Spending a few days in Vegas and looking to take a break from the hotels and casinos? Here are 13 ideas for fantastic day trips that will get you away from Sin City to some fascinating attractions and amazing views. No need to book anything or pay anyone, just get into your car and hit the road! You can leave early in the morning and be back in time to catch yet another Vegas show!
Why take a day trip outside of Las Vegas?
Las Vegas is definitely like no other city in the US, possibly the world. This mirage of a city in the middle of the desert, offers visitors a constant stream of shows, shops, restaurants, clubs and every possible chance to gamble. It can get overwhelming.
Few people remain indifferent to Vegas. You either love it or hate it. I’m afraid we belong to the second kind. Our first visit to Vegas was back in 2009 and within two days, we basically cut our pre-booked stay short and left town. We’ve passed through the city twice again, in 2011 and again in 2015. Both times, we basically drove through and moved on to our next destination.
That said, I know quite a few people who fell in love with Nevada’s City of Lights. They keep returning to Vegas for long vacations, enjoying everything it has to offer. The thing is, even if you’re a fan, there comes a point where you may want to get out of town for a day, just to take a break from all the glitz and lights and get a whiff of nature. If that’s the case, this post can help you. Alternatively, it may help someone in your party who realized they hated Vegas but are forced to stay there with you. Give them the car keys and send them on one of these day trips. They’ll appreciate it (and won’t bother you just when you’re about to hit the jackpot at the casino!)
This list is arranged by distance from the city. There’s map in the end where you can see where everything in located and possibly weave several of these spots together into one fun day out of the city. So, let’s see what there is to do around Las Vegas.
1. Tour Hoover Dam (40 minutes)
Hoover Dam itself is probably the one place you absolutely must-see when visiting Las Vegas. We visited in 2009 and took the full dam tour. It was then stopped for a few years and renewed not so long ago. You can a focused tour in the powerplant itself ($15 per adult), or a more detailed tour that takes you into other parts of this huge edifice ($30 per adult).
Even if you don’t have time for a guided tour, do yourself a favor and go see old Hoover, as well as the amazing Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge right across from the dam.
2. Go boating on Lake Mead (40 minutes)
Lake Mead is a huge water reservoir east of Las Vegas. Hoover Dam – on the border between Arizona and Nevada – was used to block the Colorado river in the 1930’s leading to the creation of Lake Mead.
You can drive to the Hemenway Harbor near Boulder City, rent a boat and go on the lake for the day. Add water skis or knee boards and have fun! We did something similar when visiting Page, AZ and it was a blast!
3. Get a taste of the Wild West at Bonnie Springs Ranch (40 minutes)
In the mood for a taste of the Wild West? Bonnie Springs Ranch is open Wednesdays-Sundays and offers visitors a Western Old Town experience, including live performances and shootings in the streets, a small zoo and horse riding activities. Complete the experience with bison burgers at their restaurant.
4. Take in the views at Red Rock Canyon (50 minutes)
Drive west of Vegas for less than an hour and you’ll reach Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. It’s a great hiking area if the weather is good, but even if it’s too hot for getting outdoorsy, you can still drive he scenic route and get to the Visitors Center and the outlook. Just check their website first for road condition and opening hours.
5. Hike the Charleston Peak area (50 minutes)
Does the name “Las Vegas” make you think of snowcapped mountains? No? I didn’t think so. But actually, under an hour’s drive to the west will bring you to one of the highest peaks in Nevada: Mount Charleston, and it certainly snows up there during winter time.
It’s a great area for hiking with marked trails and elevation gains that will fill your heart with joy. If yours is that kind of heart, that is (total disclosure: mine is not).
6. Follow the gold into Nelson Ghost Town & Techatticup Mine (50 minutes)
Ever dreamed of riding into the Eldorado mountains at sunset? You’ll have to time it properly for the sunset thing, and your ride may just be a car, but you can still do that not to far away from Las Vegas. Nelson is an authentic tiny Western town born out of the pursuit for gold in the Eldorado mountains.
It’s not technically a ghost town per se, as there are still people living there (37 of them by the last census) but if you’re looking for old buildings and machines, you won’t be disappointed. This site will guide you to the town.
Techatticup Mine near Nelson is a well-preserved old gold mine where you can enjoy a guided tour. Make sure you check their website and make your reservations in advance.
7. Hit the trails at the Valley of Fire State Park (1 hour)
If I were to arrange this list by “best bang for your driving time” the Valley of Fire State Park would probably be the a contender for the first place. Beautiful trails through dramatic red rock formations that make the perfect background for a great hike. You may be able to spot bighorn sheep too! Just please mind the weather. This place is very hot during summertime and potentially can be quite cold during winter time.
If you hit the right temperature, it’s probably the best place near Vegas for getting away from the neons and into nature. Full details and a trails map are available in the park’s website.
