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Desert adrenaline: 5 ways to get a Vegas rush without stepping in a casino

May 30, 2017 (Photo Credit: Jae C. Hong/AP)
Your heart is racing, your fingers twitching, a bead of sweat forming on your brow. But you’re not clutching the dice at a Las Vegas craps table or shuffling chips in the poker room. You’re poised at the apex of a gnarly mountain bike run, about to catapult into a maze of downhill single-track just beyond the glare of the Strip.

Venture past the central knot of hotel towers and stucco, and the Vegas Valley is an outdoor playground where the most adrenaline-pumping action doesn’t happen on the casino floor. Choose your own adventure and enjoy the ride.

Canyon calling

Check your fear of heights at the trailhead for Goldstrike Canyon, where a popular hike to the Colorado River includes scrambling down — and climbing back up — fixed ropes anchored into massive boulders. You’re rewarded for the effort with a series of natural hot springs on the way to a bracing river dip. Just steer clear during the summer when the canyon turns sweltering and hikers have been known to require rescue.

Do you even shred, bro?

The Bellagio Conservatory aside, Las Vegas isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think “winter wonderland.” But just an hour from the Strip, Lee Canyon‘s 445 acres of shreddable terrain get more than 200 inches of powder annually, along with 300-plus days of sunshine. For those who like their runs groomed, three lifts serve 30 trails and a terrain park, with additional backcountry available for advanced riders. Don’t forget your mittens.

Get vertical

Got a thing for wearing tiny shoes and holding your entire body's weight on your fingertips? Meet Red Rock National Conservation Area, a scenic swath of desert just west of Las Vegas where you’ll often find super-fit people clinging to the terra-cotta cliffs. The area around Red Rock boasts more than 2,000 climbing and bouldering routes, so you can test your mettle and muscles on routes like Physical Graffiti, Epinephrine and Big Bad Wolf.

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Paddle happy

If you’re more into secret caves and hidden hot springs than piña coladas and poolside cabanas, ditch the hotel pool for a more adventurous body of water. Desert Adventures offers daylong, guided kayak trips from the base of Hoover Dam through Black Canyon on the Colorado River. Over the course of 12 miles, you’ll explore slot canyons, soak in natural hot springs and paddle through the stunning Emerald Cave — then be back at the bar in time for happy hour.

Rock and roll

Dubbed an “Epic” ride by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, Bootleg Canyon Mountain Bike Park is an off-road paradise for adrenaline junkies in helmets and kneepads. Thirty-five miles of trail include low-key, cross-country and white-knuckle downhill areas that plummet 1,000 feet from the summit. Catch the All Mountain Cyclery shuttle, then take a deep breath and drop into heart-pounding technical routes with names like Armageddon and Kevorkian.

This article was first published by Marriott Traveler.
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