Fun and Easy Day Trips From Las Vegas With Kids or Without!
When you visit Las Vegas you don’t have to just stick to the casinos, buffets and shows. Why not take a break and head out of the city for the day? There are plenty of one day trips from Las Vegas to choose from. The surrounding area abounds in natural beauty and makes a nice contrast to the glitz of the city. While there is plenty of adventure and excitement to be had for adults, every single one of these destinations has enough to keep kids enthralled as well.Credit: By Frank Kovalchek from Anchorage, Alaska, USA (Great road to go biking Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
While driving yourself is the best option to all the following locations, you can also choose to take a bus, plane or helicopter tour from the city, depending on how far away each attraction is. Just remember to stay well hydrated, as the weather here is almost always dry.
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Hoover Dam , Lake Mead and the Colorado River
One of the most popular day trips from Las Vegas by car is located 40 miles from Las Vegas. The Hoover Dam is an engineering marvel that was completed in 1935 in a just a few years as a way to harness hydroelectric power from the Colorado River and to prevent constant flooding. It was the largest structure made from concrete and the largest public works project at the time. It is 725ft high and generates 2000 megawatts of power and irrigation for for Las Vegas and the surrounding areas.
To get a better look at the workings of the dam, you can choose from two tours starting at the exhibit building located at the top. The power plant tour is 30 minutes long and is open to children, while the dam tour is an hour long and takes you on a one mile walk through hidden parts of the dam in addition to the power plant. The latter does not allow children below the age of eight. Both tours include audio and video presentations of the project.
There are plenty of recreational activities available here for the entire family or you can even take a cruise with cocktails in hand or dinner and dancing.
Red Rock Canyon and Bonnie Springs Old Nevada
Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuseeger/5614146232/The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is one of those quick and easy day trips from Las Vegas which is just about 20 miles away. You can be forgiven for thinking that being so close to a major city, this park would not be great for desert scenery. However, the massive red cliffs and abundance of wildlife will prove you wrong. The sandstone cliffs and sand dunes were formed by millions of years of geological movements of the earth’s crust pushing the surface up. The stunning red comes from build up of iron oxide, while the blending with grey is from limestone shoving up against the sandstone. If you’re getting married, consider forgoing the obvious Las Vegas wedding in favor of this gorgeous natural setting.
Depending on how much time you have, you can choose to take a 13 mile drive through the park or go hiking or horseback riding along any of the scenic trails. Stop at the Visitor Center to check out the exhibit, get more information on what to see and do in Red Rock, and buy a few souvenirs. Road and mountain biking and rock climbing are some of the other activities on offer.
Once you’ve taken in the remarkable views why not settle down for a nice picnic? Another very good option is to visit Bonnie Springs Ranch in Blue Diamond, Old Nevada for a fun Wild West experience in an authentic western town. It was part of the Old Spanish Trail as a stopover for wagons going to California through Death Valley. Enjoy the small zoo, ride horses and even request a gunfight re-enactment!
Valley of Fire State Park
Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28883425@N00/642696245/Nevada’s largest and oldest state park is filled with reminders of the area’s past. You can picnic, camp and hike in this park which lies 55 miles to the north east of Las Vegas. Make the first stop at the Visitor Center to find out about driving and hiking trails and check out its displays. In the Valley of Fire you’ll find petrified wood from old trees and also some 3,000 year old Indian petroglyphs. Native hunters and food gatherers from somewhere between 300 BC and 1150 AD were the first known occupants here, and you can see some nice samples of their rock art along the way.
Although farther away from the city than Red Rock Canyon, this is another area that is beautiful for its sand dunes and red sandstone formations that started forming millions of years ago. You’ll also find limestone and shale formations here. Take the time to explore several stops where you’ll come across great vistas, like Elephant Rock and Seven Sisters. In addition, you’ll find several cactus species and spectacular springtime desert flowers growing wild all along the roads and trails. While most desert animals come out at night, you may get lucky and spot wild burros, lizards, snakes, skunks or even the rare protected native tortoise.
If you only have one extra free day out of Las Vegas and have to choose between Red Rock and Valley of Fire, my pick would be the latter for 2 reasons – less crowded and you can drive back through the nearby Lake Mead Recreational Area, giving you some more pretty scenery.
Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tomspix/5947999027/If you want a break from the heat of Las Vegas you should head for Mt. Charleston in the Spring Mountains located to the northwest. You’ll be surprised that it’s only 35 miles away but about 20 degrees cooler than its famous neighbor, making it a magnet for the locals. You’ll see forests, waterfalls, caves and hiking trails filled with wild flowers and a hiding animal or two. Some hiking trails are suitable for kids too.
