A rearview mirror of a car in the desert near the red rocks of Valley of Fire State Park

15 Best Las Vegas Day Trips You Don’t Want to Miss

Las Vegas is one of the best destinations to visit in the United States. The sights and sounds of The Strip are unlike any other city. But all that activity gets to be a bit overwhelming after a few days of slot machine noise and crowds. Luckily, it’s super easy to find some peace and quiet by adding a few Las Vegas day trips to your travel plans. Southern Nevada is full of amazing public lands, historic cities and engineering marvels. Here are a few ideas for you.

Day Trips From Las Vegas

From shorter Las Vegas day trips in the general surrounding area to longer national park road trips, the opportunity for exploring around Vegas are endless. As someone who has traveled to Vegas more than 25 times, I know a few things about the city and since my daughter lives nearby, I’m constantly adding new places to my list of Las Vegas day trips.

This list includes destinations that are genuinely day trips from Las Vegas and all of them within a 3 hour drive from The Strip. That way you can maximize your time enjoying some sights outside the city without spending too much time on the road. You’ll still have plenty of time to come back to your hotel for a nap before heading out to enjoy the Vegas nightlife and many of the free things, to do in Las Vegas.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

  • 30 miles from Las Vegas
  • 35 minutes
  • $25 per vehicle or free with the America the Beautiful pass

If you only have time for one Las Vegas day trip, then my recommendation is to visit the largest man-made lake in the United States Lake Mead. A true oasis in the desert, this national park is full of beautiful, diverse landscapes with scenic drives, easy hikes and even a chance to get a glimpse of some wildlife.

The best way to really appreciate Lake Mead is by getting out on the water. Boats, kayaks and jet-skis are available to rent for the day at most of the marinas in the park. There’s even a resident paddle boat, the Desert Princess, available for dinner and sunset cruises.

For those that prefer to stay on land, Lake Mead National Recreation Area offers dozens of trails and hikes for every skill level. The Historic Railroad Trails are the perfect, easy introduction to the park and provide some of the most epic views of the lake.

The trails follow the old railroad beds previously used for carrying supplies to the Hoover Dam project. Besides terrific vantage points for seeing the lake, you might just encounter a big horn sheep or two.

If you happen to visit in summer, then Lakeshore Road is the perfect route for the viewing the lake and snapping photos from your vehicle at the various pullouts along the way. And don’t forget to stop in at the park visitor center for a passport stamp, Junior Ranger activities and souvenirs.

Hoover Dam

  • 35 miles from Las Vegas
  • 40 minutes
  • Free or $10-$30 depending on the tour you choose

A visit to the Hoover Dam is one of my favorite Las Vegas day trips. If you’ve only seen the dam 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.

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, tour the generator room and other features, The Bureau of Reclamation – aka the government agency that oversees the dam – offers three different options of tours 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.

For tours or if you opt to park for free and simply walk across the dam on your own, you’ll need comfy walking shoes and water keep your hydrated. Snacks and water are available for purchase at the cafe and vending machines at the dam.

Southerner Says: don’t miss the fancy bathrooms at the top of the dam as you walk across the dam.

Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

  • 37 miles from Las Vegas
  • 40 minutes
  • Free

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 caused a lot of congestion on this route.

To improve traffic flow and widen the lanes, Nevada and Arizona joined forces and constructed the Hoover Dam Bypass. Part of that project included adding the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, a new four-lane bridge crossing the Colorado River that replaced the bridge over the dam.

The new 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 real construction wonder!

One of the best things about the bridge is the pedestrian path along side. Not only do you get a great vantage spot with a direct view of the Hoover Dam but you also have a chance to experience firsthand just how big and how high that bridge is.

To walk across the bridge, follow signs on Highway 93 to the bridge’s designated parking area. There is plenty of parking and even though you have to walk a little up hill, there are steps and an assessible ramp that to the walking path. Admission and parking are both free.

Southerner Says: here’s your chance to snap a pic of the Nevada state sign from the bridge as you return to the parking lot.

Boulder City, Nevada

  • 27 miles from Las Vegas
  • 30 minutes
  • Free

“The city that built the dam” better known as Boulder City was pivotal in the development of Hoover Dam and southern Nevada. This area is where the government housed the workers during the dam construction and after completion, was formed into its own town. Everywhere you look around in Boulder City is a reminder their contribution to the dam.

