previous hikers as you work your way down to the river. (Please, people, don't be gross! Pack out your crap.)
From the trailhead, start hiking down the sandy wash. The canyon walls gradually constrict into deep corridors of spooky volcanic rock. You'll soon encounter your first Class-3 obstacle and tons of house-sized boulders to scramble around. Pay attention to social trails to pick the best route.
After a couple miles, you'll notice water in the canyon. Temps are still fairly cool here, but they gets warmer as you hike closer to the river. The natural hot spring pools are built up with rocks and sandbags, and water temperatures hover around 85-105°F. Take a while to soak in the springs while gazing up at fern-covered grottos. When your fingers have turned to prunes, take a quick peak at the Colorado River before turning around and hiking back the way you came.
A couple quick safety notes: Goldstrike Canyon is definitely a cool-weather hike. The trail is actually closed down during the summer -- check Lake Mead's website for exact dates. There have been quite a few emergency rescues in the canyon, so at the risk of stating the obvious -- be ready to practice your canyoneering moves, wear real hiking shoes, and bring water! Goldstrike isn't necessarily more difficult than other non-technical canyons in the southwest, but I think its proximity to Vegas draws a less outdoorsy crowd. Be careful -- have fun!