12 Best Day Trips From Las Vegas (Within 3 Hours)
I love Las Vegas. It’s one of my favorite cities to visit in the United States. The sights and sound of the Vegas strip are unlike any other place. But, as much as I enjoy it, even I’ll admit that after a few days of crowds and slot machine noise, I crave a change.
Luckily you don’t have to go too far for that in southern Nevada. This region of the state is packed with so many things to do, it’s easy to take a short day trip from Las Vegas. There are public lands, historic cities and engineering marvels less than two hours from the strip. Load up the car – let’s go!
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Day Trips From Las Vegas
One of the best things about Las Vegas is that it’s within driving distance of so many popular things to do. You can make a short day trip around the area and if you have more time, even plan a proper road from Las Vegas. There are at least 7 road trips to national parks from Las Vegas and I’ve done them all!
As far as day tripping around the desert, I’m not sure what you consider a day trip but for me, it’s no more than a couple of hours. These day trips from Las Vegas are all within 2 hours from the strip. That way you can take a day trip and still be back at your hotel for a rest before a night out.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
If you only have time for one day trip from Las Vegas, then my recommendation is our first national recreation area and the largest man-made lake in the U.S. – Lake Mead. National park lovers, will love this oasis in the desert – it’s amazing.
Even with less water in the lake than normal, it’s still stunning. The park landscape is so diverse and offers a little bit of everything – gorgeous views, scenic drives, plenty of easy hikes and wildlife.
Lake Mead is couldn’t be any easier to get to from downtown Las Vegas and once there, the best way to see it and appreciate it, is by getting out on the water.
Boats, kayaks and jet-skis are available to rent, on your own, for the day at most of the marinas in the park. The most popular marina is The lake even has a paddle boat, the Desert Princess, available for dinner and sunset cruises.
For those that prefer to stay on land, Lake Mead National Recreation Area has plenty of trails and hikes for every skill level. The Historic Railroad Trails are the perfect, easy introduction to the park with some of the best views of the lake.
These trails follow the old railroad beds previously used for carrying supplies to the Hoover Dam construction. Besides terrific vantage points, you might just encounter a big horn sheep or two.
If you only time to drive through the park, then Lakeshore Drive is the best route to see the lake and snap some photos at the various pullouts along the way. Don’t forget to stop in at the park visitor center for educational info and souvenirs.
Plan A Day Trip to Lake Mead
Lake Mead NRA is open year round. Summer is very hot and conditions can be windy at times. Make sure you have comfy walking shoes and plenty of water if you intend on hiking at all. Tip: to get close to the water without a boat, visit Hemenway Harbor Marina and have lunch lakeside at The Boat House.
The Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam is hands down one of the best day trips from Las Vegas. If you’ve only seen it in movies or photos, do yourself a favor and make the short drive over for an in-person visit to appreciate just how amazing it is.
Named after Herbert Hoover, the dam was constructed during the Great Depression and completed in 1935. Even though nothing like it had ever been built before, it was actually completed two years ahead of schedule.
The construction of the dam shaped the future of the entire Southern Nevada area and it united the nation in a extremely difficult time.
There are a couple of ways to see the Hoover Dam. The quick and free option is by parking in one of the public lots and walking the short distance to the dam. Along the way are plenty of viewpoints to snap photos, see the intake towers and the spillways last used in 1983.
To go inside the dam and tour the generator room and other features, The Bureau of Reclamation – aka the government agency that oversees the dam – offers daily tours. There are three different options you can choose from.
Check out their website for more info or book in person at the dam. Additionally, you could book an organized tour from Las Vegas like this popular one here.
Plan a Visit to the Hoover Dam
Visiting the Hoover Dam is ideal just about anytime of the year. Summer will be hotter. Especially if you are doing a tour and going inside the dam. Make sure you have comfy walking shoes and a water bottle. Water is available for purchase at a few places at the dam. Tip: don’t miss the glitzy bathrooms at the top of the dam as you walk across.
Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
Highway 93 to the Hoover Dam used to be the only route across the Colorado River in this busy area of southern Nevada. Daily traffic, including large trucks, tour buses and pedestrians visiting the dam made caused a lot of congestion on this route.
To improve traffic flow, Nevada and Arizona joined forces and constructed the Hoover Dam Bypass. Part of that project included building a new bridge across the Colorado River. The new bridge is named the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.
That bridge isn’t just any bridge – it’s the widest concrete arch in the Western Hemisphere, the second highest bridge in the United States and the world’s highest concrete arch bridge. It’s a construction wonder.
