Roadtrip activities with your dog through Nevada, Utah & Arizona

In November, we took a roadtrip with our dogs through Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. We went through the Desert with a pit stop in Las Vegas. We got caught in a wicked storm passing through the region but were still able to enjoy the dessert and sin city with the dogs. Due to the heat throughout the Nevada, Utah, and Arizona desert landscape, October – April are the best times to visit with your dog. The weather in the desert changes quickly so come dressed in layers. Over our five day roadtrip, we experienced heat, rain, snow, hail, and cold winds.

Essentials to pack when visiting the desert with your dog

During the summer months, the heat in desert climates is brutal and reaches dangerous temperatures. It is best to visit in late fall, winter, or early spring to avoid heat related injuries, especially when hiking with a dog. At any time of year, when you visit the desert with your dog, be sure to bring a backpack with the following:

Is the Mojave Desert Pet Friendly? 

The Mojave Desert extends through Southeastern California into Nevada and has become one of the most visited tourism destinations in North America (due to its proximity to Las Vegas). The desert receives less than 2 inches of rain a year – which happened to be while we were visiting. The desert includes the major National Parks of Death Valley and Joshua Tree as well as multiple state parks and recreation areas. National Parks are always less dog friendly than state parks/national preserves so we did not visit National Parks on this trip. As a general rule of thumb, you can almost always find pet friendly alternatives to National Parks close by. We visited Joshua Tree National park in early 2019 but enjoyed the pet friendly options more on this road trip. Pro Tip: always opt-out of National Parks if you are visiting with your dog and look for alternative attractions. The top pet friendly destinations of the Mojave Desert are the Mojave National Preserve, Valley of Fire State Park, and Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Mojave National Preserve – California

The first day of our road trip, we drove from Los Angeles to Las Vegas by traveling through the Mojave National Preserve. There are many pet friendly destinations throughout the preserve but we have highlighted the two most unique experiences. Before entering the Mojave, be sure to fill up your gas tank as there aren’t any gas stations once you are inside.

Kelso Sand Dunes with your Dogs

Our first stop in the Mojave with the dogs were the Kelso Sand Dunes. The dunes tower at over 600 feet so you can’t miss them – depending on the direction that you are traveling, you will turn off Kelbaker Road onto Kelso-Dunes Road where you will continue for 4 miles until the trail restrooms at the trailhead. Kelso-Dunes Road is unpaved and bumpy but is passable by most vehicles without 4WD.

The dunes cover 45 square miles and due to the shifting sand, there is no marked trail to the top. Keep your eyes on the tallest summit as your goal or follow the footprints in the sand. The trail trends upwards with up and down hills of sand until the final climb to the top. If you are walking upwards, you know you are going the right way. Luckily, it is impossible to get lost as you will always be able to see your goal (the highest sand dune) in front of you and the parking lot behind you.

As the crow flies, the entire experience covers around 3 miles, but the climb is strenuous – not a walk at the beach.  As you climb, each step becomes more difficult and you will find yourself falling into a 2 step forward, 1 step back pattern. The final summit is the hardest so rather than going up the largest dune, try to find an easier path (on the right side of the ridge). Walking along the ridge is easier than climbing the largest dune  head on. As you walk, your steps will create little sand avalanches below but eventually, you will make it to the top.

Once you make it to the top of the summit, have a seat and take in the views before you roll or run back down. When we visited, a sand storm started without warning once we reached the top. The storm made it difficult to see our way back down and the wind turned the sand into tornados. As we made our way back down, many of the hikers had to turn back as the winds continued picking up. We got back to the car covered in sand but satisfied with the beautiful views we enjoyed from the dunes.

Bring your dogs to the Mojave Desert Lava Tube (4WD Needed)

What is a lava tube?

A lava tube is an underground cave that has been formed by hardened lava. Lava tubes are made interesting by spotlights from above where holes in the molten lava let in light. Without the spotlights from the sky above, the tube would just be a dark cave.

When is the best time of day to visit the Mojave lava tube?

We visited the lava tube at sunset and found that the lighting was very dim compared to what we would have experienced around mid day (11am-2pm) with the sun higher in the sky. From research I have done online, the best time to visit the lava tube is right around noon. The strength of the light beams you experience from the holes in the ceiling of the tubes will depend on the sun’s strength on the day you visit.

