NEON TO NATURE: VEGAS, MESQUITE, BOULDER CITY, LAUGHLIN & GOODSPRINGS
Points of Interest
NEON TO NATURE: VEGAS, MESQUITE, BOULDER CITY, LAUGHLIN & GOODSPRINGS
Las Vegas reels in visitors with its endless nightlife, glitz and glam, and bustling casinos. But just an hour or two from the Strip, some of nature’s most alluring landscapes wait to be explored. With day trips in every direction, there’s plenty to satisfy your adventurous side without having to travel too far from the entertainment capital of the world. Explore the great ourdoors during the day, and return back to the neon lights of America’s only nighttime scenic byway after sunset.
500.2 miles/818 kilometers
This #NVRoadTrip is broken into three separate day trips, each returning back to Vegas for the evening. For Leg 1, check out the map HERE. For Leg 2, check out the map HERE. For Leg 3, check out the map HERE.
LEG 1: Las Vegas to Valley of Fire State Park, Mesquite, and back to Vegas
LEG 2: Las Vegas to Boulder City, to Hoover Dam, Laughlin, and back to Vegas
LEG 3: Las Vegas to Red Rock National Conservation Area, to Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, Goodsprings, and back to Vegas
LEG 1: LAS VEGAS TO VALLEY OF FIRE STATE PARK, MESQUITE, AND BACK TO VEGAS
From Las Vegas, hit the road for the storied Valley of Fire, Nevada’s oldest state park, just 55 miles northeast of the city. Bust out that camera to capture iconic roadscapes the park (and state) are so well known for, situated in vibrant, iron-laden rock formations that are so colorful it appears the valley is actually ablaze.
Here, plan on cruising through multi-colored sandstone marvel at Rainbow Vista, or hit the trail at Mouse’s Tank and explore ancient petroglyphs left thousands of years ago by Moapa Valley’s first inhabitants. Swing by the visitors’ center to learn about the park’s natural history, unique geology, plants, wildlife, and more.
TravelNevada PRO TIP: It’s best to get out to Valley of Fire early in the morning when the sunrise illuminates the red and orange rocks and wildlife, like Nevada’s desert bighorn sheep, are most active. But, remember that unless you’ve managed to score a first come, first served campground, the park is closed and off limits after dark.
Next stop: only 42 miles ahead in Mesquite! When heading northwest to this community, depart Valley of Fire on the eastern side to drive through Moapa Valley to dive into yourself in the mystique of the Mojave Desert. Stop by the Lost City Museum and to peel back the enriching and vast history of the Anasazi culture who first inhabited the region.
Though their original dwellings were flooded when Lake Mead was created in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built the Lost City Museum, and many replica structures modeled after the pueblo dwellings they occupied nearly 12,000 years ago.
As a true oasis in the middle of the desert, Mesquite has more than enough golf courses and resorts to choose from. After exploring the amazing outdoor recreation Mesquite has to offer, kick back with a mineral bath or luxury spa treatment. Or, regain some strength with a meal at 1880 Grille where you can get your hands on the restaurant’s famous burgers or stacked high sandwiches before saying goodbye to the majestic Virgin River Valley and its picturesque mountain backdrop. Hit the road back to Sin City for the night.
Stayin the night on the Strip with kiddos in tow? We get it, there is more than enough to choose from. If you’re traveling with a family, these are our top hits.