To learn about Boulder City, and the Hoover Dam, start your visit at Boulder Dam Hotel. This historic hotel is quite famous and has hosted dozens of celebrities. Not to mention, it’s home to one of the most educational museums about the massive dam project, focusing on the stories of the people who left their lives to build z dam in the middle of desert.

Many of the buildings in Boulder City were built during the dam construction and walking through downtown, you’ll notice dam-themed art and artifacts displayed everywhere. The town has a way of welcoming you in with it’s charming vibe.

If you’re in town long enough to enjoy a meal then don’t miss burgers at The Dillinger or coffee and local souvenirs at the Boulder City Co Store. You can even take a break to gamble at the Railroad Pass Casino – one of the oldest casinos in Southern Nevada, hosting visitors since 1931.

Southerner Says: start your morning in Lake Mead National Recreation Area, have lunch in Boulder City and finish the day at the Hoover Dam.

Valley of Fire State Park

  • 45 miles from Las Vegas
  • 50 minutes
  • $10 per car for Nevada plated vehicles – $15 for others

Before you even get to Valley of Fire State Park, you’ll see where its name comes from and also why it was Nevada’s first state park. Its fiery red Aztec sandstone rock, formed from ancient sand dunes more than 150 million years ago, are easy to spot before entering the park.

The colors are so outstanding, that it actually appears to glow in the otherwise pretty monotone desert setting. Inside the park and up close, you’ll find those red rocks in a variety of unique formations like domes and arches, offering an otherworldly experience. Plus, the park holds some of the most impressive two thousand year old preserved petroglyphs I’ve ever seen.

Valley of Fire State Park is simple to get to from Las Vegas and most of the popular features can be seen in a day. Even if you didn’t pack your hiking boots, you can still see the popular sites and easy trails. Atlatl Rock – where the petroglyphs are – Arch Rock and Elephant Rock, don’t require any strenuous hiking.

Alos, make sure to include a visit to the visitor center for educational 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.

Southerner Says: 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) for some of the best park views.

Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area

  • 17 miles from Las Vegas
  • 20 minutes
  • $20 per vehicle or free with the America the Beautiful pass

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 Las Vegas day trip.

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. In many places Joshua trees, yucca plants and various types of cacti dot the landscape as far as you can see. And wildlife like desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, burros and wild horses can be found here as well.

If you don’t have time for a hike or stroll, some of the main highlights of the park can be seen via its 13 mile scenic drive. Reservations are required between October 1 though May 31 and can be made ahead of time at Recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777.

Tip: Red Rock has a resident burro named Jackson that you can meet. Visit his Facebook page for more details.

a sunset in Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas
Red Rock Canyon’s scenic drive

Mount Charleston

  • 37 miles from Las Vegas
  • 45 minutes
  • Free to drive the scenic route

There’s nothing more surprising than leaving the heat of the Las Vegas behind and finding snow. Yes, 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 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 its snow topped peak in the distance. And any time of the year, the cooler mountains temperatures are a welcome escape from the hot Vegas temps.

Drive the 41 mile scenic loop and watch the scenery change from arid desert scrub to wooded alpine. This route boasts plenty of viewpoints along the way and there’s also an interesting visitor center to check out as well.

Or stretch your legs on one of two of the easier hiking trails in the area. The Desert View Overlook Trail and Kunav Huveep hike are both super easy.

Southerner Says: keep you eyes open for wild burros that roam the area.

Overton, Nevada

  • 65 miles from Las Vegas
  • 50 minutes
  • $6 for adults, kids are free

At the north end of Lake Mead, the next closest community to Valley of Fire State Park, Overton, Nevada was once home to Ancestral Puebloans, known for their pit and cliff dwelling homes. The area of Nevada is often is referred to as Pueblo Grande de Nevada or simply – the Lost City.

While there’s no cliff dwellings in Nevada like you’ll find in Colorado and Arizona, the remnants of pit homes, and other artifacts, have been found in the region. You can find some of those objects on display at the Lost City Museum. The museum is situated on the site of the ancient Pueblo Grande de Nevada, which was a significant archaeological find in the 1920s.