The road to the trailhead

The pet friendly Mojave Desert lava tube is another unique desert experience – If you decide to go to the lava tube, make sure to look up the route beforehand and familiarize yourself with the path to the trailhead: the turnoff from Kelbaker Road is unmarked (about 15 miles from the Kelso Depot). If approaching on Kelbaker Road from the Kelso Depot, turn right on the unmarked Aiken Mine Road. Keep left when you eventually get to the fork to remain on Aiken Mine Road. Eventually, you will reach what appears to be a parking lot and the lava tube is about 1/4 mile from parking. The road to the trail head is very bumpy – do not attempt without a high clearance or 4WD vehicle. The sand is relatively deep in parts and there are alternating areas of rocks and holes on your way to the trailhead. We were perfectly safe with our 4WD Subaru Outback but would not have attempted with a normal sized Sedan.

Finding the lava tube entrance

Watch this 2 minute video from California Through my Lens for a look at how to find the lava tube.

Once you park your car, you will head up a path lined with lava rock. Keep to the right and within a few minutes, you will see a few mounds of lava rocks. Continue towards the mounds of lava rocks until you see holes in the ground. The holes indicate that you are walking over the lava tube! Those holes are where the light shines through from above once you are in the tube. Finding these holes in the ground means you are close to the entrance!

Steep staircase with a dog: the lava tube entrance

Once you reach the large hole in the ground with the metal staircase, you’ve found the lava tube! The entrance to the lava tube is to the left once you get down the steep (but stable) staircase. I was alone with the two dogs and luckily they were confident enough to make their way up and down the staircase. In order to stay safe,  I went down first and then called the dogs down one by one. If your dog is afraid of open back or steep stairs, you may have to carry them down. The staircase is very stable but is almost a 90 degree incline. Calvin and Samson were so ready to explore the lava tube that they nearly flew down once I called them to meet me.

Explore the lava tube with your dogs!

Once you reach the bottom of the staircase, you are almost to the final attraction! The tube begins to the left of the staircase – you need to walk down and into the darkness for a few moments (use your phone flashlight) before you find the wide, open cavern on the other side. The opening to the tube is only about 3 feet tall so you will crouch down (watch your head!) and walk a few steps into the dark. Don’t worry, it’s only a few steps to the main cavern. The main cavern isn’t particularly long – only a few hundred feet but the adventure to getting there was all part of the experience. Take a moment to enjoy the quiet peace-fullness alone with your dogs. We spent about thirty minutes enjoying the lava tube and by the time we emerged, the sun was setting over the desert. Our next stop – Las Vegas.

As we drove onwards to Las Vegas, we watched the sun continue to set over the desert. We were meeting up with the rest of our family in Vegas, so the day in the desert had been just me alone with the dogs. It was a strange experience spending the day with my two companions who asked for nothing but my presence. At first, I was worried that I would get lonely without speaking to (or seeing) any humans for a entire day. Instead, I felt far from alone even as we crouched into the darkness of an underground cave.

Las Vegas with Fido – Nevada

Is Las Vegas Pet Friendly? 

The top reason we stopped in Las Vegas during this road trip was to take a rest and explore the pet friendly attractions that are driving distance from the Vegas Strip. Many of the hotels in Las Vegas are pet friendly and have dog relief areas throughout the complexes. However, pets are only allowed to walk on the Las Vegas strip between the hours of 5am to noon so we do not consider Vegas to be particularly pet friendly. Pets are allowed to walk through casinos if they are going to and from their hotel rooms but not allowed for any other reason.  Additionally, pets are not permitted in the dining or shopping areas  If your dog is a legitimate service dog (ESA is not included), it is exempt from these regulations. We stayed in Las Vegas as we were passing through to Utah during our road trip and the hotel had no issues with two dogs in the hotel room. Calvin adhered to the rules and still had a lot of fun in the hotel room during out visit, while Samson (a service dog) accompanied us throughout the day.

This was my first time visiting Las Vegas and we stayed at the pet friendly Cosmopolitan right next to the Bellagio fountains on the Vegas Strip. I highly recommend staying right on the Vegas Strip during your stay – this will allow you to walk around but also take breaks throughout the day if necessary. The following hotels on the Vegas Strip are Pet Friendly: The Cosmopolitan, The Mirage, Bally’s, Delano, Planet Hollywood, Bellagio, Four Seasons.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area – Nevada

20 minutes from Las Vegas, your dog is welcome at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. During our stay, a massive storm was crossing through the region so we were unable to fully enjoy the red rocks. Start at the visitor center area to check out the trails, use the restroom, and fill up on water. Check out the available trails here to determine the right distance for you and your dog.

Valley of Fire State Park – Nevada

The Fire Wave is dog friendly!

The famous “Wave” at Coyote Buttes in Utah is breathtaking but unfortunately requires an almost impossible to acquire permit. Luckily, you can enjoy a smaller version of the famous wave for free and without permits in the Valley of Fire State Park! The Fire Wave’s orange and white stripes are wild – until you actually approach and walk on the sandstone you may be convinced that the stripes are painted on. The stripes are a natural phenomena found in sedimentary rocks accumulating in layers over thousands of years. Parking is available at the Fire Wave trailhead and the 1.5 mile out and back trail is well marked.

