Nevada is an arid state known for its sprawling deserts, gambling, and relaxed rules. And when most people hear about Nevada, they probably think about Las Vegas with its neon lights, big casinos – and not much else.
While this stereotype has been perpetuated by pop culture and media, there’s a lot more to Nevada than that.
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This seemingly desolate state boasts rich opportunities for outdoors. Here you will find scenic deserts, snow-powdered mountains, and cobalt-blue Lake Tahoe among a few places – and contrary to what you might think, some of these places are very easy to reach.
[This is a guest post from travel writer Daria of The Discovery Nut. I rarely have guest poster these days, but there is nowhere in the U.S. I love more than the Southwest and I am always keen to discover new spots and here about other people’s adventures in this region. I have mixed in some of my own experiences as well as additional posts from Daria as she has explored a lot of the American Southwest! More on Daria at the end of this post!]
In this post, I’m going to show you some of the best things to do in Nevada that have nothing to do with partying or gambling, so buckle up and get ready for an adventure of a lifetime!
1. Las Vegas
Las Vegas is the city where most travelers start their adventures in Nevada. Although there are plenty of stereotypes about this place, it is still one of those quintessential American cities that you should visit at least once in your lifetime.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a gambler to have a good time in Las Vegas. The city offers several museums (Neon Museum, Mob Museum, Atomic Museum), and entertainment venues (Brooklyn Bowl or the Linq). And besides, Las Vegas has many scenic areas that are perfect for visiting from late fall through mid-spring, when temperatures hover between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area
You don’t have to drive for hours to escape Las Vegas. There are plenty of hiking trails within one hour away from Sin City where you can relax and enjoy the beautiful desert scenery.
One of the most popular outdoor destinations in Southern Nevada is Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area that is just 30 minutes away from the Las Vegas Strip. Many trails within Red Rock (as it’s popularly called) begin around the 13-mile loop that traverses through this scenic area and doesn’t require advanced hiking skills.
However, when you come here, you need to remember that hiking in the desert is different from hiking in parks or mountains. Make sure to bring plenty of water, snacks and apply enough sunscreen as you can sunburn in less than an hour if you hike on a bright sunny day.
To learn more about Red Rock Canyon hikes, check this guide.
3. Nelson Ghost Town
There are dozens of abandoned ghost towns across Nevada – the legacy of the state’s mining history. Many of these ghost towns have been forgotten about, while some have become museums under an open sky. One of them is Nelson Ghost Town where visitors can learn about the history of the Techatticup Mine – One of the most remote and lawless places in Nevada at a time when it was operating with many Civil War deserters and outlaws coming here to hide.
Nelson Ghost Town is located about 40 minutes away from the Las Vegas Strip and offers daily tours to its visitors. To get to Nelson Ghost Town, you have to rent a car because the area is not serviced by public transportation.
4. Gold Butte National Monument
If you want to escape the crowds for good, head to Gold Butte National Monument – one of Nevada’s newest scenic landmarks. Gold Butte covers almost 300,000 acres of remote desert sprinkled by bright orange outcrops and Joshua trees.
This remote area was once populated by the Native American Tribes who left many petroglyphs throughout the area, so a trip to Gold Butte is also a great cultural lesson.
To access most places in Gold Butte you will need a 4X4 vehicle because of the roads within this national monument for the most part lack pavement. Also, Gold Butte lacks cell phone service and amenities that you can find in more developed recreational areas, which means that when you take a trip to Gold Butte, you need to bring your gas, food, and water.
5. Valley of Fire State Park
Located one hour away from Las Vegas, Valley of Fire State Park is a perfect day trip to take a break from the craziness of Sin City.
While you will not find challenging hikes in this place, you will find some of the best landscapes in the region as the bright orange rock formations resemble a fire wave on a sunny day – hence the park’s name.
I recommend setting aside your entire day for Valley of Fire to be able to explore it. This place doesn’t have your typical tourist amenities, so make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks, but most importantly, don’t forget to bring your camera, because you will want to take a lot of photos of this scenic place!
6. Lake Mead National Conservation Area
Lake Mead National Conservation Area is sprawled over 1.5 million acres near the Nevada-Arizona border. Visitors enjoy access to the historic Hoover Dam, as well as Lake Mojave and many hiking trails that hug Lake Mead.
Located near the city of Boulder, Lake Mead is a must for anybody who comes to Las Vegas. The area is a mix of incredible scenery and fascinating history, and if you decide to come here, I recommend taking no less than half a day.