One of the best things they added to the bridge is a pedestrian path. Now, not only do visitors get a great vantage spot to see the Hoover Dam and take photos, but they also get to experience firsthand just how big and how high that bridge is.
To visit the bridge walkway, just follow signs on Highway 93 to the designated parking area. There are a few steps and an assessible ramp that lead to the walkway. As you walk the path, there are educational signs about the bridge construction and local geology and such.
Plan a Day Trip to Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
Visiting the bridge is fun year round. Summer is hot. Make sure you have comfy walking shoes. Tip: snap a pic of the Nevada state sign from the bridge as you return to the parking lot.
“The city that built the dam” better known as Boulder City was pivotal in the development of Hoover Dam and Southern Nevada. Boulder City is where the workers were originally housed during the dam construction and everywhere you look in town is a reminder of that proud legacy.
To learn more about Boulder City and the dam, start your visit at the Boulder Dam Hotel. This popular hotel has hosted dozens or celebrities and is home to one of the most informative museums that focuses not just on the construction of the dam but also on the stories of the people who worked and lived this very difficult life in the middle of the desert.
Surprisingly, a considerable number of buildings in Boulder City trace their origins back to the time of dam construction. Taking a leisurely walk through the charming historic downtown area, you’ll see the lasting impact of that era evident in the diverse selection of restaurants, shops, captivating murals and public art displays
Don’t miss burgers at The Dillinger, coffee and local souvenirs at the Boulder City Co Store and gambling at the Railroad Pass Casino, one of the oldest casinos in Southern Nevada, that’s been hosting visitors since 1931.
Plan a Day Trip to Boulder City
In my opinion, Boulder City is a must-see when visiting the Hoover Dam. The city offers essential insight into the dam construction. You can easily combine a visit to Lake Mead NRA, Boulder City and the Hoover Dam. Tip: start your morning on a few of the lookouts at Lake Mead, have lunch in Boulder City and finish the day at the dam.
Valley of Fire State Park
Before you ever even get to Valley of Fire, you’ll see why it was Nevada’s first State Park and one of the best day trips from Las Vegas. It actually appears to glow in an otherwise monotone desert setting.
As the name implies, the park is filled with fiery red sandstone rock which were formed from ancient sand dunes more than 150 million years ago. Unique formations like domes, arches and impressive two thousand year old petroglyphs invite you to an otherwordly Nevada experience.
Valley of Fire State Park is super easy to get to and most of the popular features can be seen in a day. Even if you didn’t pack your hiking boots, you can still enjoy some popular sites and trails. Atlatl Rock – where the petroglyphs are – Arch Rock and Elephant Rock don’t require any strenuous hiking.
Make sure to include a visit to the visitor center for even more exhibits and info about how the area was formed. You’ll find a pretty cactus garden and a few easy walking trails around that building as well.
Plan a Day Trip to Valley of Fire
To make the most of a day trip to Valley of Fire, pack a lunch, or at least snacks and plenty of water. A few items are available for purchase in the store at the visitor center. However, having your own food gives you a chance to use of the strategically placed picnic tables in the park. Tip: to visit Valley of Fire and Lake Mead, spend the day in the state park and then return to Vegas via Lake Mead’s Northshore Road. (Road #167)
Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area
Some of the prettiest sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life have been in Southern Nevada and one of my favorite places to watch the sun go down is in Red Rock Canyon. This protected land is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and is a perfect day trip from Las Vegas
This captivating landscape characterized by towering red sandstone cliffs, rugged rock formations, and breathtaking desert scenery, is the result of millions of years of erosion, creating fascinating shapes and patterns.
With its more than 30 miles of hiking trails, Red Rock Canyon offers a diverse array of plant and animal life thriving in the desert environment.
Joshua trees, yucca plants, and various types of cacti that dot the landscape. And keep an eye out for desert wildlife such as desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, burros and wild horses.
If your time is limited you can see some of the highlights of the conservation are via a 13 mile scenic drive. Red Rock also has a helpful visitor center with interesting, educational exhibits and souvenirs.
Play a Day Trip to Red Rock Canyon
To drive the scenic route, reservations are required between October 1 – May 31, 8am -5pm local time. Make them ahead of time at Recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777. Download an area map here. Tip: Red Rock has a resident burro named Jackson that you can meet. Visit his Facebook page for more details.