White Domes Trail

The White Domes Trail packs all of the magic of the Valley of Fire into a short 1 mile loop – sandstone formations, slot canyons, colorful rocks. The trail starts off with a steep rocky slope but flattens out after the initial descent. The trail leads to a wide slot canyon and then ends with a sandy path surrounded by red rocks. Ample parking and restrooms are available at the trailhead.


Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness – Utah

On what ended up being the last night of our road trip, we found ourselves in Hildale, Utah….in a snowstorm. We cuddled up in an airbnb that was essentially just a bed surrounded by 4 walls of wood planks…and a makeshift “roof”. We slept with all our winter gear on and woke up to a fresh layer of snow the next morning. This was Samson’s first snow, and he loved it!

Unfortunately, we were unable to complete most of the items on the list below due to the storm that followed us along the trip. We were only able to visit the Toadstools Hoodoos but wanted to include the other items as they were at the top of our list if we had been able to. The weather conditions were so sketchy, that when we arrived at the Bureau of Land Management visitor center, the rangers warned us not to try any of the more difficult to access trails. Slot canyons can become extremely dangerous during inclement weather as they can fill up with water and flood. Additionally, the clay along the canyons becomes very slippery in the rain so even the one trail we did complete was very dicey. We didn’t even attempt to try the sandy roads as those had turned into slush.

Toadstools Hoodoos

After checking out the Bureau of Land Management for trail information, the rangers recommended that we attempt the Toadstools Hoodoos trail down the road. The Toadstools Hoodoos trail is a 1.8 mile out and back hike that under good weather conditions should be relatively simple. Due to the storm passing through, the clay on the trail was especially slippery and we had to get on our hands and knees to get up some of the hills. The creek was flowing and our easy hike turned into quite an adventure over the soft clay soil. This trail starts at the wide canyon opening that eventually narrows and leads to the rock formations that resemble mushrooms.

White Pocket (High clearance vehicle needed)

White pocket is another destination that allows you to enjoy an alternative to the famous “Wave” at Coyote Buttes. Getting to the white pocket is part of the adventure but should not be attempted without a high clearance vehicle and/or 4WD. Check the current road conditions at the BLM office before attempting to get to White Pocket. The sand is very deep and the road sees little traffic in the event of your car getting stuck. See here for more information on how to access white pocket plus some additional landmarks to visit.

The Wave at Coyote Buttes (Lottery required)

Although we did not win the lottery to hike The Wave at Coyote Buttes, we do want to call it out as a highlight of the region. We have some friends who were lucky enough to visit with their corgi and documented their adventure here. If you are planning on visiting the region, try your luck with a lottery ticket to “Surf the Wave” at Coyote Buttes.

Lake Powell & Antelope Canyon (Dogs only allowed if kayaking into the canyon)

Antelope Canyon remains on our bucket list after this trip but we wanted to include it as it is a once in a lifetime experience with your dog if you are willing to kayak into the canyon. Dogs are unfortunately not allowed on the guided tours but with some online research and help from some great Dog Moms, we found that a good amount of the famous canyons can actually be explored as long as you kayak into an alternate entrance. If you are interested in this adventure, check out Born Wild & Fancy and Pawsitive Development as they have detailed descriptions on how to have a pet friendly adventure in Antelope Canyon with the dogs. Check out Amber’s great video of her Antelope Canyon Adventure below:

Horseshoe Bend – Arizona

Our road trip was supposed to extend further into the Grand Canyon, but as weather conditions worsened, we made the call to see Horseshoe Bend and then turn back to sunny Los Angeles. We are grateful to have been able to see Horseshoe Bend right before the hail began but definitely need to redo this road trip with better weather in the coming years.

Getting to the Rim of Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend refers to the beautiful aerial view of the Colorado River looping around Glen Canyon. To get to the trailhead, pay the $10.00 parking fee per vehicle and follow the crowds. To avoid the worst crowds, it is best to visit Horseshoe Bend at sunrise. From the parking lot, it is about a 10-15 minute walk to the famous view over Glen Canyon. A lot of the viewpoints are not fenced so please exercise caution when taking photos or approaching the edge. Additionally, dogs must be kept on leash – the photos below have experienced some photo magic and are also taken from an angle that creates the illusion of being close to the edge while actually being very far from it.

Final Thoughts

It was a shame that our trip was washed out from the storm but we still managed to enjoy our time together as a family. The areas we visited were extremely dog friendly and we will definitely be back soon hoping for better weather conditions. Next time, we’re hoping to check off Antelope Canyon and White Pocket.

Happy Roadtrippin’
-Your Pal Cal