photo by Photo Tours Vegas
Whether Las Vegas is your favorite destination or just a place with casinos, overpriced drinks and annoying resort fees, there is more to see in the area than just neon. Here are some day trips and excursions from Vegas.
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Just outside of Vegas to the west is Red Rocks (the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area). If you are looking for an alternative to one more show or two more hours at the casino you can easily get out to Red Rocks for some sightseeing, rock climbing or hiking. Red Rocks is only about 30 minutes from the heart of the Las Vegas strip.
Red Rocks is one of a few different areas within an easy day trip range of the Strip where the browns and grays of southern Nevada start to mix with iron-rich rocks that adds many shades of red to the palette.
Red Rocks is easy to reach on your own if you have a rental car or you can take a tour like the Pink Jeep tour to see it with a guide. In the summertime, if you want to go out to red rocks, do it early before the heat of the day.
Valley of Fire State Park
Valley of Fire is the second of the red rock areas. It is more spectacular than Red Rocks with elephant-shaped rocks, rocks shaped like beehives and even some petroglyphs. The valley gets its name from the red rocks, but if you visit in the heat of the summer you may think it comes from the climate. Best to avoid on days when Vegas is over 100 degrees as the Valley of Fire will be even hotter.
This is an area where the rocks beckon to be climbed… or at least posed on. They have a sort of “what if Dr. Seuss designed the landscape” look to them.
When you get to the Atlatl Rock visit area you will see a set of metal stairs leading 50 feet up to the rock. It may not be obvious, but these stairs are there to allow you to climb up to where you can see some petroglyphs created by the native people of the area many years ago.
Valley of Fire Hiking
Some of the best-rated hikes in the Valley of Fire are:
- White Domes Trail – easy 1.1-mile loop, wildflowers in the spring
- Fire Wave Trail – easy 1.5-mile trail to and from a sandstone formation that looks like a large wave
- Petroglyph Canyon via Mouse’s Tank Trail – easy .8 mile trail to see petroglyphs
- Elephant Rock Trail – easy .3 mile trail to a rock that looks like an elephant
- Rainbow Vista Trail – easy 1.1-mile trail to a valley overlook
There are also many longer and more strenuous hikes for the more adventurous.
Valley of Fire Tours
Valley of Fire is only about an hour north of the Vegas strip and can be reached easily if you have your own car. If you don’t want to drive yourself to the Valley of Fire you can get a tour from Vegas, either a guided hiking tour or just a sightseeing tour.
Hoover Dam is only about 40 miles from the Strip and a great place to visit. When it was finished it was the largest dam in the world. It is as tall as a 50 story building with enough concrete used to create it to pave a 2 lane road between there and New York City.
20,000 people built the dam from 1931 to 1936 and around 200 died in the process due to accidents and heat. The first death recorded was that of surveyor J. G. Tierney who drowned while on a trip to find the best location for the dam. Ironically and tragically the last death associated with its construction was electrician’s helper Patrick Tierney who fell from an intake tower. The two Tierney men were father and son.
Hoover Dam Museum
The town of Boulder City was built to house the workers who built the dam.
Within the old Boulder City Hotel, there is a great little museum that explains the history of the construction of the dam including the controversy over naming the dam. It was originally the Boulder Dam but was changed by congress to Hoover Dam to honor the work that Herbert Hoover did to enable the construction of the dam when he was Secretary of the Interior. The name was controversial because the dam was built in the depression which started when Hoover was president. While he may not have taken the blame for the depression he also didn’t get much credit for doing much about it.
Hoover Dam Tours from Las Vegas
You can take a tour of the dam itself, getting down into the dam and seeing the powerhouse up close. You can either arrange your own tour and drive over or you can get a tour that includes getting picked up from your hotel.
Traffic that crosses from Arizona to Nevada no longer drives over the top of the dam but instead crosses the large Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. The bridge is named for a former popular governor of Arizona Mike O’Callaghan and former NFL player Pat Tillman who chose to leave the NFL and enlist in the army after 9/11. Tillman was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. Former governor O’Callaghan died the same year.
You can park your rental car and walk over the middle of the bridge for some of the best photo opportunities of the Hoover Dam. Both of the photos of the dam in this article were taken from the bridge. Tours of Hoover Dam will also usually include a stop here.
I was pleased to see Hoover Dam by Helicopter on a recent trip to Nevada on a Papillon Airways flight. The 10-minute flight is not particularly long but at $39 it is very cheap for a helicopter flight and provides some great views of the dam, Lake Mead and the region.
Lake Mead is the largest man-made lake in the United States. They are a number of opportunities for outdoor adventures at Lake Mead including kayaking, float trips, water skiing, house boating, and dinner cruises.
Besides the Hoover Dam Museum mentioned above, Boulder City is a great stop for people who are looking to shop for antiques. After the construction of the dam, Boulder City became the home for movie stars like the Rat Pack and Danny Thomas or more contemporary stars like Tom Selleck. You can do it as a day trip or stay at a local hotel, including the Historic Boulder Dam Hotel.
Boulder CIty’s historic downtown is a far cry from the Strip. The pace is slower, the drinks are cheaper and there is a whole lot less neon.
If you don’t have a rental car or don’t want to drive you can reach Boulder City via the Boulder City Shuttle run by National Park Express.
Excursions and Longer Trips
Las Vegas is a great start for a road trip through the national parks of southern Utah and northern Arizona. Way back in the first year of the Amateur Traveler podcast we did a series of 4 episodes on Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park. You can easily do a loop to all 4 of these parks with 4 or more nights. My road trip was to the north rim of the Grand Canyon which is only open about half of the year.
National Park Express was a sponsor of the recent Fam (familiarization) trip that I did in Las Vegas. They run the Boulder City Shuttle mentioned above but they also run a series of shuttles that take visitors from Vegas to all the national parks mentioned above.
National Park Express started as a company that was providing trips for Chinese visitors to the U.S. and did that for 25 years before recently expanding their offerings to English speaking tourists as well.
From Vegas, you can take their busses to:
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim)
- Grand Canyon West
- Antelope Canyon
- Lake Powell
- Saint George
- Death Valley National Park
- Zion National Park
While their one-day trip from Las Vegas to Antelope Canyon at Page Arizona seems long to be on a bus. They can also fly you to Page for as little as $59 per person. They also have longer multi-day itineraries.
Driving in the U.S. is easy but this might be a good option for those who don’t want to do a self-drive trip.
One of the advantages of a Las Vegas based vacation is that there are so many hotel rooms in Las Vegas. 7 of the world’s 10 largest hotels are in Las Vegas. Granted when there are large conventions in town hotels may fill up, but there are few cities in the world that can host multiple conferences at the same time and still have hotel rooms on sale somewhere.
My recent trip to Las Vegas was sponsored by Las Vegas Territory and their member companies including National Park Express, Pink Adventure Tours, Photo Tours Vegas, and Papillon Airways. I thank them for their hospitality but all opinions in this article are my own.