Stunning scenery from the Southwest awaits at Red Rock Canyon. (©Bonnie Springs Ranch)
Sure, the bright lights of Las Vegas bring promises of riches at the gambling tables, exciting shows to stimulate the senses and decadent dining to satisfy your culinary curiosities. But outside Las Vegas sits a world of Southwestern landscapes waiting to be discovered in Nevada. Mountains, stunning red rock canyons, desert landscapes and a huge manmade lake await. Here’s a look at 12 day trips out of Las Vegas and into nature, all within 120 miles of the city.
Bonnie Springs Ranch
Originally built as a stop for wagon trains on their way to California along the Old Spanish Trail, Bonnie Springs Ranch makes the Old West come alive.
Just 20 miles west of Las Vegas near Red Rock Canyon, this cattle ranch built in the 1940s features an Old West town that brings gunfights and horseback riding back. A children’s petting zoo and rides on a miniature train keep the kids busy. Grab a bite to eat at the quirky little restaurant that serves omelets for breakfast and Philly cheese steak sandwiches, hot pies and burgers for lunch and dinner. 16395 Bonnie Springs Road; 702.875.4191
Head 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas to Boulder City, the entryway to Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the Hoover Dam.
The town got its start in the 1930s when workers building the dam settled in the area. Now, the historic Boulder Dam Hotel and historic Old Town district with its quaint shops are worth the stop and keep an eye out for bighorn sheep.
The 726-foot tall, arch-gravity Hoover Dam is one of the engineering wonders of the world and sits just outside Boulder City, with the Colorado River on one side spilling into Lake Mead on the other. Visitors can tour the power plant. Lake Mead National Recreational Area features more than 550 miles of shoreline where visitors can boat, hike, cycle, camp and fish in 1.5 million acres of mountains, canyons, valleys and two vast lakes. Travelers can get a different view of the Hoover Dam from the waters of Lake Mead or Lake Mohave.
Spring Mountains National Recreation Area and Mount Charleston
The Spring Mountains National Recreation Area sits inside the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest 35 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Most people know the area better as Mount Charleston with its 11,918-foot elevation often capped with snow. On a triple-digit day in the valley, temperatures can plummet 20 to 30 degrees, making Mount Charleston a perfect cool escape from the city. In the winter, travelers can even ski at Lee Canyon. By summer, hiking and rock climbing abound.
Red Rock Canyon
Find stunning red rock formations nestled up against the Spring Mountains just 15 miles west of Las Vegas. A thrust fault created the 3,000-foot walls of the canyon that attract hikers, bikers and rock climbers. Stop by the visitor center at Red Rock Canyon and then take a drive around the 13-mile loop for a shot at seeing feral horses, wild burros, bighorn sheep, coyotes and a variety of desert plant life. Try the Calico Hills trail that runs along the base of the Calico Rocks from Calico Basin to Sandstone Quarry.
Right on the edge of Death Valley National Park sits Rhyolite, a bona fide ghost town.
In 1904, claims of gold in the neighboring rocks turned Rhyolite into a bustling community with more than 2,000 claims in the area. By 1916, the lights were turned off in the town. All that remains are the three-story bank building, part of the old jail, the Bottle House made entirely of bottles and a privately owned train depot. The town sits 120 miles north of Las Vegas near Beatty, Nevada, dubbed the “Gateway to Death Valley.”
Valley of Fire State Park
Head 55 miles northwest of Las Vegas on Interstate 15 to find Valley of Fire State Park and its red Aztec sandstone formations set against gray and tan limestone mountains, hidden canyons and petroglyphs from 2,500 years ago. An official from AAA driving through the area in the 1920s dubbed it the Valley of Fire after seeing the rocks set against the sunset. In 1934, it became Nevada’s first state park. Hiking, camping and more adventures are part of the park. Try the Petroglyph Canyon-Mouses Tank trail to see some of the petroglyphs in the park.
Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs
On the way to Mount Charleston lies this park centered on Tule Springs, home to a series of small-stocked fishing ponds on the site of an historic pond and marsh complex used by the Native Americans before southern Nevada was settled. Before becoming a public park, Tule Springs was a private guest ranch considered to be on the far edge of town. Today, it's about a 40-minute drive. Its ponds are supplied by a combination of wells and artisan spring flows that serve as a wildlife habitat.
Clark County Wetlands Park
This animal-lover's paradise is the largest park in the Clark County parks system. Clark County Wetlands Park encompasses more than 2,900 acres of water, trails and trees along the Las Vegas Wash and is located on the east side of Las Vegas. The park offers multiple trail heads and is home to 212 species of birds, as well as 70 species of mammals and reptiles such as spiny soft-shell turtles, American coots, beavers, coyotes, dragonflies and jack rabbits.
Located about two hours south of Las Vegas lies Laughlin, a city that popped up alongside the Colorado River during the construction of the Davis Dam. Recreational activities are concentrated along the nine scenic miles known as the Colorado River Heritage Greenway Trail.
A playground that covers five square miles of dunes and dips, Nevada's Armagosa Valley, about two miles north of Las Vegas (near the entry point of the Death Valley National Park) is a hidden gem in the desert. The area is frequented by those who enjoy the thrill of off-roading.