Best Day Trips from Las Vegas
There is no doubt that Las Vegas is an exciting place to visit, but it is also blessed with a number of interesting day trip destinations nearby. Bunny found the attractions outside of Las Vegas as thrilling as the city itself.
Exploring the stunning Valley of Fire or hiking in the Red Rock Canyon, you will seem a thousand miles from civilisation, despite Vegas being just a short drive away. And Hoover Dam remains an imposing example of engineering marvel more than 80 years since its construction.
Read below for details about Bunny’s day trips from Las Vegas to the Valley of Fire, Red Rock Canyon and Hoover Dam.
Hoover Dam was the first (obvious) choice when Bunny started researching potential day trip destinations from Las Vegas. She knew it was nearby and she wanted to see the famous structure with her own eyes. What she didn’t know was that getting to Hoover Dam was super easy and that visiting it was free of charge!
Hoover Dam was the highest dam in the world when it was built in the 1930s. Although other dams have since surpassed its size, Hoover Dam remains an icon.
Today, it creates enough energy to serve approximately 500,000 homes in the United States. It has been a popular tourist destination since its completion and some 7 million people visit it annually.
Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
There are a number of organised tours you can take from Las Vegas to Hoover Dam but the simplest way is just to rent a car and do it on your own, Bunny says.
Taking Interstate 11 and U.S. Route 93 from Las Vegas, your first short stop should be at the Robert L. Mendenhall Scenic Overlook. Here you can get a nice glimpse of Lake Mead, a beautiful man-made lake that was formed as a consequence of Hoover Dam’s construction.
After a short drive, you will arrive at the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. The bridge was constructed in 2004-2010 as a bypass route to reduce the number of vehicles crossing the Hoover Dam. Before the bridge, Hoover Dam was a famous bottleneck for anyone travelling between Las Vegas and Phoenix.
You should park there and take the short upward path to the bridge itself. From the bridge, you will get a fabulous view of the Hoover Dam and the Colorado River below. In the middle of the bridge, you can spot the sign for the Arizona-Nevada border.
Bunny was a bit wobbly on her paws on the bridge and leery of being too close to the outer rail. No wonder since the bridge is a whopping 890 feet high. Don’t go if it’s windy and you're afraid of heights, Bunny says.
Onwards to Hoover Dam
After you’ve gotten your fill of the bridge, drive onwards, following the signs for Hoover Dam. There is a formal security checkpoint less than 2 miles from the Memorial Bridge but Bunny’s vehicle was waved through with barely a glance. If you are like Bunny and tend to travel without machine guns, you are likely to waltz through effortlessly.
After a bit of driving on the winding road, you will arrive at the dam. There is paid parking on the Nevada side just before the bridge. This is a tourist trap, Bunny says.
Instead, drive across the dam to the Arizona side and park in one of the free parking lots there (just not the first two which also require payment). You will have to walk a bit further to the dam but it’s not a strenuous stroll and the money you save can be used to buy a Cinnabon afterwards, Bunny says.
You can walk on and around the dam for free. The structure is very impressive and the views down to the Colorado River on both sides are a worthwhile contrast.
If you want to go to the Visitor Centre, you will have to cough up 10 USD. Bunny decided to skip it. If you are interested in having a closer look at the inner workings of the dam, you can take the Hoover Dam Powerplant Tour for 30 USD per person. Bunny decided that just hopping around the dam on her own would be enough and Mr. Bunny very much approved of the cheapo tactics.
Lake Mead Lakeview Overlook
On your way back to Vegas, don’t miss the Lake Mead Lakeview Overlook just off Nevada 172. Take a right turn after leaving the Hoover Dam security checkpoint (there is a brown sign) and you’ll arrive at a parking lot a couple hundred of meters later.
From the overlook, you’ll have gorgeous views of Lake Mead. The overlook also has a number of interpretive displays about the region. It’s well worth a quick look, Bunny says.
You can visit Hoover Dam 365 days a year. The driving time from Vegas is about 50 minutes and half a day is plenty of time for the whole excursion.
If you are visiting in the summer, beware of the heat. Most of the fatalities during the bridge’s construction were from heat-related causes, Bunny learned during her visit.
Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is just outside Las Vegas. It forms the easternmost part of the Mojave Desert. The rugged southwestern landscape here has been moulding for millions of years and includes surreal rock formations, narrow canyons and dramatic red rock scenery.
You should start your visit at the informative Visitor Centre. There are nice views to the desert, impressive indoor and outdoor exhibits and a small gift shop.
The friendly staff is happy to advise you about opportunities for hiking, biking, rock climbing and desert wildlife watching inside the park. You can also obtain a very handy map of the park’s 13-mile Scenic Drive and all the hiking paths in the area.
