It was hot last week. And it’s only going to get hotter. This time of year, I turn to those trails that are just a little cooler. Those that show Las Vegas in a slightly different light. Luckily, I know just the trail. It’s just east of town at the very end of Tropicana Avenue. The Wetlands Park comprises 2,900 acres of water, trails, and trees along the Las Vegas Wash. The purpose of the park is to reduce the environmental impact of reclaimed water—waste water and storm water runoff—before it enters Lake Mead. The wetlands plants slow the movement of reclaimed water, in the process filtering much of the impurities and pollutants from that water before it enters the lake. The plants, in turn, benefit from the slow-moving water by receiving vital nutrients.
The Wetlands Park was created in 1991. One of the favorite activities at the Wetlands Park is bird watching. Living among the shrub, thickets, Southern cattails, and marshes are 212 species of water fowl, desert birds, and soaring birds. Here in the ponds and streams are mallard ducks, American coots, common moorhens, pied-billed grebes, great blue herons, snowy egrets, belted kingfishers, and black phoebes to name but a few. You can also find birds common to the desert like Anna’s hummingbirds, thrashers, house finches, Gambel’s quail, mourning doves, black-throated sparrows, blue-gray gnatcatchers, and Albert’s towhees. Soaring birds such as turkey vultures, Northern rough-winged swallows, red-tailed hawks, and Northern harriers all fly high above the marsh.
Most of the trails at the Wetlands Park are meant to be enjoyed on foot. However, some trails are meant for horses and at least two are designed to be used by cyclists. The Wetlands Park trail is one of those. This trail starts at the parking lot outside the park’s visitor center, near the outside restrooms. This trail is easily found by the trail markers and because it is the only trail with a yellow line running down the center. This trail does not go through the park itself, but it does hug the outskirts of the park, allowing great views of plants, ponds, streams, and animals.
The trail is not typically crowded, making it one of the best trails for families. Additionally, when the trail starts to leave the park—at the large bridge—you can simply turn and head back to the park. If you choose to continue the ride, you will find a nice, easy trail that offers great desert views as well as views of the Wetlands Park at a distance. Once you get on the cement trail, you stay on the trail. The only tricky transition is turning left on the long bridge, mainly because the trail looks like it goes to the right—the trail does, but that part isn’t open to bikes.
The first part of the trail makes its way through trees and plants, offering a great view of one of the wetland’s ponds. There is a seating area near the pond, offering an ideal place to see the animals that make the pond home. If you’re riding with a family, be sure to take advantage of the seating area. The trail eventually makes its way to a long bridge. Turn left and follow the trail across the bridge—the yellow stripe will disappear. Make sure to take the time to stop on the bridge and look at the wide creek running below. It is not uncommon to see great blue herons sitting on the bank, blending into the plants, waiting for just the right fish.
On the other side of the bridge, the cement road turns to asphalt. Take the trail to the right. Once you get on the asphalt trail, you’ll stay on it until it ends. There are many offshoot trails on both sides of the main trail and most of them have markers indicating what is allowed on that trail. The markers are made of rusted metal iron—rusted on purpose—with cutouts showing walking, cycling, or equestrian denotations, indicating the type of activity allowed on the trail. It is important to pay heed to the markers and only ride the trails which allow bikes. Once you reach the end of the trail, you simply turn and head back. The is one of Vegas’ unknown gems and well worth the trip. +
Paul W. Papa is the president of the Southern Nevada Mountain Bike Association and the author of Best Bike Rides Las Vegas and Mountain Biking Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. When not out on the trails, he can be found at www.paulwpapa.com.