Thoughtfully curated exhibits feature pottery, tools, jewelry, and other artifacts provide a look into the daily lives, customs and traditions of the Puebloans. One of the museum galleries even features an actual pit dwelling.

Outside the museum you’ll find reconstructed pueblos and a huge petroglyph panel on display. With the looming Virgin Mountains in the background, it’s easy to see why the Native Americans chose this place to call home.

Southerner Says: Overton is very small but does offer a few food trucks and even a restaurant from celebrity magician and illusionist Chriss Angel named Cablp.

Gold Butte National Monument

  • 108 miles from Las Vegas
  • 2.5 hours
  • Free

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 vising 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. Since all of the roads in Gold Butte are gravel and unpaved you’ll need a high clearance four-wheel drive vehicle.

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 hue 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 that’s 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.

Southerner Says: don’t miss the chance to see the historic small dam built by the CCC in the 1930’s.

Laughlin, Nevada

  • 96 miles from Las Vegas
  • 1.5 hours
  • Free to visit

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, its location on the Colorado River is the ideal spot for outdoor adventures.

The Colorado River divides Nevada and Arizona and Davis Dam forms Lake Mojave just north of downtown Laughlin. Part of Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the water sport possibilities are endless. Whether you want to fish, swim or boat, you can do it in Laughlin.

One of the most best things to do on this day trip from Las Vegas is to kayak the Colorado River. Since Laughlin is situated below the dam, this section of the river is crystal clear. You can see all the way to the bottom, even in 30 feet of water.

Desert Rivers Outfitters offers river tours on the lower Colorado and provides the equipment you need to get out on the water.

Southerner Says: to make a complete loop on this day trip from Las Vegas, drive Hwy 95 to Laughlin and return to the city via Hwy 93.

Kayaking on the Colorado River near Laughlin, Nevada one of the best day trips from Las Vegas

Death Valley National Park

  • 126 miles from Las Vegas
  • 2 hours
  • $30 per car or free with the America the Beautiful National Park Pass.

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 Death Valley is the closest national park to Las Vegas, 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 that’s all the time you have, you couldn’t ask for a better escape 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 most amazing desert landscapes.

Once you’re in the park, don’t miss are some of the most popular features like 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 is a must.

These stops are in the same area of the park and can be reached in a regular passenger car. No four-wheel drive or special equipment needed to visit. Make sure you pack plenty of water and if visiting in summer, use caution when driving and stay on the paved roads.

Southerner Says: don’t miss the sea level sign on the mountain above the parking lot at Badwater Basin to get an idea of what 282 feet below sea level feels like.

Grand Canyon West

  • 127 miles from Las Vegas
  • 2 hours
  • $49+ depending on the package

One of the most popular day trips from Las Vegas is visiting the Grand Canyon. However, it’s a really long day if you are returning to Las Vegas. The solution – Grand Canyon West. Owned and managed by the Hualapai Indian Tribe, this is the closest and easiest viewpoint of the Grand Canyon to visit on a Las Vegas day trip.

The western rim of the Grand Canyon has the same views of the canyon just like you were visiting Grand Canyon National Park’s south rim. In fact, you are a bit lower and and more on an eye level of the canyon. Plus, Grand Canyon West offers the impressive 4000 foot tall glass Skywalk out over the canyon.

For a totally different perspective, you can even add white water rafting to your Grand Canyon day trip. How cool would it be to raft the Colorado River on your Vegas vacation?

Southerner Says: if you decide to stay overnight, Grand Canyon West has some pretty sweet cabins with terrfic views.

The skywalk at Grand Canyon West, one of the best day trips from Las Vegas
Skywalk photo courtesy of Stan Larimore via Unsplash / One of the Best Day Trips From Las Vegas

Kelso Dunes at Mojave National Preserve

  • 141 miles from Las Vegas
  • 2.5 hours
  • Free

The Kelso Dune complex is one of the oldest and most extensive dune fields in the western United States. The dunes are fun day trip from Las Vegas, taking you through thousands of Joshua Trees and the vast beauty of the Mojave National Preserve.

Created 25,000 years ago and rising 600 feet above the desert, you can see the dunes long before you get there. Which is good because depending on when you visit you might not want to make the hike all the way out to the dunes, not to mention the top.

