Sometimes getting away from Sin City is exactly what the doctor ordered. And, lucky for you, it’s easy to be spontaneous in Vegas and take a gamble — for better or worse.
But, here, we’re focusing on the good. And, with so much natural goodness surrounding the city, you’re really spoiled for choice when it comes to quickie day trips.
So, roll the dice on these lucky 16 road trips that won’t cost you more than three hours in the car, but will still have you in a whole new world.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Where: Boulder City, NV; multiple access points
45 min drive
Called one of America’s most diverse national recreation areas, this natural playground is spread across 1.5 million striking acres of mountains, canyons, valleys, and two brilliant-blue lakes including its namesake, Lake Mead. While much of Mead is best explored on the water by boat or other watercraft (you can even book a cruise on an authentic, three-level, Mississippi-style paddlewheeler), the 550 miles of its shoreline also are set up nicely for camping, hanging out, and hiking. The Black Canyon water trail is especially cool with a wonderland of coves, caves, and hot springs.
Mojave National Preserve
Where: 90942 Kelso Cima Rd., Kelso, CA
1 hr 20 min drive
You can be California dreaming in less than 90 minutes with a trip to the Mojave, a 1.6 million acre expanse that’s located between Vegas and Los Angeles. It’s not the beach, that’s for sure. But, it is a really fascinating landscape defined by deep canyons, towering dunes, Joshua tree forests, and blankets of wildflowers. It’s exactly the sort of middle-of-nowhere desert desolation and sandy solitude that you just need sometimes. And, the fall and spring are prime times to visit, with more moderate temperatures.
Where: Black Canyon
30 min drive
A feat of human engineering, Hoover Dam is one of the iconic manmade marvels and one that you really just have to see — and tour. The 726-foot-high concrete arch-gravity dam (arch-gravity means it’s thicker at the bottom than at the top) stretches 1,244 feet across the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border between Nevada and Arizona. It was built between 1931 and 1936, and the historic Art Deco style of buildings surrounding the dam are a testament to that — and pretty darn impressive, too. Make sure to look for the Winged Figures of the Republic; the regal figures are some of the largest monumental bronze structures ever cast in the U.S.
Where: Boulder City, NV
30 min drive
If you go to Hoover Dam (or even if you don’t), Boulder City is a solid pit stop or destination in its own right. It’s only about a 20-minute drive from the dam, but in the town, The Dillinger is worth the trip alone. The gangster-themed pub serves up craft beers and gigantic burgers named after historic thugs — the Baby Face Nelson comes topped with baked Brie, mixed greens, and fig marmalade.
Seven Magic Mountains
Where: South Las Vegas Blvd.
30 min drive
This quirky art installation isn’t far from home, but the fantasy is pretty real in the towering 30-foot-tall sculptures from internationally renowned Swiss artist, Ugo Rondinone. The creative expression of human presence punctuates the desert with a dynamic boost of bright color and structure. And, it’s a pretty solid Instagrammable moment, too. The installation is located in the Ivanpah Valley adjacent to Sheep Mountain and the McCullough, Bird Spring, and Goodsprings mountain ranges.
Zion National Park
Where: 1 Zion Park Blvd., Springdale, UT
2 hr 35 min drive
Massive sandstone cliffs swirled in ombre tones of cream, pink, and red characterize the beautiful wilderness backdrop of Utah’s first national park. Aside from the picturesque views, there’s plenty to do — from biking and hiking, to camping, river trips, and even exploring the depths of The Narrows, which is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. There, the gorge has walls that are a thousand feet tall with the river below just 20 to 30 feet wide.
Willow Beach Marina & Campground
Where: 25804 Willow Beach Rd., Willow Beach, AZ
50 min drive
The beach is closer than you think, with this marina and campground’s 235 miles of shoreline in the Black Canyon region of the Colorado River. With this sprawling recreational area, you have easy access to the crisp waters of Lake Mead — and even easier access to watercraft, kayak, and canoe rentals along with accommodations for an overnight stay, if you so desire.
Where: St. George, UT
1 hr 45 min drive
You get the best of all worlds here. First, you have the scenic vistas of the red rock canyon landscape and all of its outdoor adventures — from rock climbing and hiking through the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and National Conservation Area, to horseback riding, biking, and more. And, then you can go inside to restaurants, art galleries, museums, shops, and more. Check out Judd’s General Store for some old-fashioned fun, and some ice cream, too. And, if you’re wondering what the gleaming white building is, it’s St. George Utah Temple which is a striking monument among the red sandstone backdrop.