There’s nothing more surprising than leaving the heat of the Las Vegas behind and finding snow. Yes, that’s right – snow! Mount Charleston – part of the Spring Mountain Recreation Area – is the fourth highest peak in Nevada and receives about 100 inches of snow a year. That’s enough snow for a small ski resort.
Even though the snow doesn’t stick around all year, if you’re lucky enough to be visiting Las Vegas in the late fall or winter, you might just get the chance to see some snow topped mountain peaks.
Even with no snow – the cooler temps of the mountains is a welcome escape from the hot desert. Drive the 41 mile scenic loop and watch the scenery change from arid desert scrub to wooded alpine. This route has plenty of pullouts and viewpoints along the way and there’s also an epic new visitor center to check out as well.
Or take a hike on a few of the easier trails in the area. The Desert View Overlook Trail and Kunav Huveep hike are both super easy.
Plan a Day Trip to Mount Charleston
Mount Charleston is one of the best day trips from Las Vegas anytime of the year but is especially beautiful in the winter. Tip: check back for the progress on the Mount Charleston Lodge that unfortunately burned down in 2021. The owners plan on re-building and I hope they do because the lodge is one of the best places to chill on a Vegas Sunday afternoon.
At the north end of Lake Mead, the next closest community to Valley of Fire State Park is Overton. Once home to the Basketmaker people and later on, the Anasazi or Ancestral Puebloans, this area is referred to as Pueblo Grande de Nevada or simply – the Lost City.
The Puebloans were known for their pit and cliff dwelling homes. While there’s no cliff dwellings in Nevada like there are in Colorado and Arizona, the remnants of pit homes – and other artifacts – have been found in this region.
Many of those objects are on display at the Lost City Museum, that’s dedicated to preserving and showcasing the cultural heritage of the Ancestral Puebloans. The museum is situated on the site of the ancient Pueblo Grande de Nevada, a significant archaeological site discovered in the 1920s.
Thoughtfully curated exhibits feature pottery, tools, jewelry, and other artifacts that provide insights into the daily lives, customs, and artistic traditions of the Ancestral Puebloans
One of the museum galleries even features an actual pit dwelling. Through a series of layouts, the exhibit shows visitors the various stages of an archeological dig and what life might have looked like when the Anasazi were living here.
Outside, the museum has actual reconstructed pueblos and a huge petroglyph panel on display and the best views of the Virgin Mountains. It’s easy to see why the ancient people picked this place as home.
Plan a Day Trip to Overton
Overton is an easy drive and the perfect day trip from Las Vegas. Besides the Lost City Museum, visit the Overton Wildlife Management Area or for adrenaline junkies, go skydiving with Fyrosity® Las Vegas Skydiving. Tiip: eat at Chriss Angel’s restaurant Cablp or have lunch at one of the many food trucks in town.
Gold Butte National Monument
There’s no shortage of public lands in southern Nevada but out of all the the day trips from Las Vegas, one of the most incredible is Gold Butte National Monument.
Gold Butte is a protected area of desert wilderness managed by the Bureau of Land Management. It’s not the easiest place to get to but very much worth it if you have the time. It is a bit farther since all the roads in Gold Butte are gravel and unpaved
Located between Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument (another little known Grand Canyon National Park viewpoint) and Lake Mead, Gold Butte is a stunning area full of unique desert landscapes, rugged mountains and colorful rock formations in every color of red, pink and coral.
Nature has been at work in Gold Butte for millions of years, carving out areas like the one called Little Finland – full of delicate, strangely shaped rock formations that are unlike anything you’ve ever seen in the desert.
Friends of Gold Butte, the non profit organization that promotes responsible visitation of the park, offers events and group hikes from time to time. Check their website for current opportunities and group events.
Plan a Day Trip to Gold Butte
If you attempt to visit Gold Butte on your own, make you have a 4wd or at least a high clearance vehicle and a spare tire. Fuel up before you go. The best place to stop before you enter the national monument is the nearby town of Mesquite. You can also pick up food and water there. Tip: don’t miss the small dam in Gold Butte built by the CCC in the 1930’s.
In my mind, Laughlin today is what I imagine Las Vegas looked like when it was new – smaller, fewer casinos, less glitz and way less crowds but still a place you’d like to spend some time in.
While most people come to Laughlin to gamble, the location on the Colorado River is a prime spot for outdoor activities too.
The river divides Nevada and Arizona and Davis Dam forms Lake Mojave just north of downtown. As part of Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the activities and water sport possibilities are endless. Whether you enjoy fishing, swimming or boating, there’s something for everyone.