Full service campsites are available and you can also do some light skiing or horse riding or just take it easy with a relaxing picnic. If you stay overnight but don’t want to camp, you can stay at the rustic Mt. Charleston Lodge in one of its log cabins. Want luxury instead? There’s a hotel for that too!
Death Valley National Park
Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pedrosz/5471516060/Death Valley holds the distinction of being the lowest, hottest and driest area in North America, with the lowest point being 282 feet below sea level. Furnace Creek even holds the record for the world’s highest recorded temperature of 134°F, which was in 1913. The extreme heat here is a result of a number of geological factors like its low altitude and the surrounding steep mountain ranges. Long ago the area was submerged by the sea but as the water slowly evaporated because of the heat, vast salt pans of sodium and borax were left behind. These were commercially exploited much later in history.
Even though Death Valley, a part of the Mohave Desert, is mostly located in California, it is accessible from Las Vegas for a day trip. A day trip from Las Vegas to Death Valley National Park can be as short or as long as you want. The shortest route to it from the city is 120 miles and will take you two hours. The visitor center is at Furnace Creek located on Badwater Road, which is also the most popular route to drive on if you don’t want to spend more than 2 hours within the park.
Although summer is not the ideal time to visit, you can if you stick to your air conditioned car and don’t try hiking! Spring is the most beautiful time of year here, as you may be able to catch the wildflowers that are in abundance if the winter rains were ideal. Take in the sunrise or sunset at Zabriskie Point or the sand dunes and add Dante’s View for a spectacular sunrise. In addition, take some more pictures at the Badwater Basin that makes up the surreal salt flats, the Natural Bridge of rock across a desert canyon, the jagged rock salt spires of Devil’s Golf Course, the scenic multi-colored Artist’s Drive, and many other scenic points within the park.
Interested in ghost towns? One of the best preserved abandoned towns in the entire country, Rhyolite, is just 35 miles away from the visitor center. It was established as a mining town in 1905 but abandoned by 1920. Except for a guest guidebook and a map, you won’t find any other signs of humans here.
Credit: Claudine Lewis (claudslewis)Ok, technically you CAN drive to the Grand Canyon and back from Las Vegas in one day, and a few tourists do, but why would you want to? This canyon isn’t called “Grand” for nothing and it should not be a rushed trip. Even if you start very early, you’d only get a very short afternoon view of a tiny section of the canyon rim before having to turn back because each way takes about 5 very monotonous hours. This giant natural wonder needs to be explored thoroughly and deserves at least a whole day. My opinion is to stay overnight in one of the park’s many lodges that are open year round on the South Rim or in the lone one on the North Rim that’s open from May to October. This will at least get you one sunrise and sunset front row view and maybe one or two other activities, like hiking or mule riding.
If you absolutely must see the Grand Canyon in just a day, there are tour companies in Las Vegas that will arrange for helicopter rides to either the North Rim or South Rim. Most also throw in a short bus tour to popular viewing points.
Whichever way you choose to take in the canyon, be aware that the North and South Rims are quite different from each other in terms of development. If you like solitude, particularly during the high season, the North Rim wins. The South Rim offers many more facilities and families might prefer this option. The views are spectacular from anywhere in the park and both rims feature lots of lookouts that you can drive to on your own or take the shuttle to. If you choose to visit the North Rim and spend more than a day there, you could also visit the Zion National Park or Bryce Canyon. Both are very near and offer their own great vistas.
There is one other rim that is a very recent option for tourists and that is the West one. It is just a 3 hour drive from Vegas and is not a part of the national park but the Hualapai Indian Reservation. It is famous for the pricey Skywalk that was built and is operated by the Hualapais, however, it doesn’t offer much more than this attraction and this rim does not offer the best views either.
Locations of attractions that make good day trips from Las Vegas
In addition to my above recommended day trips from Las Vegas, there are several other places you can check out if you have time.
Fiesta Rancho Ice Arena is an indoor skating rink that is open all year round and the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboarding Park or Lee Canyon, situated to the north of Mount Charleston, offers alpine skiing and snow boarding.
Zion National Park, which is a three hour drive from Las Vegas and located in Utah, is best reserved for an overnight trip, as Utah is an hour ahead. Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge, a natural oasis in the middle of the desert, contains the largest concentration of indigenous and unique animal and plant life in the entire country.
For decidedly un-Las Vegas-like musical theatre and concert presentations, the Tuacahn Amphitheatre is located close to Snow Canyon State Park in Utah and in a beautiful setting under towering sandstone cliffs.
If you thought Las Vegas was all about man made excesses, these day trips from Las Vegas should change your mind quite a bit. The surrounding natural beauty may just convince you to come back for more!
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