It happens to everyone. You plan a five-day Las Vegas trip, hit the tables before you even check into your room, have a few drinks, lose several hands in a row, and suddenly you’re down a few hundred bucks and your Vegas trip hasn’t even started.
Or maybe that’s just me?
Anyway, now you’ve got four days left in the desert, and well, what’s next? You can’t imagine how you’re going to pass all that time without going broke. Thankfully, there’s a lot more to do in Las Vegas than just drink and gamble and eat at fancy restaurants along the Las Vegas Strip.
Beyond the Las Vegas valley, if you’re looking for adventure around Nevada, there’s plenty of excellent day trips that are well worth the drive. While rental cars aren’t as cheap as they once were in Sin City, and gas prices are at all-time highs in 2022, a road trip away from the city is a fantastic way to experience parts of the southwest that most Vegas visitors never even see.
Here’s seven of our favorites and a few bonus side-quests.
Take a Scenic Drive through Red Rock Canyon
Driving Time: (20-25 minutes)
Perhaps the most popular off-the-Strip attractions on this list due to its proximity to Las Vegas (25 minutes), Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is well known among locals and savvy tourists alike. If your flight approaches Harry Reid International Airport from the west during daylight hours, Red Rock Canyon is easy to spot out your airplane window. The canyon’s sandstone palette of reds, oranges and yellows jump off the desert landscape from above.
Red Rock Canyon is even more impressive up close in-person, and features 26 different hiking trails sprinkled across a 13-mile scenic loop that will have you stopping for just one more picture that’s somehow even better than the last one.
For a $15 entry fee, you’ll get an unforgettable experience, countless photo ops and a fantastic view of the Vegas strip in the distance. Just bring plenty of water and stay hydrated, especially in spring and summer months when temperatures regularly climb north of 110 degrees.
Immerse yourself in Valley of Fire State Park
Driving Time: (45 mins)
If you enjoyed Red Rock Canyon, you’ll blown away by Valley of Fire State Park, which flies under the radar even with the locals. We’d argue that Valley of Fire is even more spectacular and if anything, more undersubscribed which makes for better experience overall. The ride north up Interstate 15 takes you into vast expanse of the desert.
Once you jump off I-15 and start following Valley of Fire Highway east toward the park and into Moapa Valley, you’ll get a true sense of the park’s remoteness. The Valley of Fire is cradled on the east by the northern arm of Lake Mead at the confluence of the Virgin River. The Virgin carved the sandstone beds of the valley, as well as Zion National Park, over 13 million years ago.
Valley of Fire’s jagged sandstones and rolling hills draw dramatic landscapes you’ve probably seen in a car commercial or two, and the drive throughout the park is jaw dropping. Among the Valley of Fire’s many highlights, the Fire Wave hike might be the most incredible vista in the state of Nevada.
Climb to the Angels at Zion National Park
Driving Time: (2.5-3 hours)
We almost left Zion National Park off this list; it’s become wildly popular over the last decade to the point of overcrowding. Zion’s premier attraction, the epic and harrowing Angel’s Landing hike launched a pilot permit program as of April 2022 that involves a lottery.
The Narrows, the park’s legendary slot canyon hike through the Virgin River, does not require reservations. It does require one to be prepared to wade through the river, however. Closed toe shoes and a hiking pole are strongly encouraged for navigating the slick rocks. Be prepared to get yourself wet and keep your phones and cameras dry.
There’s plenty of other areas of the park that don’t require quite as much equipment and preparation, and there’s a bus system that can help you get around the park. Plan to have at least a full day to enjoy the park, and ideally, two or three to get the most out of your trip to Zion National Park.
Stargaze at Cathedral Gorge State Park
Driving Time: (2.5-3 hours)
Cathedral Gorge State Park is known among the astrophotography community for playing host to some of the darkest skies in any state park in the United States, let alone Nevada. The park features a foreground of towering bentonite clay spires that spring from the desert floor thanks to years of erosion. Cathedral Gorge gets its name from the spires’ resemblance to ancient cathedrals. The spires are covered in layers of prehistoric ash, packed hundreds of feet deep, thanks to ancient volcanic activity from the Caliente Caldera Complex. This park’s unique landscape will undoubtedly capture your imagination when you see it first-hand.
Seated along the southeastern stretch of the Nevada-Utah border, Cathedral Gorge State Park has plenty of options for hiking, camping and picnicking throughout 1,800 acres, and is among the best places near Nevada to spot the Milky Way with the naked eye.
Shoot your selfie at Seven Magic Mountains
Driving Time: (30 minutes)
If you haven’t seen enough desert rocks yet, or maybe your appetite for long drives is low, why not check out Seven Magic Mountains, which sits just a half-hour south of the Vegas strip? It’s the perfect place for a Gram-ready selfie, and it’s not a wait-in-line experience like trying to get a photo at the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign.
Instagram’s rise over the last half-decade has bolstered Seven Magic Mountains awareness; the exhibit was originally planned to be a temporary art installation when construction started in 2015 and was set for removal in 2018. Due to popular demand, it’s stayed in place.
Expect small crowds at Seven Magic Mountains, even at sunrise in the middle of the week. Expect hundreds at sunset on the weekend. You’ll have to photoshop a lot of people out of those pics!
Beam Up The Extraterrestrial Highway to Area 51 and The Black Mailbox
Driving Time: 2 hours
Are we really alone? Government disclosures in recent years would suggest our neighbors from other galaxies have indeed been visiting us for decades. Want to send them a message back? If you can’t phone home with E.T., a drive up the Extraterrestrial Highway is a fun day trip and the perfect opportunity for kitschy desert selfies at places like the Alien Research Center – and serenity. If you feel like you’re the middle of nowhere, guess what? You are!
As you near Area 51 in Rachel, Nevada, you’ll find plenty of alien-themed roadside attractions, as well as the legendary Black Mailbox, where believers leave letters for our friends from other dimensions. As for Area 51 itself, if you get to close or try to breach the perimeter, you will be greeted by military personnel. Stay a safe distance and bring a zoom lens.
Step into the past at Rhyolite Ghost Town and Beatty
Driving Time: 2 hours
If you’re a history buff, a day trip to Beatty, NV and Rhyolite Ghost Town are the perfect way to spend an afternoon. Once home to about 5,000 people during its peak from 1905-1910, everyone had basically abandoned ship by 1920. If post-apocalyptic ruins and vibes are your thing, it’s worth a visit.
The Goldwell Open Air Museum sits nearby and is a fantastic photo op location, featuring everything from a sculpture inspired by The Last Supper to the towering Lady Desert – The Venus of Nevada. Slightly PG-13, Lady Desert appears as if she was built by sombody’s teenage son with giant Legos.
And if you’re feeling ambitious – you’re almost at Death Valley National Park, which is a wild-underrated natural wonder. Just be prepared for extreme temperatures if you do go, or plan your trip from November-March when the climate is much easier to tolerate.