Las Vegas is flash, glamour, partying and gambling. It’s a place designed for simple fun. But that’s not what Las Vegas is all about though!
Every year more than 40 million tourists choose to visit America’s playground and for good reason. The hotel prices are excellent value, the entertainment quality is stellar and the air connections are plentiful and cheap. While a lot of those tourists are more than happy just to lounge at the pool during the day and party during the night, Las Vegas offers a wide variety of things to do and places to see outside of the shining lights of the city.
So for your next visit why not set one or two days aside and try some of the day trips we list below?
Helicopter to the Grand Canyon (or just to Red Rock)
There are myriad tour companies, but the fanciest ones offer ultra-modern chromed helicopters with wraparound glass cockpits, which touch down 1000 metres in the base of the Grand Canyon for a Champagne lunch, and have you back in three and a half hours. One of the most extravagant tours are the six-hour packeges, involving a prop plane flight to the Grand Canyon over the Hoover Dam, a helicopter flight into the base of the canyon where you’ll pick up a river boat down the Colorado River, then ascend back for a picnic on the rim of the canyon, and later visit the rustic Hualapai Ranch.
Can’t commit to a full day? There are even two-hour trips departing just minutes from its Strip terminal to Red Rock Conservation Area. While not all helicopter companies can land in the conservation area, there is one that has brokered a deal with a local private property owner right on its border. You’ll fly over the homes of Floyd Mayweather and Teller (of Penn and Teller) on your way to Red Rock, then watch the dramatic sunset with a bucket of Champagne and appetizers before hopping back in, circling to the north end of the Strip, and following all the way from the Stratosphere to the southern end. (Keep your eyes peeled for 80’s soap icon Lorenzo Lamas, now a helicopter pilot!)
Hike the Valley of Fire
Hike Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada’s oldest and largest state park, at just the right time of day and you’ll understand why it’s so aptly named. Just 88 kilometres northeast of Las Vegas via the I-15, it’s a massive park of red sandstone formations that’s also filled with ancient petrified trees and 3,000-year-old petroglyphs made by the prehistoric Basket Maker people and the Anasazi. Although it’s open year-round the best time to hike the park is between October and April, when the heat is a bit more manageable (daily summer highs can reach 49 degrees Celsius!). Hikes you shouldn’t miss include Rainbow Vista, a short hike that leads you to Fire Canyon and lends a spectacular view of the vista to the north. Fire Wave, only a 2 kilometre round trip, takes hikers to a fabulous view of wildly colorful sandstone, the hallmark of the park. Don’t leave without at least stopping by Elephant Rock, a hike that only takes about 10 minutes from Valley of Fire Highway. Climb behind Elephant Rock to see the incredible “trunk,” a natural arch that looks like an elephant.
Red Rock Canyon
By far the closest natural wonder to Las Vegas is Red Rock Canyon, which is a mere 40-minute drive from the Strip. Accessible from Blue Diamond Road on the south side of town and from Charleston Boulevard on the north, the canyon is nestled in the lower slopes of the Spring Mountains. A one-way “scenic loop” through the most picturesque rock formations is like taking a hike without ever leaving your vehicle. Even so, it’s worth stopping at some of the parking areas and walking a bit for even better views and a closer look at the flora and fauna in the area. If you’re lucky, you might even meet a desert tortoise. If you aren’t, you can see one at the visitor center, which has excellent displays about the history, geology and wildlife of the area.
Kayak Hoover Dam
You could also take a tour of Hoover Dam, which itself is an amazing experience: Most tours follow a guide through the interior and exterior of the highest concrete dam in the western hemisphere, which stands a daunting 210-plus metres above the Colorado River. You’ll get a look at the generator room and Lake Mead, the world’s largest man-made lake. Or, you could get in a kayak and get one of the most exceptional views possible of this modern wonder. A seven-hour tour on offer picks you up at your hotel and starts with a descent down the original road that was excavated from the canyon walls to create the dam. You’ll then kayak from the base of the Hoover Dam down the Colorado River and through the Black Canyon, stopping inside a “sauna cave” in a geothermal hot spring pool, exploring the preternaturally green Emerald Cave, and then through the Colorado River Valley. You’ll see lots of wildlife (Desert Big Horn sheep, coyotes, falcons, and even the occasional bald eagle) from the river. Feel free to quiz your guides, who can talk all about the dam, the history of the Black Canyon, and the vertiginous new Bypass Bridge.
Not everyone realizes just how accessible Death Valley is from Las Vegas. In less than three hours, you can arrive at Furnace Creek, the major crossroads in Death Valley National Park. Furnace Creek offers everything from world-class dining at the historic Furnace Creek Inn to burgers and snacks at the more casual Furnace Creek Ranch. From Furnace Creek, a number of Death Valley’s most famous landmarks are minutes away: Zabriskie Point, Badwater (the lowest spot in North America), Devil’s Golf Course, Artist’s Palette, 20-Mule Team Canyon, and Stovepipe Wells. Undeserving of its gloomy name, Death Valley is the permanent home of hundreds of people, a variety of wildlife and-when the weather cooperates- glorious displays of springtime wildflowers. Its colorful history is revealed in displays at Furnace Creek Ranch and at the National Park Service visitor centre.
Zion National Park
While distance makes Zion National Park a more attractive destination for an overnight or weekend trip, 10 hours is enough to drive there, tour the park by car, and return to Las Vegas. It takes about three hours to reach the park entrance from the city. On the way, food is available in Mesquite, Nev., and in St. George, Utah.
Zion is one of those places that defies easy description. All the appropriate adjectives-“awesome,” “spectacular,” “magnificent”-sound like exaggerations, but in fact they don’t even do it justice. With its tall golden walls, the deep canyon is like an enchanted interior — something you’d expect to see in a “Lord of the Rings” movie. Light snowcaps make the colorful rocks beautiful in winter, but spring is just as enchanting as all the trees on the forest floor begin to leaf out. Summer offers a full green lushness and cool mountain temperatures, and in fall, the whole valley turns to gold. There is no bad time to visit Zion.