When your schedule doesn’t allow you to visit remote areas, but you are still itching for nature, an outer urban trail is a welcome relief. My favorite lies within the Clark County Wetlands Park, where the trail doesn’t just lead you away from the sounds of the city, but also offers great opportunities for bird watching.
The 2,900 acre park’s most prominent feature is its 13-mile loop trail for hikers and bikers, mostly paved except for a short gravel section on the southwest end of the loop starting west of the Pabco Trailhead and continuing on north to the Nature Center. If you are not up for tackling the entire loop, there are six parking areas around the loop where you can access the trail and return the way you came.
For birding the top areas in my opinion are between the Pabco, Wells and Tarrazza Park trailheads, all located near or on Galleria Drive. From Pabco Trailhead it will be about 3.6 miles roundtrip to Wells Trailhead or 5.8 miles roundtrip to Terrazo Park.
These segments travel near and close to the Las Vegas Wash, which is the primary drainage for the valley, and enters Lake Mead just east of Lake Las Vegas. Along these segments you will find a healthy riparian environment and ponds teeming with birds and other wildlife. There are some old gravel roads and paths to walk down to the water. Use only these established paths, to avoid trampling any plants. Shorelines and natural benches here have been lovingly replanted with native herbage, which needs time to get established.
The wash has also been improved with weirs, manmade barriers designed to alter the flow downstream. They help control erosion, create sandbars, and generate a healthier habitat. Deeper ponds between the weirs are great places to see osprey, great blue heron, and great egrets. Other birds that I have seen in these ponds include green heron, belted kingfisher, black-crowned night heron, common loon, western grebe, hooded merganser, American widgeon and sandhill crane.
More than 212 species of birds, plus 70 species of mammals and reptiles, have been identified in the park. It is one of the few places you might catch a glimpse of a beaver too.
Sunrise and dusk are the best times to view wildlife and birds, but here, encounters are likely even during the day. Before you set out be sure to download the Wetlands Park map to find the trailhead of your choice. Don’t forget your binoculars and a bird-identification book, my recommendation would be the Sibley Guide to Western Birds.
Never stand near the wash if it has been raining or rain threatens. The flash flood potential is extremely dangerous and the water can rise so fast in a matter of seconds that it can easily pull you into the current. Swimming, wading, hunting, shooting, fishing, campfires, camping and motorized vehicles are all disallowed in Wetlands Park. There is a Nature Center and Exhibit Hall on the far northwest side of the trail and is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at 7050 E. Wetlands Park Lane. The Park is open from dawn to dusk.
Directions: From U.S. 93/95 in Henderson, exit onto Galleria Drive and go east for about 3.1 miles. Go left on Western Ridge Street. Follow for about one mile and take the sharp left for about 0.2 miles to Pabco Trailhead and parking area. From the intersection of Galleria Drive/Western Ridge Road you can follow Galleria Drive east 2.75 miles farther to the Well’s Trailhead or 3.9 miles to Tarrazzo Park.