9 Best Things To Do Off the Vegas Strip

July 2, 2019

I love a Vegas vacation but I’ll be the first to admit that after a few days, I start to crave a change of scenery. The good news is, you don’t have to go very far to find it. Southern Nevada is full of natural beauty and really some cute towns. All within a few miles of the Vegas strip. Even if you didn’t pack your hiking boots, most of the areas have scenic drives or some paved walkways. Here’s my recommendations for the best things to do off the Vegas strip.

Best Natural Things to do Off the Vegas Strip

Lake Mead Recreation Area

The beautiful blue color of Lake Mead near Las Vegas
The cool blue color of Lake Mead

Did you know that 8 million people visit Lake Mead annually? After spending some time there this summer, I can see why. With 1.5 million acres of protected land, it’s one of the most diverse parks in the system. The lake that was formed from the building of Hoover Dam is a beautiful azure blue that makes you just want to jump right in. On hot days where temps can easily top 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s a beautiful oasis in the desert.

Getting out on the water is the best way to enjoy the park. There are several options from Lake Mead marina where you can rent a boat, jet ski or take a cruise on the Desert Princess, Lake Mead’s resident paddle boat. While you are visiting the marina, dine lake side at the The Boat house. You can watch the boats and feed the ducks. The restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Visit the marina website for hours that change seasonally.

If you don’t have enough time for water activities, there are plenty of overlooks and picnic areas on Lakeshore Drive. You won’t even need hiking boots to get a good view.

While you are in the park, be sure to visit the Lake Mead Visitor Center where you can watch a movie and learn more about the construction of the dam or just pick up your park souvenir.

Lake Mead Recreation Area

  • 20 miles from the strip
  • Open 24 hours
  • Admission is $25 per car or free with a US park pass
  • Drive: Lakeshore Drive for the best views

Valley of Fire State Park

Colors and textures of rocks at Valley of Fire State Park Nevada
The many colors at Valley of Fire
Road in Valley of Fire State Park Nevada
Valley of Fire
White domes and a picnic area in Valley of Fire state park near Las Vegas
A picnic area near the White Domes

Valley of Fire was Nevada’s first State Park. It doesn’t take long to see why it’s a protected area. As it’s name implies, Valley of Fire is filled with fiery red cliffs, unique formations like domes and beehives and some of the best petroglyphs I’ve ever seen. If you are craving some out of this world natural beauty, then this is the perfect escape from the Vegas strip for the day.

Because of it’s size, you can easily see a lot in a short amount of time. Don’t worry if you forgot your hiking boots. There are plenty of options for some short hikes with beautiful vistas. If you only do one thing while you are there; make sure to see Atatl Rock. It’s a super easy walk with some stairs to see those petroglyphs I mentioned.

Make it a day and pack a lunch. Enjoy one of the many scenic areas with picnic tables. There’s also a visitor center with info about how the area was formed, it used to be an ocean by the way, a store and some cool exhibits. Don’t miss the cactus garden out front of the Visitor Center.

Valley of Fire

  • 50 miles from the strip
  • Open sunrise to sunset
  • Admission is $10 per car
  • Drive the west entrance to the east entrance

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

The hues and colors of Red Rock Conservation Area near Las Vegas
Colorful sunsets

I’ve seen some of the prettiest sunsets in my life in Southern Nevada. One of my favorite places to watch the sky change colors is Red Rock Canyon. Watching the colors and hues of the rocks changing as the sun sets makes this experience one of the best things to do off the Vegas strip in my book.

Depending on how much time you have, there are several options for seeing the park. The easiest way is via the 13 mile scenic drive. If you have more time, you could hike it or even arrange to see it by horseback ride.

The visitor center is a must see with interpretive exhibits and a store for souvenirs.

Southerner Says: if you do plan on hiking, fill up your water bottle at the Visitor Center. There are no water filling stations in the park and the loop road is one way so you can’t turn around or back up.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

  • 17 miles from the strip
  • Open various hours. Check the webisite
  • Admission is $15 per car or free with a US park pass
  • Drive the 13 mile scenic drive

Mt. Charleston Recreation Area

Mountain and alpine views from Mt Charleston Lodge
Evergreen trees over the desert

There’s nothing more surprising than leaving the 80 degree weather of the strip behind and finding snow. Yes snow! Mt. Charleston is the fourth highest peak in Nevada. While the snow isn’t around all year, if you visit in the fall or winter you might just get lucky enough to see some. Mt. Charleston receives about 100 inches of snow a year. That’s enough for a small ski resort.