The Mirage – Kick back at a super fun family-friendly pool situation, or spend the afternoon at the property’s Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat. 3400 S. Las Vegas Boulevard, Las Vegas, NV 89109 (702) 791-7111
Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower – as the nation’s largest free-standing observation tower, this is a stop to make, kids in tow or not. Grab a bite at the Top fo the World, a rotating restaurant on top of the Stratosphere tower that delivers 360 views of the Strip. If you’re feeling adventurous, check out the Sky Jump – a 829 controlled free fall from the stop of the Stratosphere tower itself. 2000 S. Las Vegas Boulevard, Las Vegas, NV 89104 (702) 380-7777
Golden Nugget Las Vegas – Shark Tank Pool. Need we say more? Consider this Vegas poolside experience unlike any other, with a 200,000 gallon shark tank aquarium featuring water slides that go right through it. Plus, the property houses the second-largest gold nugget in existence. 129 Fremont Street, Las Vegas, NV 89101 (702) 385-7111
New York New York Hotel & Casino – Explore “The Neighborhood”, one of the property’s newer districts that features an electic blend of restaurants and entertainment. Or, kick it old school and stick to the roller coaster and arcade the hotel is so well known for. 3790 S. Las Vegas Boulevard, Las Vegas, NV 89109 (702) 710-6969
LEG 2: LAS VEGAS TO BOULDER CITY, TO HOOVER DAM, LAUGHLIN, AND BACK TO VEGAS
Hop on Interstate 515 southbound for a quick 20-minute drive, and you’ll come across the charming, frozen-in-time community of Boulder City. Here, life slows down a bit in all the most satisfying ways. Originally established as a temporary home for workers building Hoover Dam, the area is home to only about 15,000 residents. Contrary to its neighboring community, Boulder City was originally construcuted with zero gaming, and remains that way today as Nevada’s only gaming-free community. The reason? Contractors didn’t want their workers distracted by liquor and casinos, or gambling away all their hard earned money after work.
While in town, stop by the Boulder Dam Hotel, which was originally built to host the upper crust, like politicians and movie stars while touring Hoover Dam. The hotel has been immaculately restored with historic integrity in mind, and landed a spot on National Register of Historic Places. Grab breakfast at the on-site restaurant, and be sure to check out the Boulder City - Hoover Dam Museum – devoted to telling the history of the Dam, and Boulder City history as a whole – on the first floor of the hotel.
TravelNevada PRO TIP: Looking for a bit of adventure that involves bouldering, climbing ropes, and of course, natural hot springs, take U.S. 93 towards Hoover Dam to Gold Strike Hot Spring. As one of southern Nevada’s only public hot springs, this 4.4 mile hike down to the springs is a great detour if you have an entire afternoon to explore. Due to crazy-high temperatures, the Gold Strike trailhead is closed annually from May 15 to Sept. 30. Who wants to soak in hot springs in 100 degree heat anyway? To explore this truly amazing recreational haven during the summer months, do this: rent a kayak, or book a tour through Desert Adventures, where you can drop in at the base of Hoover Dam on the Colorado River and kayak into the springs.
Hoover Dam is one of history’s modern marvels and is just minutes away from Boulder City. Built to produce hydroelectric power and water for irrigation, the dam was completed in its entirety in 1936, two years ahead of schedule. Towering more than 726 feet high, the Dam hosts 4,360,000 cubic yards of concrete in the dam…which is rumored to still be curing.
Take a guided tour of the Visitor Center and Powerplant or discover some of the dam’s passageways with the Hoover Dam Tour. Before leaving, be sure to make note of the Dam’s art deco mastry…it’s truly impressive to an art afficionado or the casual visitor. Important designers were brought in from California to create this vibe, most notably the original terrazzo floors on the Dam tour, and the Winged Figures of the Republic. Don’t forget to rub their toes, which is said to bring good luck on those casino floors.
Return to Boulder city to check out the Nevada State Railroad Museum - Boulder City, which has preserved the original 1930s rail lines that delivered building supplies to Hoover Dam. Other Boulder City options include Flightlinez Bootleg Canyon, biking the River Mountains Loop Trail (All Mountain Cyclery rents bikes and offers bike tours) or Bootleg Canyon, or a sightseeing plane ride from Papillion Grand Canyon’s Boulder City terminal, which offers tours to the nearby Grand Canyon.
