When you arrive in Las Vegas, the city seems like a bubble of neon and sequins isolated in the barren desert with nothing around for miles and miles. But once you leave the Strip, you’ll discover that this is hardly the case. From alpine wonderlands and river adventures to hot springs and wineries, opportunities for day trips from Las Vegas abound. Here are ten desert adventures to take on your next road trip away from the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip. Grab some friends, pack up the car, and get going.
If you tell your friends that you went skiing in Las Vegas, they’ll probably think you’re referring to some bizarre new indoor attraction inside a casino (it’s Vegas; stranger things have happened). But believe it or not, the real deal exists at Mt. Charleston.
During the winter months, head to Lee Canyon for skiing, snowboarding, tubing and après ski with snowy mountain views. During the summer months, hit the trails and enjoy a respite from the heat. Keep an eye out for wild horses and burros as you make your way to challenging trails that take you to Charleston Peak, Griffith Peak and Cathedral Rock, and then reward yourself with chilled wine and pizza on the sunny deck at Mt. Charleston Lodge.
CHINA RANCH DATE FARM
China Ranch Date Farm is a hidden oasis of palm trees and flowing water located on the border of Death Valley National Park, just an hour and a half from Las Vegas. Tour this lush, historic working date nut farm, enjoying the shade of the palm trees while looking for birds and learning about the indigenous people who called this area home before the gold rush. When you’re done exploring, order one of the farm’s signature date shakes and take home a loaf of homemade date nut bread. Before returning to Las Vegas, soak in the mineral pools at nearby Tecopa Hot Springs and watch the desert sunset.
MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE
Often overlooked in favor of the many national parks near Las Vegas, Mojave National Preserve offers desert scenery without the crowds. Located just an hour outside of Las Vegas off of I-15 (an easy detour if you’re driving to or from Los Angeles), the Mojave National Preserve is home to one of the largest concentrations of Joshua trees in the world, the Kelso Sand Dunes, a visitor center/art museum inside a historic train station plus seemingly endless opportunities for hiking and camping.
For an easy day hike, head out on the 3-mile Teutonia Peak Trail which traverses through Joshua trees on the desert floor to a rocky outcropping that offers spectacular views of the preserve. If you decide to spend the night, ask park rangers about the free, dispersed campsites in the Joshua tree forest.
Just one hour west of Las Vegas, nestled on a gentle mountain slope in the desert, lies the Pahrump Valley Winery, a tree-shaded haven where you can stop in for a tasting or a tour, or simply enjoy a glass or two while wandering the vineyard. The winery’s most popular varietal is their Symphony wine, a sweet, floral white that’s refreshing and vibrant on a warm desert afternoon.
There’s also an upscale, on-site restaurant that serves steak, seafood, pasta and other dishes designed to complement the wine. If you’re visiting in October, add the annual grape stomp to your agenda and enjoy a weekend of food trucks, live entertainment and yes, competitive grape stomping.
If those gondola rides outside of the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas have you craving a real aquatic adventure, hit the road and drive an hour to Willow Beach on the Colorado River below the Hoover Dam. Rent a kayak from Willow Beach Marina (advance reservations are highly recommended). Paddle two miles through the Black Canyon to the aptly named Emerald Cave, which sparkles green when the light hits it just right (usually around 2 p.m. during the spring and summer months).
After, stop at one of many small beaches scattered along the riverside and spend the afternoon swimming and sunbathing. On your way back to Las Vegas, stop by Boulder Dam Brewing Co. for craft beer, fried pickles, and live music.
INTERNATIONAL CAR FOREST OF THE LAST CHURCH
Texas has Cadillac Ranch and Nevada has the International Car Forest of the Last Church. The 185-mile drive to get to this destination may seem like a long time in the car if you go back and forth in one day, but it’ll be well worth the effort if you’re the kind of traveller who likes offbeat desert art.
Located near the living ghost town of Goldfield, Nevada, which is home to a haunted hotel and a few antique shops, this memorable art installation is comprised of over 40 painted cars spread across the desert floor and perched at precarious angles. Make the short drive down a passable dirt road just off of I-95 in Goldfield to get here and then park and spend the day walking around and photographing the colorful vehicles.
RED ROCK CANYON NATIONAL CONSERVATION AREA
Red Rock Canyon is one of the most popular day trips from Las Vegas for a number of reasons, the most notable of which is how easy it is to get there from the Strip. There’s something magical about waking up amidst the chaos of Las Vegas Boulevard and then finding yourself surrounded by crimson mountains and solace just a half-hour later.
Head to the one-way Scenic Loop, which takes you on a 13-mile tour of the area. Along the way, stop for a hike on one of Red Rock’s many trails.
If it’s late spring or summer, escape the heat and enjoy the shade and a seasonal waterfall inside the aptly-named Icebox Canyon. If it’s fall or winter and you’re up for a challenge, make the steep 4.7-mile trek to the summit of Turtlehead Peak where you’ll be rewarded with incredible views of Las Vegas.
When you’re done with the Scenic Loop, it’s just a short drive to Cottonwood Station Eatery in the tiny town of Blue Diamond. The rustic restaurant has a sunny patio where you can enjoy hard cider, panini sandwiches and desert mountain scenery.
VALLEY OF FIRE STATE PARK
Undulating hills of red sandstone stretch out before you at Valley of Fire State Park. Located just an hour away from Las Vegas, Nevada’s largest state park is a desert wilderness paradise that might look a little familiar to you if you’re a movie and TV buff. A popular filming location, Valley of Fire can be seen in Black Mirror, The Stand, Helldorado, Seven Ways from Sundown and a number of other movies and shows. Experience the cinematic landscape yourself by hiking through the narrows of the White Domes Loop, seeing the iconic Fire Wave formation, looking for petroglyphs or scanning the cliffs for bighorn sheep.
DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
If you make the two-hour drive from Las Vegas to Death Valley, prepare to be surprised. The largest national park in the lower 48 is dramatic, otherworldly and despite the name, full of life.
Start at Dante’s View, a scenic vista perched 5,476 up in the Black Mountains that overlooks the swirling white salt flats on the valley floor. Next, tour Badwater Road. Stop at the salt formations that make up the Devil’s Golf Course and then head to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level (Pro tip: Look for the tiny sign nestled in the mountains that marks where sea level is.)
On your way back, drive the one-way Artist’s Drive route and marvel at the seafoam green, coral pink and orange rocks. Next, drive to the Mesquite Sand Dunes and spend some time running around barefoot and watching the fading sunlit turn the mountains of sand gold. Grab a local beer and a burger at the saloon at nearby Stovepipe Wells before returning to Las Vegas.
No, you can’t actually visit Area 51, but you can visit the small desert outpost of Rachel, Nevada, which is right on the border of the mysterious government installation. If you love unusual and slightly kitschy destinations at the end of long desert road trips, this one’s for you.
The 150-mile drive from Las Vegas winds through the Great Basin Desert, offering ethereal views of wide valley floors where wild horses and pronghorn antelope run free. Stop to take a picture at the Extraterrestrial Highway and then make your way to the Little A’Le’Inn, the only business around for miles and miles.
Little A’Le’Inn is part gift shop, part bar and restaurant, part hotel and campground and pure Nevada. Buy an Area 51 t-shirt, try the signature Alien Burger and spend some time looking at the photos on the wall of possible UFO sightings. If you stick around after dark, you just might spot some inexplicable lights among the stars in the night sky.
We hope that this article has inspired you to visit Las Vegas, Nevada. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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Read More About Las Vegas, Nevada
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