9. Travel back in time in Shoshone Village, CA (1 hour and 40 minutes)
If you’re looking for off-the-beaten-track-slash-roadside-attraction kind of places, Shoshone Village may be a good destination for you. The tiny hamlet has its own little ghost town with a twist: Dublin Gulch is a collection of “cave homes” dug into the rock by gold miners of past eras. Shoshone village also has a museum dedicated to the town’s history. Mind, the word “museum” is used fairly liberally here. It’s just a couple of rooms with interesting historic artefacts. More information about Shoshone Village is available in their website.
10. Experience Mormon heritage at St. George, Utah (1 hour and 50 minutes)
Driving east out of Vegas, past Mesquite and through the gorgeous canyon of the Virgin River, you’ll end up at the city of St. George, Utah. There’s quite a lot to see and do in this Mormon city of 80K inhabitants. If you’ve never been to Salt Lake City’s Mormon temples, you definitely should see the one in St. George. It has a large visitors center with long opening hours (more information here).
We really enjoyed our afternoon visit to St. George in the summer of 2015. There’s a sense of preserved heritage there, that runs deeper than that of SLC. Strolling along in the historic part of the city, you can also see the pioneers’ homes, including Brigham Young’s winter residence.
Visiting St George can provide an urban experience that’s mind-bogglingly different from Vegas. If you have some more time, or wish to expand this into a 2-day tour and visit the state parks just north of town, to enjoy some gorgeous Utah views.
11. Taste some Americana at Route 66, AZ (2 hours)
A couple of hours’ drive from Las Vegas will get you to historic Route 66 in Arizona, specifically around Oatman. This place is pure magic. Not just Oatman itself – a mix of ghost town and Old West attraction – but the entire section of the road.
If you’re up for an awesome drive, go from Oatman all the way to Seligman. The road takes you through Sitgreaves Pass for some great Arizona scenery. Stop to see the old mine shafts on the side of the road. When we were there, on a Sunday morning in 2011, we had the place to ourselves. Well, except for the rattlesnake.
Make sure you take the turn to old Route 66 just past Kingman, all the way to picturesque Seligman. This is the town that inspired the movie Cars and you’ll see why when you get there. Don’t forget to get an ice cream at Delgadillo’s Snow Cap! Quite the experience! You can then return via I-40 and US-93, for a shorter route back to Vegas.
12. Feel the heat at Death Valley National Park (2 hours and 20 minutes)
Another full-day drive destination would be Death Valley National Park. Overall, this is not a good choice for summertime. It really is just too hot there and you’ll have a hard time going anywhere other than right inside the Visitors Center. During October-April, conditions are more tolerable and if you have an entire free day in Las Vegas, you definitely can make it to Death Valley, take in some of the sights and be back by evening.
Check their website and plan ahead. You’re visiting America’s hottest, driest and lowest National Park and need to know where you’re going and prepare accordingly.
13. Visit Zion National Park (2 hours and 40 minutes)
Up for a longer drive? Just under three hours of driving time will get you to one of the most beautiful places in the US: Zion National Park. Arguably, one day is not enough to fully explore the trails of this amazing canyon, hike the Narrows and climb up Angel’s Landing. However, if that’s all you have, you can head out early in the morning, get there by 10AM and catch the shuttle into the park. You’d have time to see the entire canyon and hike a couple of trails before heading back to Las Vegas. That’s a whole lot more than not seeing Zion at all. Most visitors don’t hike the more challenging trails of the Narrows or Angel’s Landing anyway, so a day-visit to this park may be a great option for you.
What about the Grand Canyon?
People often ask me about visiting the Grand Canyon while staying Las in Vegas. While there are several tour operators that will take you there and back in a day, personally I think that’s not a good option for a self-drive day trip. It’s going to take you 5-6 hours each way. Doable? Sure. Worth it? I think not. You’ll hardly have time to appreciate the views and your visit will feel rushed.
If you absolutely have to check the Grand Canyon off your personal Bucket List and this is your only chance, go ahead. I would suggest looking into staying the night at Grand Canyon Village, to have some more time there, seeing the sunset and sunrise. Otherwise, you may want to look into an airplane or helicopter tour. Not cheap but a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it’ll save you time on the road.
Go out there and explore!
Here, I’ve put all of the places mentioned in this post into one interactive map. Just click on the icon in the left upper corner to see what each marker stands for.
Las Vegas is close to many beautiful places in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. Even if you love Vegas, make the most of your stay in the city by taking a day – or even half a day – for a taste of something different. If you know anyone who’s visiting Las Vegas, share this post with them (use the Facebook and Twitter icons for that!) And as always, let me know what you think by leaving me a comment!
Road tripping is fun! It’s what we do whenever we’re in the US. You may want to take a look at my 37 road tripping tips too. They are based on over a year and a half of touring the US by car, including driving from California to Alaska and back! Also, while in the southwest, check out my Arizona Bucket List for other nearby destinations or just driving from Las Vegas for more than a day.