With the bright lights, gambling casinos, and mega-resorts of Las Vegas catching most of the tourism headlines, it is easy to forget that there are numerous places worthy of a visit or day trip within easy reach of the city center. Many of these trips can be centered around areas of natural beauty, which provide a host of outdoor activities as well as a relaxing environment. The following describes just a few of these areas.
The Red Rock Canyons
There are a number of canyons located not too far from Las Vegas that can be reached by either car or plane. The closest, Red Rock Canyon, is fifteen miles west of the city. It provides an amazing array of rock formations, including a three thousand foot high escarpment that creates a natural barrier to the desert. With a visitor center that is open throughout the year and its attraction for climbing and mountain biking, this location is ideal for those in search of an adventure in the outdoors.
A greater distance from Las Vegas (300 miles), but still reachable in an hour by plane, is the world-renowned Grand Canyon. Running a mile deep and following the course of the Colorado River for around 277 miles, the Grand Canyon is one of the world’s most beautiful and famous natural attractions.
This destination has spawned all types of tourist sightseeing innovations. These include a helicopter bird’s eye tour and a bus tour that takes in the famous Hoover dam.
Despite the distance, visiting the Grand Canyon on a day trip from Las Vegas is not uncommon. However, few people have the chance to ride through the canyon by raft on the Colorado River. This epic day trip is long. The pickup from your hotel is at 4:00 am, and you get dropped back around 8:00 pm – but it is totally worth it.
After a bus transfer, you get into the river at Diamond Creek. The Grand Canyon river trips are on a motorized raft, so you proceed quickly through the Western Canyon. It’s not the tallest section of the canyon, but it is still amazing being surrounded by the canyon walls as you cross through nine major rapids. The canyon rafting experience is a thrill ride, so you should be prepared to get wet!
There is also a short optional hike to the picturesque Travertine Falls.
There are two options for the second half of the day trip. You can get out at Quartermaster Canyon after 37 miles and take a short helicopter ride to the canyon’s rim. If you choose this option, you can also visit the Skywalk (when open) in the afternoon.
The other option is to stay on the raft and travel through calm water all the way to Lake Mead. Then you’ll board a bus for the transfer back to Las Vegas. If so, you get to spend the whole day on the water and dry off in the afternoon. No matter which option you choose, you will have a fantastic day out from Vegas that very few people have. The trip is available for ages 8 years and up.
There is plenty to fill your day at this historically natural site no matter what you decide to do.
Then there is Death Valley, located 135 miles from Vegas which. Although not strictly a canyon, it has some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in the area and is the lowest point in America at 280 feet below sea level. Keep in mind, this is not a place to visit in the height of summer. The intense heat trapped in this location shows how the valley got its name.
35 miles west of Las Vegas, the desert landscape is interrupted by a high range of mountains. The tallest peak in this group belongs to Mount Charleston, rising to nearly 12,000 feet. The much cooler temperatures on the mountain make it a regular magnet for those who wish to try their hand at skiing or horseback riding. For the more relaxed, the mountains also provide the ability to gather around the picnic table or indulge in a gentle hike around its lower slopes. With accommodations available close by, Mount Charleston provides an ideal break from the bustle of Las Vegas.
Seven Magic Mountains
For those who enjoy water sports or simply want to relax by the shore, the Lake Mead recreational area is only a 25-mile drive from Las Vegas. Set amidst a beautiful natural landscape, this lake offers the relaxation of a romantic walk or picnic on the shore. For the more active, there is a host of water-based activities. These include fishing, swimming, and boating. Local businesses also operate houseboats that can be rented for a short weekend stay.
Lake Las Vegas
Lake Las Vegas, a Mediterranean style village, can be found out in Henderson, Nevada. It’s a 320-acre artificial lake with 3,592-acres of developed area around the lake. Out here you will find a marina, shops, and restaurants. You can do an assortment of water sports like renting a boat, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding. There’s even a massive aqua park out there too that kids will love!