Havasu National Wildlife Refuge
Where: 317 Mesquite Avenue, Needles, CA
1 hr 50 min drive
Take a walk on the wild side at this place that protects 30 river miles and 300 miles of shoreline from Needles, California, to Havasu City, Arizona. It’s located along a popular migratory route for hundreds of species of birds. But, it’s more than just birdwatching here. You can boat through the spectacular 20-mile-long Topock Gorge, fish along Topock Marsh, or take hike in the wilderness area.
Death Valley National Park
Where: Death Valley, CA
2 hr 10 min drive
It’s a land of extremes in Death Valley. The steady drought and record summer heat ensure that it's name makes sense. Yet, there are magical moments amidst the hot and dry surrounds, with towering peaks dusted in snow and secret oases that actually brim with small fish and other marine life. Go to Zabriskie Point to overlook the honey-colored badlands of the Furnace Creek formation. And, Badwater Basin is an otherworldly salt flat that seems to stretch to infinity and beyond.
It’s the lowest elevation in North America at -282 feet below sea level. However, even more magic comes in after dark, when you can stargaze the right way with awe-inspiring, starry-eyed views of the constellations, the Milky Way, and more. It’s so dark that the park has been ranked the third International Dark Sky Park in the U.S. National Park System.
Where: Rhyolite, NV
1 hr 50 min drive
The irony of a ghost town near Death Valley National Park is not lost on us. Rhyolite was originally founded in 1904 and dead by 1916; a very short-lived boom-town during the late Gold Rush era. You can still see the remnants of the place’s glory days with the walls of a three-story bank building still intact along with the jail, train depot, and the Bottle House made from beer bottles.
To really make a trip out of it, drive by the Goldwell Open Air Museum, which is right in the same vicinity. The seven colossal outdoor sculptures include Belgian artist Charles Albert Szukalski’s “Ghost Rider” (a ghost by a bike) and perhaps the site’s most famous installation, “The Last Supper,” with 12 life-sized disciples that simply consist of body-less flowing robes — another ghostly endeavor.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Where: 1000 Scenic Loop Dr, Las Vegas
30 min drive
For a super-quick getaway from the city, Red Rock Canyon is where it’s at. Spend the day hiking the scenic trails (you have 26 to choose from!), or stay in your car along the one-way, 13-mile drive that boasts beautiful views, too.
Bonnie Springs Ranch
Where: 16395 Bonnie Springs Rd., Las Vegas
30 min drive
You may think you were dropped on the set of a spaghetti western here. Old Nevada Town is kitschy, but who cares. Bring your cowboy boots to wander the replica of an authentic 1880s mining community, with a functioning saloon, shops, wax museum, wedding chapel, and model schoolhouse, along with daily performances and reenactments. Then, hit up the Red Rock Riding Stables to kick up your heels on horseback before calling it a day.
Valley of Fire State Park
Where: 29450 Valley of Fire Hwy., Overton, NV
55 min drive
One glimpse at the park’s bright red Aztec sandstone, and you’ll understand why its fiery name makes sense. Known for being Nevada’s oldest and largest State park, the 40,000-acre-expanse also includes petrified trees and a carefully preserved collection of 3,000 Indian petroglyphs that date back more than 2,000 years.
Don’t miss the Elephant Rock, which looks just like — you guessed it — an elephant. It’s close to the east entrance. Fun fact: In the film, Total Recall, the Valley of Fire was used to film some of the Mars scenes. And, in Star Trek Generations, scenes from the planet Veridian III were also filmed in the park.
Sloan Canyon Petroglyph Site
Where: Nawghaw Poa Rd, Henderson, NV
30 min drive
If you’re really into petroglyphs and want to see more of the ancient illustrations, then Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area is for you. It’s one of the most significant cultural sites in southern Nevada with more than 300 rock art panels showcasing 1,700 individual design elements from Native Americans spanning a wide breadth of historic time. However, there’s plenty more to also see amidst the 48,438 acres with other picturesque places and unique geologic features at your fingertips.
Where: 2525 Kyle Canyon Rd., Las Vegas
45 min drive
Only a short drive from the Strip, but worlds away by its surroundings, this truly is a cool escape — with a distinct change in seasons that’s not normally found in the Mojave. With the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, there’s plenty to do whether you’re chilling in the summer or taking an alpine retreat in the winter. And, the flora and fauna in the region — more than 25 endemic plant and animal species — make the area come to life even more.