Before hitting the road for Laughlin, grab lunch at the Coffee Cup or the The Dillinger in Boulder City’s walkable Historic Downtown area. Satisfy your sweet tooth with shaved ice or frozen yogurt at Chilly Jilly’z before hopping on Interstate 95 south to Laughlin. And, if you have the bonus of being in Boulder City in the evening hours, or even opt for an overnighter here, keep your eyes peeled for neon. One of the best pockets of original, vintage neon in the state has been hiding right under your nose in Boulder City's Historic District.
En route to Laughin, take a slight detour just a few miles off of I-95 to the ghost town of Nelson and the Techatticup Mine. The place honestly looks like an unstaged movie set, with props and historic relics like classic cars, and a crashed plane featured in the 2001 film 3000 Miles to Graceland. These man-made contributions are housed in the spectacular Eldorado Canyon, and together, it should come as no surprise that Techatticup IS in fact an unintentional set that hosts hundreds of commercial photo and video shoots each year.
Eldorado Canyon is also home to the first major gold strike in Nevada, thanks to Spaniards that discovered gold all the way back in the 1700s. Many of the existing mines here today were created by deserters of the Civil War, and if you’ve got a few extra minutes, take the Techatticup Mine Tour at Eldorado Canyon. It’s worth it in ways that are hard to articulate in just a few short sentences.
Just two hours south of Las Vegas lies the sunny city of Laughlin. The town sits on a slice of the Colorado River Valley where Nevada, California, and Arizona converge. As Nevada’s southernmost community, Laughlin is known for being a family-friendly outdoor destination. Check out some ancient petroglyphs at Christmas Tree Pass, or stay closer to town and enjoy the panoramic Laughlin RiverWalk. Another amazing way to take in the unmatched surrounding Mojave Desert landscape is by booking a cruise on the blue waters of the Colorado River on a London Bridge Jet Boat Tour. No matter how you cut it, this hidden gem has it all from premier golf to 24-hour gaming resorts. Hit the road back to Sin City for the night.
CATCH SOME ZZZs
So you’re in Vegas for the night and ready to live like a High Roller. With this lineup, there’s no better way to live large in Sin City.
ARIA Las Vegas – The epitome of a luxury casino, this amazing non-smoking boutique hotel divies up expansive views of the Strip, is centrally located, and boasts a super high-quality service. Packed with impressive high brow art, fine dining, a spa, and The Shops at Crystals (think Balenciaga, Dior and Hermes,) this overnighter will be one you won’t soon forget. 3730 South Las Vegas Boulevard, Las Vegas NV 89158 (702) 590-7111
Cosmopolitan Las Vegas – Connected to the ARIA, The Cosmopolitan is also non-smoking and one of the Strip’s newer properties. Grab a cocktail at the two-story Chandelier bar, that looks like an actual gigantic chandelier and features drinks that change taste as you drink them, catch a show at The Opium theater, or grab dinner at one of the property’s amazing selection of restaurants, like Rose Rabbit Lie. 3708 South Las Vegas Boulevard, Las Vegas, NV 89109 (702) 698-7000
The Cromwell Hotel Las Vegas – This luxury hotel is part of the Casear’s Empire, and that alone benchmarks its quality. Situated right in the heart of the action, pop across the promenade for the LINQ and High Roller, or dive into true Las Vegas nightlife, with rooftop bars and clubs like Drai’s Beachclub. 3595 South Las Vegas Boulevard, Las Vegas, NV 89109 (702) 777-3777
LEG 3: LAS VEGAS TO RED ROCK NATIONAL CONSERVATION AREA, TO SPRING MOUNTAIN RANCH STATE PARK, GOODSPRINGS AND BACK TO VEGAS
One of Las Vegas’ best kept secrets is the recretional bliss that awaits in the Spring Mountains. This area, conveniently hidden behind one mountain range that separates it from the Strip, includes 195,819 acres of wilderness and is home to 10 major canyons, and is all just 30 minutes away from the Strip. Before you dive into the Springs, enjoy some steak and eggs for breakfast at Bonnie Springs Ranch Motel & Resort. More than 2 million people visit Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which boasts large sandstone peaks and red-banded canyons. Aside from being ranked as the best outdoor climbing gym on earth, the area also features ancient petroglyphs, and has one of the most significant features at Red Rock: the Keystone Thrust. The hiking trail that skirts Keystone Thrust is incredible in and of itself, but this feature is geologically important because it shows a fault line that was created over 60 million years ago. If you’d prefer to admire this spectacularly scenic landscape more comfortably, drink in unmatched views from the Red Rock Canyon Backcountry Byway – a 13 mile loop that stretches through these incredible public lands.