For kayakers, Desert Rivers Outfitters offers river tours on the lower Colorado and provides the equipment you need to get out on the water.
Since Laughlin is below the dam, the Colorado River runs wide and clear and you can see all the way to the bottom, even in 30 feet of water.
Plan a Day Trip to Laughlin
Laughlin is an easy drive from Las Vegas and has a few well big name few casinos in town but is way more low key than Las Vegas. Other spots to visit in Laughlin are Davis Dam and Colorado River Heritage Greenway Park & Trails. Tip: to make a loop, drive Hwy 95 to Laughlin and return to Las Vegas via Hwy 93.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park is one of the most unique places in the United States. Not only is it the lowest point in North America – it’s one of the hottest places on earth and it’s the largest national park in the lower 48 states.
Since Las Vegas is so close to the park, it makes perfect sense that it’s one of the best day trips from Las Vegas. And while I think it deserves more than just a day, if you don’t have much time, it’s a great escape and a completely different experience from the lights and noise of the strip.
There are several ways to get to Death Valley National Park from Las Vegas but my favorite route is via Beatty or Pahrump. Both of those routes take you through some of Nevada’s best and most amazing landscapes. Exactly what a day trip should be.
Once you are in the park, don’t miss are Dante’s View, Badwater Basin and Zabriskie Point. Plus a stop at the Furnace Creek visitor center to see the big thermometer that displays the park temperature.
All of these popular stops are in the same area of the park and can be reached in a regular passenger car. No 4×4 or special equipment needed.
Plan a Day Trip to Death Valley National Park
Grand Canyon West
The Grand Canyon is arguably one of the most popular day trips from Las Vegas but it makes for a long day. If you’d like to see the Grand Canyon while you are in Vegas but don’t want to put in the extra time to visit the south rim then Grand Canyon West is your best bet.
The west rim of the Grand Canyon is the closest to Las Vegas so it’s a much more relaxing day. Grand Canyon West is owned and managed by the Hualapai people, the federally recognized Indian Tribe located in northwestern Arizona and some of the original inhabitants of this area.
The western viewpoint of the canyon has its own unique views plus the impressive glass Skywalk that goes out over the canyon is located there.
One of the things that’s offered at Grand Canyon West that you could easily do in a day is white water rafting. This would give you a chance to view the canyon from the unique perspective below. How cool would it be to raft the Colorado River on your Vegas vacation?
Plan a Day Trip to the Grand Canyon
Driving Tips for Day Trips From Las Vegas
Driving in the desert is no joke. Always keep an eye on your gas tank. Fueling stations around Las Vegas are plentiful but are fewer and far between out of town. Additionally, make sure you have everything you need to change a tire.
Phone service is decent is most of these areas around Las Vegas. Even in Lake Mead National Recreation area, you should have service. Gold Butte is the only one of these day trips from Las Vegas where service would not be available.
Day Trips From Las Vegas Planning
While a few of the places on this list can be visited with an organized tour, the best way to to do these day trips is by having your own vehicle. This allows you the freedom to explore more on your own schedule and discover some unexpected places along the way.
If you fly into Vegas and don’t want to rent a car for your entire trip, many of the large resorts have car rentals onsite so it’s easy to rent a vehicle just for a day.
Additionally, you can always return to the airport to pick up a vehicle. The airport (LAS) is conveniently located on the way to several of these day trips from Las Vegas.
Next, before you head out, plan out your itinerary, so you know which way you are headed, and after you determine which attractions you want to see, loosely estimate how much time to spend at each one.
Be realistic about how much you can fit into one day and leave some flexibility in case of changes. Also, to make sure you actually get to complete one of these day trips from Las Vegas, verify the places you want to visit are open.
Holidays, special events and just everything in general after the pandemic could impact hours and operations at some attractions.
Lastly, check the weather. Las Vegas has normally has really good weather, although hot at times, especially in the summer months. Make sure you take this into consideration before you plan on spending too much time outside.
All that’s left is to put on your comfy shoes, fill the water bottle and hit the road. Oh, and don’t forget some snacks or a maybe a stop at the closest In-N-Out Burger (map) on your way out of town.
Day Trips From Las Vegas Round-Up
In conclusion, Las Vegas is as an excellent base for exploring a host of captivating day trip destinations. There really is something for every type of traveler.
Whether you’re seeking natural wonders, cultural immersion, outdoor adventure, or a combination of experiences, the southern Nevada offers a diverse range of options.
So, take a break from the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas Strip, venture out on a day trip, and discover the hidden gems that await just beyond the city’s borders.