Beyond the Strip: top five day trips from Las Vegas

Heading to Sin City? From one of the world’s largest dams to flaming canyons and valleys, discover more of Nevada with these alternatives to the Strip’s bustling casinos. Wednesday, 13 November 2019

With its themed hotels, bright lights and all-consuming casinos, Las Vegas is the ultimate hedonist’s playground. The undisputed epitome of American extravagance, Nevada’s largest city is a glitzy magnet for travellers looking for round-the-clock entertainment, world-renowned fine dining, high-end shopping and memories that might — as the slogan goes — not make it home with you. But there's more to Sin City than the illuminated Strip: a wealth of bucket-list landscapes and relaxed days out are less than a day’s drive away, and Vegas does act as the perfect gateway to it all. Day-trippers who venture beyond its neon-soaked streets will find themselves taking in adrenalin-pumping views from canyon rims; exploring the otherworldly charm of national and state parks in the Mojave Desert; strolling around hipster neighbourhoods; or standing under the dam that Nevada owes it all to.

Red Rocks Canyon

The first national conservation area to be implemented in the state, this crimson expanse of canyons and peaks encompasses 195,819 acres within the Mojave Desert. Review the exhibits at the visitor centre before setting off on the 13-mile scenic drive or tackling one of 26 different trails. Be warned — one day won’t be enough to cover all the labyrinthine turns Red Rocks Canyon has to offer, so hiking enthusiasts should plan excursions around must-sees. Popular options include Calico Hills, an imposing outcrop of red-hued rocks, and Calico Tanks, a trail that guides visitors past old Native American agave roasting pits and canyon live oaks.
How to get there: One of the most accessible day trips from Sin City, Red Rock Canyon is just a 30-minute drive west of the Strip. Daily passes cost $15 (£11.60) per vehicle and $5 (££3.90) per person or bicycle.

18B Arts District

Whoever said there’s little culture in Las Vegas must have missed this understated 18-block neighbourhood. A bastion for all things cool, Las Vegas’ art district is packed with independent galleries, antique shops and vintage boutiques in revamped warehouses. Dip in and out of the studios at The Arts Factory, catch a performance at the intimate Cockroach Theatre and end the afternoon sipping drinks at the bohemian Artifice lounge to the sound of local bands. The graffiti-clad area truly comes into its own on the first Friday of each month, when thousands of visitors flock to its streets for a festival featuring art, music, food stalls and an all-embracing block party vibe.
How to get there: During the day, the district is an easy walk or bike ride from Downtown Las Vegas. Alternatively, various free parking slots and public transport options — including the free circulatory Downtown Loop bus — are available throughout the area.

Hoover Dam

Until you’re standing next to its 726ft-high wall of concrete, it's hard to appreciate the humbling size of this arch-gravity dam. Completed in 1936 as one of the most audacious engineering projects of the time, the Hoover Dam remains a modern man-made marvel. Take a guided visit to understand the significance of the site in American history: out of several options, the most comprehensive choice is the one-hour Dam tour of the powerplant and its passageways. Before heading back, sun-seekers should make time to visit Lake Mead — formed as a result of the construction of the dam — for some of Nevada’s best watersports.
How to get there: Hoover Dam is located 45 minutes southeast of Las Vegas by car. Tickets for the Dam tour are available at $30 (£23.30) per person on a first-come, first-served basis at the site, while entrance fees for the Lake Mead National Recreation Area are priced $25 (£19.40) per vehicle or $15 (£11.60) per individual.

Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon South Rim stands across the border in Arizona, but taking in the stunning scenery of North America’s only Natural Wonder of the World is worth the trip. Helicopter tours are a comfortable way to steal bird’s-eye views of the canyon, but if flying isn’t an option, day-travellers determined enough to take on the drive will be rewarded at the finish line. The best way to experience this quintessential American landscape is from inside its gorge: snake below the rim along the Bright Angel Trail or follow a ridge on the South Kaibab Trail for 360-degrees views of the canyon. For a wilder experience, consider rafting the Colorado River.
How to get there: Various companies offer helicopter tours of the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas, with average prices starting upwards of $400 (£310). The journey by car or bus crosses the bypass bridge with a view of Hoover Dam. 

Valley of Fire

This geological wonderland was named by a AAA (American Automobile Association) official who was travelling through the region as the setting sun hit the valley’s Aztec sandstone. Not as many travellers know about the treasures of this state park — the mars-like rock formations and ancient petroglyphs and petrified trees — making it a welcome respite from the crowds of Vegas. Drive up the picture-perfect Mouse’s Tank Road and follow one of the adjacent hikes, including the path to the Fire Wave, a characteristic grey-and-orange-striped slickrock, or the eclectic White Domes Trail. But the main draw? Atlatl Rock, tattooed with a collection of Native American petroglyphs.
How to get there: It takes roughly one hour to drive here from Las Vegas. Daily entrance fees are $10 (£7.75).

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