With all the action on the Strip, sometimes it’s hard to remember that Las Vegas is in the middle of the desert. The city is famous for the bright lights and jangling slot machines, but there’s more to the area than that. If you’re given the opportunity to spend more than a weekend in the city, consider exploring the more natural side of the Las Vegas valley.
Days One and Two
Once you’ve taken the brief but grand tour of Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street, it’s time to hit the road. Take some time to appreciate the landscape and natural beauty of the desert Southwest by renting a car for the day and getting out of the city. The Las Vegas valley is a hot spot for outdoor activities, and on your third day, it will be time to get some exercise … or at least some fresh air.
Before you head out of town, stop by the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign to snap a photo. This is best reached on your own set of wheels, which is why you didn’t do it on either of your first two days. From there, you will need to make a decision about where to go to spend the rest of the day.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Lake Mead is a go-to for all things recreational. Enjoy the day relaxing on the water when you rent a boat from the marina (available at hourly and daily rates). You’re welcome to spend the day fishing, tubing, water skiing or swimming, but if you’d prefer to check out the desert, there are also hiking trails and good opportunities for landscape photography.
You’ll be right on the Arizona border, so while you’re near Lake Mead, take the time to visit Hoover Dam. You can park and walk across it at no cost, but there is also a tour available for a fee, which provides additional background information.
There is an entrance fee for Lake Mead National Recreation Area if you are within park boundaries.
Approximately 50 miles round trip from the Las Vegas Strip.
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Trying to reach and return from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in one day doesn’t give the park the time it deserves. But if you’ve come all the way to Las Vegas and just want to see what Arizona’s Grand Canyon looks like, consider taking a day trip to Grand Canyon West, which isn’t actually part of the National Park Service. Many tour operators arrange bus trips from Las Vegas to this area for the day, but you can also drive in on your own. You’ll need to pay an entrance fee to get into Grand Canyon West. From there, you’ll park at Grand Canyon West Airport and then hop on and off a shuttle at points of interest.
This is also where the glass-bottomed Skywalk is located. There is an additional fee to walk out on the Skywalk.
Approximately 250 miles round trip from the Las Vegas Strip.
Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock Canyon is aesthetically striking and appropriately named. Enjoy a 13-mile scenic drive with pull-offs and overlooks throughout the park. Make it a day by picking up a brochure at the visitors center that lists the numerous hikes around the canyon. The hikes range from short and easy to unmarked and strenuous, often requiring rock scrambling. A few of them lead to places where you can get a birds eye view of the Strip.
If you’re a rock climber, bring your gear. Red Rock Canyon has a variety of routes to explore.
There is a small fee per car to enter Red Rock Canyon.
Approximately 40 miles round trip from the Las Vegas Strip.
Death Valley National Park
The hottest, driest and lowest place in the United States is right over the Nevada border in California. Death Valley is also one of the largest national parks, so don’t expect to see it all in a day, but there are several highlights located close together near the Furnace Creek Visitors Center. Badwater (the lowest point in the U.S.), the Devil’s Golf Course, Zabriskie Point and the Artist’s Drive are all easy to access and worth visiting.
There is an entrance fee to enjoy Death Valley, which is payable at a visitors center.
Approximately 230 miles round trip from the Las Vegas Strip.
Valley of Fire State Park
This is Nevada’s oldest and largest state park, and it’s named as such due to the red sandstone formations throughout. Remnants of an earlier age are present through petroglyphs and petrified wood. Many people go to Valley of Fire to marvel at the formations as they drive through, stopping occasionally to hike, picnic and take pictures.
Because Valley of Fire is located just six miles from Lake Mead, you could combine a trip here with one to Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
There is an entrance fee for Valley of Fire State Park.
Approximately 120 miles round trip from the Las Vegas Strip.