For nature lovers, Las Vegas is a launch point to some of the most unique landscapes and recreation areas in the American Southwest.
The city is a literal crossroad to adventure. And if you visit and never experience its outdoor pleasures, you’re missing out – there are so many amazing day trips from Las Vegas. In a matter of a couple hours, you can be stomping through a bristlecone forest, riding a jet ski on the Colorado River, or canyoneering a red rock slot canyon.
In fact, there are 20 national parks, monuments and recreation areas within 300 miles of Las Vegas. That’s a seriously high number, and that doesn’t even include nearby state parks. The city’s proximity to so many recreational areas makes it ideal for putting down roots for a few days of exploration.
And while Zion (160 miles, 2.5 hours), the Grand Canyon (275 miles; 4 hours), Death Valley (130 miles, 2 hours) and Great Basin (295 miles, 4.5 hours) national parks are a bit too far for a day trip (and definitely deserve more attention than a few hours), there several places places to hike to escape Las Vegas for an afternoon.
But to help narrow your options down, check out the ideas below if you want to use Las Vegas as a home base for a little adventure — and be back in time for dinner and a show on the Strip. These easy day trips from Las Vegas are all under a two-hour drive of Sin City.
Related read: 7 Epic Things to Do at Great Basin National Park, Nevada
1. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Just 30 minute from downtown or the Strip, this colorful canyon might as well be worlds away. You’ll find a few slot canyons here, but the highlight of the area are the incredible hikes that run into narrow, high-walled canyons, like Ice Box Canyon.
For locals, Red Rock is the go-to place on weekends or to catch the sunset after a stressful day. The park protects a spectacular scarlet-and-gold sandstone outcrop on the western edge of the Las Vegas valley. A 13-mile scenic drive connects the dozens of hiking trails and provides access to some of America’s top rock climbing routes.
With the park’s popularity growing, Red Rock now requires timed entry reservations to access to the Scenic Loop Drive. However, there are trailheads outside the loop, so it’s possible to visit without entering the park.
Distance from Las Vegas: 16 miles (approx. 20 mins)
2. Valley of Fire State Park
Even if you’ve never heard of Valley of Fire State Park, you’ve likely seen it in countless car commercials, or as the backdrop in films like “Transformers” or “Total Recall,” where it was used as a Martian backdrop.
Giant boulders, petrified wood, 3,000-year-old petroglyphs, and majestic rock formations with names like “Elephant Rock” and “The Beehives” make up Nevada’s oldest and largest state park. To truly experience Valley of Fire, get out on one of the park’s epic trails like Fire Wave or White Domes.
Distance from Las Vegas: 46 miles (approx. 45 mins)
3. Hoover Dam & Boulder City
It might be difficult to get excited about a dam, but the Hoover Dam is an exception to that generalization — it’s incredibly impressive and worth the short drive. It’s as absolute must, if only to marvel at the massive concrete structure from above. If you want to learn more, you can tour the power plant.
After visiting the dam, check out Boulder City, built in 1931 to house the thousands of dam workers. If your timing is right (late afternoon) you’ll see bighorn sheep grazing in Hemenway Park. The city park isn’t far from small main street, which is defined by a handful of quirky shops and restaurants like the classic Coffee Cup Cafe,the Dillinger, and Boulder Dam Brewing.
Another fun detour hits at the heart of train enthusiasts: the Nevada State Railroad Museum. It has several cars on display and you can even pedal and pilot your own Rail Explorers car along the tracks.
Distance from Las Vegas: 26 miles (approx. 30 mins)
4. Lake Mead National Recreational Area
If you’re looking for water fun in Las Vegas, you can find it at Lake Mead. Formed by the Hoover Dam, it’s the largest reservoir in the United States and an aquatic playground for visitors and locals looking to escape the searing summer heat.
The national recreation area is popular for swimming, boating, kayaking, fishing and hiking, but also, surprisingly, scuba diving. Lake Mead is considered one of the top freshwater dive areas in the U.S., including one site with a submerged B-29 Superfortress bomber.
If getting in (or on) the water isn’t your thing, you can always hike along the Historic Railroad Trail, a flat stroll through five railway tunnels.
Distance from Las Vegas: 35 miles (approx. 45 mins)
5. Mt. Charleston
Technically called the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area — it’s more commonly referred to as Mt. Charleston in honor of the range’s highest peak. The actual Mt. Charleston hike is challenging and tops out at 11,916 feet, so it’s best for experienced hikers.
The day trip from Las Vegas serves as a retreat from the heat of city. It’s ideal for family picnics, camping, and hiking, especially as the trails here are as unique as they come. Hikers can make short treks to waterfalls, wind through pinion and juniper forests to ancient strands of gnarled bristlecone pines, or nab a couple peaks over 10,000 feet. When it starts snowing, you can ski and snowboard in Lee Canyon.
Distance from Las Vegas: 45 miles (approximately 45 mins)
Laughlin, which sits on the Nevada/Arizona border, is a river town best visited from late spring to early fall when temperatures are warm and you can splash on the Colorado River. Mid-summer is sweltering so hiking is probably out in July and August, but if you arrive when the temperatures are cooler, be sure to hit the trails. One of the best is Grapevine Canyon, which passes more than 700 petroglyphs and three seasonal waterfalls.
If you want to get on the water, you can rent kayaks and boats at Katherine Landing or Cottonwood Cove Marina. Laughlin also has a handful of casinos along the water, all of which can be a great place to grab lunch in the air conditioning for an hour or so. You can even pop on the water taxi to travel between them.
Distance from Las Vegas: 95 miles (approx. 1 hour, 30 mins)
7. Seven Magic Mountains & Pioneer Saloon
This day trip from Las Vegas leads to a seemingly random stretch of desert, then heads to a historic (and haunted?) Wild West saloon.
You’ll first head to the 30-foot-tall rainbow rock column of stacked boulders that made Seven Magic Mountains an Instagram hit. You’ll find the address on most maps, but it’s basically smack in the middle of the desert.
After capturing your selfie, hop back in the car and make a beeline to the Pioneer Saloon in Goldsprings, roughly 15 minutes away. Built in 1913, this no-frills saloon, with its original stamped tin walls, brass foot rail, and pot bellied stove, is a step back in time.
It was here that Clark Gable drank while waiting for word on the fate of his wife Carole Lombard (who was killed in a plane crash five miles away near Mount Potosi) and the site of a murderous card game (the bullet holes are still visible in the wall.) So as you might imagine, there’s plenty of speculation that the place is haunted. It’s a quirky gem of a destination few travelers know about.
Distance from Las Vegas: 25 miles (approx. 30 mins)
8. Eldorado Canyon & Nelson Ghost Town
During its heyday, which began in the 1860s and lasted seven decades, Eldorado Canyon and the Techatticup Mine had generous deposits of silver and gold. The lawless town was also rich in outlaw justice.
Today, the Nelson ghost town is a partially restored mining camp offering tours and other services. Wooden barns, outbuildings, and cabins make up the grounds, which are speckled with old gas pumps, metal signs, and rusted-out antique cars and trucks, some overrun with cholla cactus. You can also see the the tail of a crashed airplane, stuck nose-down in the earth, just as it was in the film “3,000 Miles to Graceland.” There are some great photography opportunities around the town, too.
Distance from Las Vegas: 50 miles (approx. 45 mins)
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