Las Vegas reels in visitors with its endless nightlife, glitz, glam, and bustling casinos. But just an hour or two from the Strip, some of nature's most alluring landscapes beg 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 outdoors during the day, and return back to the neon lights of America's only night time scenic byway after sunset.
From Las Vegas, hit the road for the storied Valley of Fire, Nevada's oldest and most popular state park, just 55 miles northeast of the city. Las Vegas nature is otherworldly. Bust out that camera to capture iconic roadscapes that 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 marvels 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. Make sure to swing by the visitors' center to learn about the park's natural history, unique geology, plants, wildlife, and more.
TravelNevada PROTIP: 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. This is also when Nevada's desert bighorn sheep are most active. But, remember that unless you’ve managed to score a first come, first served campground (plan ahead!), the park is closed and off limits from sunset to sunrise.
Only 42 miles ahead is Mesquite! When heading northwest to this community, depart Valley of Fire on the eastern side to drive through Moapa Valley and dive head first into the mystique of the Mojave Desert. Stop by the Lost City Museum to peel back the enriching and vast history of the Ancestral Puebloans 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 other replica structures modeled after the pueblo dwellings they occupied nearly 12,000 years ago (not to mention Valley of Fire State Park and many other classic Nevada attractions).
As a true oasis in the middle of the desert, Mesquite, Nevada, 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 most 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.
TravelNevada PRO TIP: Got a little extra time? The Virgin Valley Heritage Museum is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of just two known Nevada examples of Pueblo Revival buildings—more handiwork of the Civilian Conservation Corps. That, and the Mesquite Fine Arts Center & Gallery are some of the best art museums in the southern end of the state.
Whether you're heading from Las Vegas to Boulder City, or Boulder City to Las Vegas, Boulder City and the Hoover Dam are simply just sights to be seen.
Hop on Interstate 515 southbound for a quick 20-minute drive from Las Vegas and you'll come across the charming, frozen-in-time community of Boulder City. Here, life slows down a bit in all of 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 constructed with zero gaming and remains that way today as one of Nevada's only gaming-free communities. 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 star—while they were touring Hoover Dam. The hotel has been immaculately restored with historic integrity in mind and has landed a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Grab breakfast at the on-site restaurant and be sure to check out the Boulder City - Hoover Dam Museum, which is devoted to telling the history of the Dam, and Boulder City’s history 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? Well, 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, Hoover 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 take note of the Dam's art deco mastery—it's truly impressive, whether you are an art aficionado or a 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.
While you're in Boulder, try to make a stop at the Boulder City-Hoover Dam Museum, which tells the story of the building of the dam as well as of the lives of the people who actually accomplished it. This led to the development of Boulder City and its storied success. The museum is located inside the Boulder Dam Hotel, so it's hard to miss!
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), checking out Bootleg Canyon, or taking a sightseeing plane ride from Papillon Grand Canyon’s Boulder City terminal, which offers tours to the nearby Grand Canyon.
Great meals call hungry visitors at the Coffee Cup or 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. If you have the bonus of being in Boulder City in the evening hours, or even choose to 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.
Pushing on from Boulder City to Laughlin? En route to Laughlin, 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 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, so if you’ve got a few extra minutes, take the Techatticup Mine Tour at Eldorado Canyon. It's worth it in more ways than one.
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 with 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.
One of Las Vegas’s best-kept secrets is the recreational bliss that awaits in the Spring Mountains. This area, conveniently hidden behind one mountain range that separates it from the Strip, includes more than 316,000 acres of wilderness and is home to 10 major canyons—all just 30 minutes away from downtown Las Vegas.
More than two million people visit Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area each year, 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 continue 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 and hear stories of its former days as a Chinchilla Ranch.
If you’d like to stick around a little longer, 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 enjoyable 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 – the oldest bar in southern Nevada, which 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 Rhyolite went under, it was salvaged and hauled off to Goodsprings and has been open for business slinging frosty libations ever since. Ready? Loop right back to Sin City for the night.
A trip to Las Vegas 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.
There are many places to stay in Vintage Vegas to get your neon fix, especially if you’re hitting Fremont. There’s no better way to spend your stint overnight than at the El Cortez. Since its opening in 1941, the El Cortez boasts the badge of the longest, continually running hotel and casino in Vegas. If those walls could talk, we bet they’d have some good stories to tell.
If downtown is more your vibe, the Downtown Grand Las Vegas should be number one on your list. 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 some pretty dramatic and extremely well-done renovations 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.
One last recommendation for the James Bond lovers out there: the Plaza Hotel & Casino. The Plaza is so iconically 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 a Vintage Vegas, mobster-inspired stay. Grab dinner at the legendary Oscar’s Steakhouse which overlooks Fremont Street, then catch “A Mob Story,” a live entertainment show devoted to the wiseguys of Sin City.
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