Cycling Vegas – A Tourist’s Perspective

After considerable debate over the past winter,  my family decided we’d head to Vegas for a vacation. I had two reasons I wanted to visit this area, and neither had anything to do with gambling or the Vegas strip: (1) I wanted to visit the parks outside the city and (2) I wanted to explore the cycling opportunities in the area.

After our first two nights near the Vegas strip and the airport, we stayed the rest of the week by Lake Las Vegas, about a half hour of town, not far from Lake Mead. This location allowed easier access to different parks, the Hoover Dam and many cycling trails!

I rented a gravel bike from Southwest Bikes in the north end of the city. In the days and weeks leading up to this trip, I researched  a lot bike rental options. Many places offered bikes I liked but the costs were on the order of 75 to 90 USD per day. Southwest Bikes offered a Bianchi Impulso AllRoad gravel bike with Shimano 105 and hydraulic brakes for just $45 per day, plus a deal for longer rentals, so I was able to get five days for the price of three.  When I arrived to pick up my rental on Wednesday, staff was friendly and helpful!

Tuesday and Wednesday of our week, the area was under a severe wind warning.  There was no rain, but winds gusted to over 60 km/h.  Though we managed to do some hiking, I didn’t get out on my bike until Thursday.

Near Lake Las Vegas, there are a number of cycling trails.  I had planned to explore the River Mountains Loop Trail and the Wetlands Park Bike Trail, both of which had trail heads near where we stayed.

On Thursday, we planned to visit the Hoover Dam.  The River Mountains Loop trail took me close to the dam so I rode the east side of the loop and met my family there to tour the dam.  My ride was about 30 km and I stopped countless times for photos.  The trail is a paved, two-way trail through the desert with amazing views of Lake Mead.  Every place the trail crossed the highway, there was an underpass tunnel. And much to my surprise, the desert isn’t flat!  In the 30 km ride, I gained nearly 450 m of elevation, including near the end of the ride where over the last 4 km, I climbed over 130 m on a climb that was deceiving because the mountains rose in the background, giving an illusion that I was on flat, or even downhill terrain. (If you’ve heard of Magnetic Hill in New Brunswick, the effect felt similar.)

It’s hard to tell in this photo but this was actually uphill at about 3% grade.

After about an hour and a half of cycling (I stopped for a lot of photos), I met with family and we walked around the dam and bridge.

Paved bike trails through the desert!
I never need to be reminded to cycle slowly, so these signs always amuse me!
Approaching our meeting point near the Hoover Dam.  Lake Mead in the background.

The next day, I focused on the Wetland Bike Trail.  It was strange seeing a wetland in the desert but the state has worked hard to restore this area.  The bike trails again were paved and well marked and this time, there were gravel roads in the area.

More paved goodness, with the Vegas strip in the background!
Desert flora, and rocks… lots of rocks!
Trying to be artsy with a bike in the desert.

On my third day of cycling, I decided to explore the western side of the River Mountains Loop trail.  The trail is a 34 mile single loop, and I only completed about 25 km of it earlier in the week.  Due to time restrictions, I figured I could ride about 10 to 15 km of the western portion of this loop.

Where we stayed at Lake Las Vegas, all roads go up hill, and on this side of the Loop trail, it went up until I decided to turn around!  From the plot below, I apparently gained 250 m in elevation in just over 10 km, including some short but very steep pitches.

On my fourth and final day of cycling, we didn’t have a lot of time because we had to check out by 11 am, so I did a quick 15 km ride on the Wetland Trail.  I had to stop to take a photo of this:

You know it’s a good vacation when this is the biggest decision of the day: Left = uphill pavement; Right = flat gravel!

Although I rode 100 km during the four days of cycling, I don’t feel like I covered a lot of ground.  On my two weekend rides, I encountered a lot of other cyclists, both on the road and on the trails.  There are some good bike lanes in the area and I’m sure there are some great road routes.  Just don’t expect flat, desert riding!  The hills, while not huge like you’d find in the Rockies, will still be a fun challenge!

A few more points about cycling in this area:

  • I rented a gravel bike that worked on the pavement and dirt.  Some of the gravel paths were a bit of a challenge (because of steepness and loose, sharp rocks).  A mountain bike would have been a lot more fun on some of these loose trails.
  • A lot of the main roads that I drove my rental car on had wide shoulders for cycling.  I didn’t explore many of these, but a road bike would be great in this area.
  • I expected mostly flat cycling (it is the desert after all), but was pleasantly surprised by the rolling terrain.
  • The Vegas Strip is pretty much what you’d expect: big hotels, lots of people and cars, Elvis impersonators, dancing girls.  Fremont Street in downtown Vegas is not a place I’d take kids though!  The parks outside of Vegas are a much better use of time, in my opinion.  I’ll be blogging soon about my hiking trips in the area.
  • I’m pretty sure I saw an Elvis impersonator riding a bicycle on my third day of cycling when I passed a group of road cyclists.  He had cool sunglasses and long, Elvis-style side burns!

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