If you only do one thing in the Red Rock Canyon, it should be the Scenic Drive. It leaves directly from the Visitor Center and forms a one-way loop around the park’s most interesting formations.
Many of the stops on the Scenic Drive act as trail heads for hikes inside the park. There are also restrooms and picnic areas along the route.
Bunny hopped around many of the scenic stops but didn’t venture on any of the longer hikes as she had satiated her hiking fix in the Red Spring area just next to Red Rock Canyon. Bunny’s hike and scramble among red rocks at Red Spring was challenging enough for Mr. Bunny to moan about and picturesque enough for Bunny to snap dozens of lovely photos. A clear win-win, Bunny says.
Red Rock Canyon is open every day of the year but the hours change a bit according to the season. The entrance fee is 15 USD per vehicle (free of charge if you have an America the Beautiful Annual Pass).
Driving time from the Las Vegas Strip is approximately half an hour. Be prepared to queue for a bit at the entrance, Bunny says.
If you are a keen hiker, you can easily spend the whole day here but 3-4 hours is enough if you just want to pop into the Visitor Center and do the Scenic Drive.
Valley of Fire State Park
Valley of Fire was Bunny’s favourite day trip from Las Vegas. The scenery is stunning, there is a wonderful scenic drive and there are a number of short, delightful hikes to choose from inside the park.
The canyons, towers, domes and ridges of the Valley of Fire were formed 150 million years ago, when the dinosaurs still roamed the earth. There are also ancient petrified trees and petroglyphs inside the park.
Lake Mead Recreation Area
Valley of Fire State Park is less than an hour’s drive from Las Vegas if you take the Interstate 11. Save the Interstate leg for the return journey, Bunny says.
Instead, it’s much better to take the Nevada Scenic State Route 167 on your way to Valley of Fire State Park. This alternate route meanders through the Lake Mead Recreation Area and will add only about 20-25 minutes to your driving time - but it is well worth the detour.
You will witness some spectacular desert scenery from the twisting road. There are also some scenic overlooks on the way. Just keep in mind that you will have to pay the 25 USD entrance fee to the Lake Mead Recreation Area, unless you have an America the Beautiful Annual Pass.
Valley of Fire Scenic Loop Drive
Once you arrive in the Valley of Fire, it is best to head right to the Visitor Center. It has exhibits, interpretive displays and a gift shop which also sells some snacks (that totally saved the Bunnies from starvation). You can also get a free map of the Scenic Loop Drive here.
Most of the interesting formations in the park are situated along the scenic road, making viewing very easy. Bunny’s favourite spot was the Rainbow Vista which had a lovely panoramic viewpoint over the park - provided you were ready to scramble on top of an intimidating-looking big rock ramp next to the parking lot. Bunny is happy to report that she did!
Bunny also checked out the White Domes, Elephant Rock, Seven Sisters, Arch Rock and some interesting petroglyphs dating back more than 2000 years.
Fire Wave Hike
There are a number of opportunities for short hikes along the Scenic Loop Drive.
Bunny did the Fire Wave hike (trail head: Parking lot 3) which took her just under an hour. The trail takes you to a sandstone formation that resembles an ocean wave with swirling patterns of red, pink and white. It’s not quite as spectacular as its namesake in Arizona, but it is a lot more accessible.
The trail itself is easy and only 1,5 miles long. There is absolutely no shade though, so be prepared with lots of water, a hat and plenty of sunscreen if you go on a hot day.
Valley of Fire State Park is open daily from sunrise to sunset. There is a 10 USD entrance fee per car (as this is a state park, the America the Beautiful Annual Pass is not valid here).
You can arrive at the park either through the east or west entrances. The 10,5-mile Valley of Fire Road, a Nevada Scenic Byway, is the main road through the park, connecting the two entrances.
It is easy to spend the whole day here and you should reserve a minimum three hours to do the park any justice. The best time to visit is autumn or spring as summer temperatures regularly soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Grand Canyon From Las Vegas?
Bunny wouldn’t recommend visiting Grand Canyon from Las Vegas, unless you just want a quick helicopter ride in and out. It is too far to drive from Vegas to the Grand Canyon and back in a single day. Doing so would see you spend a minimum of 9 hours in your car. Not pleasant.
Bunny herself visited the Grand Canyon on a separate trip and spent two nights there, giving her ample time to explore the national park. You can read all about Bunny’s visit to the Grand Canyon.
If you’re planning a holiday in Las Vegas, set aside a day or two for interesting day trips in the area. This will give you a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city and an opportunity to experience more rugged Nevada landscapes.
If you have just one extra day in Vegas, Bunny would recommend a day trip to the Valley of Fire for some awesome scenery and lovely, short hikes. If half a day is all you can spare, good options are either Red Rock Canyon, particularly if you’re a hiker, or Hoover Dam.