The mountain has a 41 mile scenic drive and plenty of hiking. As part of the Spring Mountain Recreation Area, the change of scenery from desert to alpine, makes for a beautiful way to spend the day.

Besides the snow, one of the other biggest unexpected things about Mt. Charleston is the lodge. At 7000 ft. It’s designed to look like a ski chalet complete with a huge fireplace that might seem out of place in the desert but somehow works. They have a full bar and a great pub menu with lots of homemade options. Pair that with live music and a huge deck and you can easily sip the day away.

Mount Charleston

  • 40 miles from the strip
  • Open 24 hours
  • Admission is free
  • Drive the 41 mile scenic drive

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument

The National Park Boundary fence at Tule Springs Fossil Beds. One of the best places off the Vegas Strip
One of the largest fossil beds in the US

In 1933 workers unearthed mammoth bones near Las Vegas. The discovery led to further exploration of the area and to date, Tule Springs Fossil Beds has turned out to be one of the largest fossil beds in North America. In addition to the first mammoth, they have found Colombian mammoths, camelops, which are a larger version of today’s camel, sloths as big as a car and an 1100 lb. lion’s bones.

Because Tule Springs is a relatively new park, there’s no visitor center or facilities. There’s a fence and sign marked NPS boundary to mark the park. Still, it’s a pretty interesting site. You can walk among the trenches that were created during a 1962 dig. It’s also an amazing place for sunsets and photographs.

Public parking is available on the street in front of this fence. You should use Leave No Trace principles while exploring this park, and any park, but especially so here since there is the potential to discover fossils. If you do happen to discover something, there’s a form online that you can fill to let the National Park Service know.

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument

  • 22 miles from the strip
  • Open during daylight hours
  • Admission is free

Β Man Made Things to do Off the Strip

Hoover Dam

The view of Hoover Dam from the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Bridge
Photographs do not do it justice

If you’ve only seen Hoover Dam in the movies, do yourself a favor and make the short trip from the strip to see it in person. Located within the Lake Mead Recreation Area, but manged by the Bureau of Reclamation, Hoover Dam is one of those jaw dropping places that you have to see to believe. Photos do not accurately depict just how large it is.

Named after Herbert Hoover, the Hoover Dam was constructed during the Great Depression and completed in 1935. Although a dam like it had never been built before it was completed two years ahead of schedule.

Now, thousands of people come to see it annually since it’s one of the best things to do off the Vegas strip.

Hoover Dam Tours

There are couple of ways to get a closer look by guided tour.

  • Hoover Dam Tour- includes a one hour tour the dam passageways, powerplant and visitor center. This ticket is first come first serve and must be purchased in person. Price is $30. First tour starts at 9:30 PT and runs every half hour until 3:30 pm PT. Only 20 people per group and no children under 8 are allowed. Because of the nature of the tour, its not accessible for wheelchairs or crutches.
  • Powerplant Tour- includes a thirty minute tour of the powerplant and visitor center. Tickets are $15, $12 for seniors military and juniors ages 4-16. Children 3 and under are free, and can be purchased online up to ninety days in advance or onsite from 9 am to 3:45 pm

There is a series of parking lots and overlooks if you drive across the dam on the old highway. If you don’t want to walk, there is a paid parking lot right by the dam. It’s free to to walk the highway over the dam and look if you are not taking a tour.

You will go through a security checkpoint before you get to the dam.

Hoover Dam

  • 40 miles from the strip
  • Admission is free to drive across

Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

The vithe Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Bridge
View of the new bridge from the Hoover Dam

If you cruised over to Lake Mead and drove across Hoover Dam. Now imagine that narrow winding road you just took to drive across the dam was the only way across- because at one time it was. For years, the old Hwy 93 was the main route across the Colorado river into Arizona. With pedestrian traffic at the dam, bumper to bumper cars and tour buses, this route was unsafe and wasn’t very good for the environment with all those cars sitting there idling in congested traffic.