The trailhead to the dunes, is assessible by an 3 mile, unpaved dirt road but we did it in a passenger car. Just pay attention to the road and weather conditions. Once you reach the trail, it’s 4 miles and approximately 700 feet of elevation gain so it’s not an easy walk to climb the dunes.

Fortunately, the beauty of this place lies not just in reaching the destination, but in the walk itself. You can walk as much as you want, and if you decide to turn around before reaching the end, it’s still a fun experience.

Visiting in the cooler months will make it much easier. We attempted to do it in summer and it was just too hot to walk the entire trail. For a success summit account, California Through My Lens has a informative article about visiting the dunes at sunset.

Southerner Says: while visiting, be on the lookout for the elusive, desert tortoise that lives in the Mojave Desert.

Snow Canyon State Park

  • 129 miles from Las Vegas
  • 2 hours
  • $15 for Non-Residents

Like Nevada, Utah is blessed with gorgeous scenery and boasts 46 state parks. One of the easiest and best day trips from Las Vegas is to one of those state parks, Snow Canyon State Park. Located in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, in the southwest corner of Utah, it’s a fairly easy and straightforward route from Vegas mostly on Interstate-15.

Snow Canyon State Park lies on the now extinct Santa Clara Volcano and full of lava tubes, lava flows and amazing bright red sand dunes and cliffs as well as mountains of white Navajo sandstone that kind of looks like snow in the desert.

With 38 miles of hiking trails and a 3 mile paved walking trail, this is the perfect opportunity to see some of Utah’s otherworldly landscapes and maybe spot some wildlife along the way. Don’t miss Jenny’s Canyon Trail and Pioneer Names trail, both of which are super easy, plus child and sneaker friendly.

Zion National Park

  • 160 miles from Las Vegas
  • 2 hours 30 minutes
  • $35 per car or free with the America the Beautiful National Park Pass

Zion National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the United States. And although, I think it deserves more than a day, it’s very doable as a Las Vegas day trip. Especially if you don’t have time for a longer Utah Mighty 5 National Park road trip, then at least visiting Zion for the day is a good alternative.

You can even visit Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park together on an organized tour from Las Vegas. Check out that tour here.

Just like Snow Canyon State Park, the drive to Zion National Park is pretty straight forward. The trickiness of visiting Zion in a single day is the crowds and accessing Zion Canyon, the canyon where some of the most popular features like Angel’s Landing and The Narrows are located. In the busy, high season, the National Park Service uses a shuttle to cut down on traffic.

To beat the crowds, you can visit Zion National Park on a Las Vegas day trip and not go into Zion Canyon. There’s still plenty to do in other areas of the park. Start at the visitor center and hike the nearby easy Pa’rus Trail or Archeology Trail. Then drive the Mt. Carmel highway to the east entrance for some of the best views, stopping at viewpoints along the way. Don’t miss Checkerboard Mesa and the Mt. Carmel tunnel.

If you have limited time and want to hike a specific trail, like The Narrows, in a day trip from Las Vegas, then I suggest booking an organized tour with a reputable company. That way they are responsible for getting you in and out of the park and to the hike in a more efficient manner.

Las Vegas Day Trips Tips

The majority of places on this Las Vegas day trips list can be visited with an organized tour but if you have access to a vehicle, then I recommend driving yourself. That allows you the freedom to explore 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 rental car agencies onsite making it pretty simple to rent a vehicle just for a day.

Also, you can always return to the airport to pick up a vehicle. Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) is conveniently located right on the way to several of these day trips from Las Vegas. Uber to the airport and pick up a vehicle. Compare rates on rentals by using DiscoverCars.com to search for the perfect vehicle.

Before you head out, plan your itinerary so you can loosely estimate how much time you’ll have. Be realistic about how much you can fit into one day especially if you are visiting in the hot summer months. And if visiting public lands, remember to Leave No Trace principles and leave them better than you found them.

Final Thoughts on Las Vegas Day Trips

Las Vegas is one of the best bases in the southwest USA for road tripping and exploring. With a host of historic and outsdoorsy day trip destinations, there is something to see and do for every kind of traveler. Whether you’re seeking natural wonders, into ghost towns or just want to learn more about the desert, southern Nevada offers a range of fun, exciting options.

See you on the road!

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