Take a beyond-the-glow day trip from Las Vegas.

A young blonde woman walks through a red-stone canyon. Behind her it is lit brightly by the sun. She is dressed for cooler weather, with hiking boots and a hat, evoking a sense of wonder and adventure. Copy on the image says: Goldstrike Canyon is often closed seasonally from May through September due to extreme heat, so winter is the perfect time to take advantage of this challenging hike and the hot springs along the way.
Goldstrike Canyon ©mindyonthemove

Let’s be real: Las Vegas has so much to do it could be your annual destination and you’d still never see it all. We have no argument with that, but sometimes you might find yourself itching for something a little less neon and a little more natural. Luckily, you can have it all with this three-part road trip that will have you exploring world-famous Hoover Dam, outdoor playgrounds like Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire, exciting attractions, and charming towns—and still get you back in time for your dinner reservation.  

Photo taken from a pullout/parking area, a winding road leads into Red Rock Canyon, with stormy clouds in the sky.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area ©Dale Smith

Red Rockin’ Loop
60 to 110 miles

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (Red Rock for short) sits just 17 miles from The Strip but is truly a world of its own. Craggy ribbons of multihued sandstone rise and fall and beg to be explored and photographed. Pack the snacks and book it to the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center to view a live desert tortoise habitat and get hiking tips from rangers. 

A group of people. of multiple ages and ethnicities, are doing yoga on the lawn at Spring Mountain State Park. There are many trees and tall mountains surrounding, with blue skies.
Spring Mountain State Park

After the dramatic beauty of Red Rock, a quick drive will transport you to Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, a verdant oasis full of hikes, historic buildings, and unique ranger programs. The lush landscape with its six babbling springs is perfect for families looking to picnic or couples looking for the vacation yoga class.  

Photo shows the remains of a stone building, Yount Store, in the general stores site of the Goodsprings walking tour. There is sagebrush all around, and blue skies with clouds.
Yount Store, general stores site, Goodsprings walking tour ©Gary Reese
Two people smile and look at the camera, inside the Pioneer Saloon. They are at the bar - one is a bartender and the other a patron. Bottles of alcohol can be seen in the background and the bar is dark wood.
Pioneer Saloon

Less than an hour from Spring Mountain, Goodsprings is a frozen-in-time (like 1904 time) town that was one of the most bountiful mining districts in southern Nevada. After a historic walking tour, it’s time for the real history to begin. Head to the famous Pioneer Saloon—built in 1913—and belly up to the bar for a killer drink, fantastic meal, and a story or two, like how those bullet holes got in the wall and which Hollywood royalty left cigar burns in the bar. It all happened here, so if you find yourself wondering if it’s worth the drive, the answer is a resounding heck yeah! 

A mountain goat stands atop a red rock cliff at Valley of Fire State Park.
Valley of Fire State Park ©Martin Gollery

 Fire & Water Loop
120 to 175 miles

A sunrise or sunset at Lake Mead, with one lone powerboat seen in the water. Mountains in the distance and sagebrush and rabbit brush in the foreground.
Lake Mead ©John Harrison

The scenic route along Lake Mead’s edge to Nevada’s first state park is arguably as beautiful as the park itself, and that’s saying something. Valley of Fire State Park’s bright red, Aztec sandstone dates to the Jurassic era and features petroglyphs that are some 2,500 years old. Hike, wander, spot desert bighorn sheep, and take all the pictures your camera can hold—just don’t forget lots of water and sunscreen. Make sure to recreate responsibly (see pg. 102 for tips) and leave the park as you found it. 

A birds-eye (drone) view of the city of Mesquite shows the Virgin River, flat-topped mesas, and a sprawling desert metropolis down below, with plenty of trees and sagebrush surrounding.
The 'Little Finland' area of Gold Butte National Monument, shows red rocky cliff and interesting deep red Aztec sandstone sculptures, with palm trees growing at the base of the cliff, where a spring runs through. Mountains in the background, and lots of green plants on the valley floor.
Gold Butte National Monument

After that spectacular experience, hit the road and head to Mesquite. This adorable border town is home to art, culture, great restaurants, and hotels, plus nine golf courses—all set against a stunning Virgin River Valley backdrop. It’s also the gateway to the next stop on the loop, Gold Butte National Monument. This area is perfect for anyone looking for Valley of Fire-type landscape without the crowds, but make no mistake; this stop requires a big sense of adventure. More than 300,000 remote acres offer landscapes galore, incredible petroglyph panels, and critical habitat for a variety of wildlife, but there are no services in Gold Butte and cell service is spotty at best, so make sure you’re well outfitted. It’s a bit of a haul, but oh, the bragging rights you’ll have are so worth it.

Two young male patrons point and smile at an exhibit at the Lost City Museum. The exhibit seems to show a young Native American (Indian) woman sifting through something in a pan. Female patrons are in the background, looking at another exhibit.
Lost City Museum ©Neil Lockhart

Heading back to Las Vegas, make sure to stop in Moapa Valley and discover more about the Ancestral Puebloan culture at Lost City Museum. Tools, pottery, and other artifacts—recovered from the on-site excavation pit—offer a glimpse of what life was like in the region. After, reward yourself for a trip well taken with a milkshake at The Inside Scoop.  

The Southwest Diner Restaurant in Boulder City, with palm trees (and other trees) all around, photo taken from across the street. Blue skies with clouds.
Boulder City
Hoover Dam at sunrise or sunset, with blue-green water, photographed from the longest viewing bridge in North America. Lots of red rock surrounds the large rock-gravity hydroelectric dam.
Hoover Dam

Colorado River Corridor
70 to 250 miles

Our third leg is heavy on the fun, with a healthy hit of history. Hoover Dam is still a modern marvel even at 88 years old, and the tour is one of the best in the country. Afterward, test your camera’s panorama mode from the 886-foot-tall, 1,905-foot-long viewing bridge—the longest of its kind in North America. After you’ve had enough dam fun, explore Boulder City, the quiet, Art Deco-obsessed town that housed the dam workers. You’ll find fascinating and funky museums, cute shops, outdoor activities, and amazing eats. Boulder City has swanky, retro-chic, and everything in-between for lodging options if you can’t get your fill in just one day. 

Two people walk on the sidewalk alongside the water, in Laughlin. There are many palm trees, a casino, and McDonald's logo visible, with mountains in the distance.
Laughlin ©Shaun Astor
A commercial ghost town shows a school bus, remnants of a wagon, and two buildings. One building is a large barn-like wooden structure and the other appears to be a smaller outbuilding, with a Coca-Cola sign on it, and an old gas pump next to it.
Techatticup Mine

When you are ready, head toward Laughlin with a stop in the ghost town of Nelson and take the very cool tour of Techatticup Mine. Resume the journey to Laughlin, Nevada’s riverfront resort town. Stay along the river walk in one of the many amenity-packed resort-casinos, take a water taxi across the Colorado River to Arizona (just to say you did) then come back to where the party is always happening. Our southernmost state park—Big Bend of the Colorado—awaits (see pg. 58 for more), as do warm temps all year long. Float, splash, fish, and boat until your heart’s content, then grab a delicious dinner with a river view.

  • Previous Article
  • Next Article