Continue south for a short five minute drive to Spring Mountain Ranch State Park. The same natural springs that attracted weary pioneers to this lush valley in the 1860s continues to capture the attention of modern day visitors and locals alike. Here, kick back on the expansive, lush lawn (an amenity that’s not so common in this desert metropolis,) explore the historic ranch house itself and hear stories of its former days as a chinchilla ranch. And, if you’ve got extra time, enroll in some of the park’s signature programs, like Paint with a Ranger, or embark on a ranger-led moonlight hike. The park has similar terrain to Red Rock Canyon, but with a fraction of the crowd and is legitimately enjoable no matter the season.
TravelNevada PRO TIP: Explore some of the oldest buildings in Nevada at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park: an 1860s blacksmith shop; the Sandstone Cabin that was home to the ranch’s founding family; and the ranch house, which now serves as the park’s visitors’ center.
Head back into Las Vegas to grab some lunch before heading south on Interstate 15 for a quick 40 minute drive to Goodsprings and an afternoon of historic mountain biking for your next gravel grinding adventure. Soak in the history of the town’s last standing saloon – conveniently the oldest bar in southern Nevada, and still operates today. The Pioneer Saloon was added to the State Register of Historic Places in 2007 and certainly has an Old West feel to it. This unique bar traveled by sea from the East Coast, around Cape Horn (before the Panama Canal existed), to San Francisco. From there, it traveled via ox-wagon to Rhyolite, a Nevada mining town that went bust nearly as soon as it boomed in the early 1900s. Once Rhyolitebust, it was salvaged and hauled off to Goodsprings and has been open for business, sliging frosty libations since. Hit the road back to Sin City for the night.
CATCH SOME ZZZs
A tril to Sin City isn’t complete without channeling some true Vintage Vegas vibes, right? Head for Fremont Street, otherwise known as Downtown Las Vegas, where you can let your imagination run wild in the Rat Pack’s former stomping grounds.
El Cortez Hotel & Casino – If you’re hitting Fremont, there is no better way to spend your stint overnight than at the El Cortez. Since opening in 1941, the El Cortez boasts the badge of the longest continually running hotel and casino in Vegas,. If these walls could talk, I bet they’d have some good stories to tell. 600 Fremont Street, Las Vegas, NV 89101 (702) 385-5200
Downtown Grand Las Vegas – Considering this is the part of town that hosted the original Strip, the properties here have lived multiple lives. Formerly the storied Lady Luck Hotel & Casino, the property underwent a dramatic, extremely well-done renovation in 2013. Today, the Downtown Grand operates as one of the only boutique hotels on Fremont, with a whopping 35,000 square foot urban rooftop pool retreat. 206 North 3rd Street, Las Vegas, NV 89101 (702) 719-5100
Plaza Hotel & Casino – James Bond, anyone? The Plaza is so iconicly Vegas that a handful of movies, like Diamonds are Forever, and Casino have been filmed at The Plaza, making it all the more of a qualifier for aVintage Vegas, mobster-inspired stay. Grab dinner at the legendary Oscar’s Steakhouse, that overlooks Fremont Street, then catch “A Mob Story”, a live entertainment show devoted to the wiseguys of Sin City. 1 South Main Street, Las Vegas, NV 89101 (702) 385-2110
Globe-trotting travel writer Alexandra Baackes finds herself back in the Silver State and headed to Black Rock City for the week-long Burning Man Festival, and couldnt be more psyched to get back "home"