To deal with the congestion, Nevada and Arizona joined forces and constructed the Hoover Dam Bypass. They completely reevaluated the area searching for the best section to cross the Colorado River. Because of the canyons and mountains, it was no easy task. Approach bridges also had to be constructed on the Arizona side.

The new bridge that you now drive across is called the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. And it’s huge! It’s the widest concrete arch in the Western Hemisphere, the second highest bridge in the U.S. and the world’s highest concrete arch bridge.

One of the best ideas they had, was to create a pedestrian path on the bridge. Visitors can park, there’s a designated lot before you get to the dam, and walk across the new bridge. Not only do you learn about the area and how the bridge was constructed, you get one of the best views of Hoover Dam there is. It’s definitely one of the best things to do off the Vegas strip.

Mike O’Callahan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

  • 40 miles from the strip
  • Admission is free
  • Open 24 hours

Seven Magic Mountains

Painted boulders stacked up on one another makes Seven Magic Mountains art display near Las Vegas is one of the best things to do off the Vegas strip
Funky desert art

If you are just looking for a little getaway from the strip, then take a short ride to see Seven Magic Mountains. It’s a colorful art display by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone. The seven towers of painted boulders stacked up like totem poles is meant to signify the mix of life and human presence in the desert.

The art was originally supposed to be removed in 2018 but because of its popularity thanks mostly to social media, it’s been extended through 2021.

Combine a visit here with the Welcome to Las Vegas sign and In N Out for the best things to do off the Vegas strip day.

Seven Magic Mountains

  • 10 miles from the strip
  • Admission is free
  • Open 24 hours

Best Small Towns Off the Strip

Boulder City

The front of Big City Grille in Boulder City Nevada
Delicious breakfast at Little City Grille

If you go to Hoover Dam, another one of the best things to do off the Vegas strip is visit Boulder City. It’s named Boulder City because the dam was called the Boulder Dam until being renamed Hoover Dam. You’ll still see a lot of references to that original name throughout the city.

Boulder City was designed to house the workers during the building of the dam and the reminders of that proud legacy are everywhere. You can visit the Hoover Dam Museum and the Southern Nevada Railroad Museum, which is located on the original tracks that were installed to support the building of the dam. There are buildings and restaurants that date back to those dam years.

For a great food, don’t miss:

  • The Dillinger
  • The Coffee Cup
  • The Southwest Diner
  • Little City Grille

The town itself has the cutest downtown with art galleries, a brewery and plenty of shopping.

Leaving town and heading towards Lake Mead, not only will you get one of the best views of the lake but you’ll also have a chance to see some long horn sheep that frequent the area along the road. They are so cute!

Boulder City

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4 Comments

  1. Kara DiDomizio

    Lori, this is such a fabulous and well written post. I personally get exhausted by the lights and buzz of Vegas fairly quickly and want to see so much more of Nevada than the brief slice I have seen. The only one of the things listed I have seen is the bridge over Hoover Dam which is fantastic.

    I enjoy the way you blend information and the narrative like we are on the journey with you. The Tule Spring Fossil Beds sounds so interesting as do all of the places and photos you feature. You certainly are inspiring me to want to see more of the outdoor beauty the US has!

  2. Southerner Says

    Thanks so much Kara! I’m so happy to hear your liked the post and that you want to see more of the US. We certainly have some beautiful things to see. The Hoover Dam is awesome and everyone should take that short ride over there.
    The Tule Springs Fossil Beds are so fascinating mainly because they are still discovering some great things there. In researching I read that this area could contain more fossils of its kind than any other area in the country! I hope they can get the funding needed to continue to explore it.

  3. Ferny

    You made me realize all the wonderful activities that can be done outside the strip. I’m going to be there in a few months, now I’m ready! Thank you so much!

  4. Southerner Says

    If you have time and a car I would definitely try to see Lake Mead or Valley of Fire. They are my favorites. I have been to Vegas a lot so if you have anymore questions, feel free to ask. You are going to have a great time!

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