Valley of Fire State Park
There is an abundance of national parks within easy reach of Las Vegas that make for ideal day trip locations. These include the Valley of Fire State Park, 55 miles northwest of Vegas, which has beautiful landscapes and canyons. There are incredible hiking trails and campsites you can book. Along the trails, hieroglyphics from the indigenous people can be seen in the rock walls. Kids especially will love climbing around and exploring the boulders and alcoves.
Zion National Park
Zion, 158 miles north of Las Vegas, provides the largest bounty of activity opportunities: biking, hiking, camping, and more. It is also a popular winter ski resort. With the Virgin River running through it, Zion provides water activities as well as breathtaking views.
Hoover Dam – Boulder City
30 miles from the Strip lies Boulder City, the only town in the state of Nevada where gambling in public areas is forbidden. This historic town originally was developed to house the Hoover Dam. Much of the history of that time has been preserved for tourists to enjoy. The Hoover Dam is located just a bit further than the city out on the Colorado River, just a 40 mile drive southeast from Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Hoover Dam is a great day trip to make. Get ready to spend about three hours enjoying the magnificent views and learning about the rich history of the area.
It’s best to visit early in the morning to beat the heat and explore the dam before the crowds. You can rent a car or book a tour from Las Vegas.
Walking and driving across the Hoover Dam is free, but I recommend taking a tour. I recommend the Power Plant and the guided Hoover Dam tour. Tours are available daily, but tickets must be purchased in person and are available on a first-come-first-served basis. Only children over 8 years old can participate in the Guided Hoover Dam Tour. If you’re traveling with younger kids, you better take the Power Plant tour. Don’t forget a stroller!
During the guided Hoover Dam Tour, we learned about the history and construction while walking through their narrated exhibits. You visit the original exhibit building, historic tunnels, and ride the elevator to the top of Hoover Dam. The Power Plant is also included in this tour.
The views from the observation deck between the mountains of the Dam, the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, Lake Mead, and the Colorado River are spectacular.
You can walk or drive on the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. However, it can be a challenge if you are afraid of heights. It’s super windy up there. We just drove by the suspension bridge, and for me, that was enough.
Dress cool and wear comfortable shoes as you will be walking through the exhibits. Bring water. There is a café and a gift shop with souvenirs available.
If you wish to visit the local ghost town, then Rhyolite, located 120 miles north of Vegas, is a must visit location. Here, most of the old buildings and ruins of what once was a thriving town have been lovingly preserved for the modern tourist to enjoy.
However, perhaps the Wild West is more your style, in which case Bonnie Springs Ranch and Old Nevada are necessary. 20 miles west of Las Vegas, these two locations take you on a journey back to the days of the gunslingers and cowboys. With trains, rides, and re-enactments, these locations also provide a wonderful day trip for the whole family, especially children.
Page, Arizona is just over four hours away from Las Vegas and is a great day trip to plan on your vacation. Start your day by getting on the road early and head for Antelope Canyon, located just outside of Page. You’ll need to make reservations ahead of time, and you’ll want to be aware of the time difference between Las Vegas, NV and Page, AZ.
Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon that was created by water many, many years ago. Its unique geographical features give it a beautiful wave-like structure, and tourists from all over the world come to see it. While you can do both Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon on the same day, most people choose to only do one. Both are located on Navajo Indian land, and the only way to get to either of them is to book a tour.
Even if you don’t rent your own car, you can still book a tour that leaves from Vegas. Both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons offer fantastic photo opportunities and are known for beautiful shafts of light that sometimes shine on the red sandstone walls. Your next stop is only about 10 miles away at Horseshoe Bend. This canyon gets its name from the way the Colorado River winds its way around the rock formation and is a whopping 1,000 feet below the viewing area. It may not be the Grand Canyon, but it’s still quite a sight to see! When you’re done, make your way back to Vegas and enjoy the evening.
Sometimes it is easy to forget that Las Vegas is more than just a fun, party city. Beyond its perimeters there lies a host of other sites and locations ready to welcome and embrace the tourist who requires seeing and experiencing more of the local area and its culture. Those places identified above are just a few of the day trip locations that will certainly prove to be a wonderful experience for the more adventurous and cultural tourist.