7. Cathedral Gorge State Park
Cathedral Gorge State Park is one of Nevada’s hidden gems that is located about 3 hours north of Las Vegas. One of the most remote state parks in Nevada, Cathedral Gorge sits near Utah’s border.
The scenery of this state park is second to none with sandstone spires rising above the lunar landscape, however, you will not encounter as many people here as in other more popular places to visit in Nevada such as Red Rock Canyon or Valley of Fire State Park. And if you want to stay in the area after hiking and exploring Cathedral Gorge, your best bet is the nearby town of Panaca.
8. Great Basin National Park
Continue driving north from Cathedral Gorge State Park and you will come across Nevada’s biggest secret – Great Basin National Park.
One of the most scenic places in Nevada, Great Basin has been quietly flying under the radar over years and while the scenery here is unparalleled, you will not find the crowds akin to those in Yosemite or Zion National Park. Located in the eastern part of the state near Utah’s border, Great Basin is one of the top destinations in Nevada if you want to explore the great outdoors.
9. Spring Mountains
You might be surprised if I were to tell you that the Las Vegas area gets snow during winter.
Just to the west of Las Vegas sits the Spring Mountains, a mountain range that is one of the locals’ favorite places to escape the hot Las Vegas temperatures from late spring through early fall. Home to Mount Charleston, the highest peak in Clark County, the Spring Mountains area offers skiing and snowboarding in winter and hiking and camping during summer.
I recommend setting aside a day for visiting the area, as it has many hiking trails and scenic vistas where you can sit down and take in gorgeous views.
10 Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area
Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area is one of the best places for hiking in Southern Nevada. Here you can hike to the top of the Black Mountain, a 7-mile trail that leads to incredible views of the Las Vegas Strip and the entire Las Vegas Valley – a panorama that you will not see anywhere else in the area.
You can also check out ancient petroglyphs when they hike trails in the area.
11. Extraterrestrial Highway
Located near the secret Area 51, State Route 375 has become a magnet for UFO enthusiasts from all over the world after many UFO sightings were reported in the area. The desert highway has been officially renamed the Extraterrestrial Highway in 1996, and today it is one of the major tourist attractions in Nevada with many people coming here in hopes of catching a glimpse of aliens.
Visitors who come here typically stay in Rachel, a small town that sits in the middle of the highway and offers an array of alien-themed businesses from hotels to restaurants that cater to UFO enthusiasts. The highway begins at the junction near Crystal Springs, a ghost town in Lincoln County.
12. Rhyolite Ghost Town
Another place where you can learn about Nevada’s boom-and-bust mining history, Rhyolite Ghost Town is a ghost town where prospectors from all over the country once rushed as gold deposits were discovered in the area. The town’s ore mine, the Montgomery Shoshone Mine closed in 1911 and after the population of the town got to zero, Rhyolite has become a tourist attraction.
A gateway to Death Valley National Park, Beatty is a quiet desert town. It’s a perfect stop if you are headed north from Las Vegas and want to make a stop to relax and unwind. Here you can get a glimpse into the good old days of Wild West. Visit Beatty Museum and Historical Society that tells a story of the early days when first settlers came to the area hoping to strike it rich by mining gold in the nearby hills.
Another famous spot in Beatty is the Goldwell Open Air Museum where one-of-a-king art pieces are displayed in the middle of the rugged Mojave Desert.
14. Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is located near Death Valley National Park on the border between Nevada and California. These small wetlands boast beautiful springs, marshes, endemic plants, lizards, and birds. What makes this little desert oasis famous is the Devil’s Hole, a flooded cave that is a habitat for the endangered species of pupfish.
[Note from Andi: if you are going to be visiting near Death Valley, make sure to read the survivor’s guide!]
The historic mining town of Tonopah sits exactly halfway between Las Vegas and Reno. While it used to be rich because of the silver deposits in the surrounding tar hills, today Tonopah is just a small in the middle of the desert. However, a couple of things that make it a worthy stop.
One of them is an iconic Clown Motel that has been featured in TV shows, documentaries, and recently a movie. The property has over 2,000 clowns in different forms and shapes that greet visitors in many spots. And if that isn’t creepy enough, there’s also a cemetery right nearby! The combination made Clown Motel one of the most famous places in Nevada with many people making a drive to this remote place just to see the Clown Motel.
Other places that you might want to check out are the Tonopah Historic Mining Town where you can learn about the town’s history and Mizpah Hotel, which is believed to be haunted.
And if that’s not enough, Tonopah also has a distinction of having some of the clearest dark skies in the country due to its remote location! And Tonopah Stargazing Park is dedicated to that.
16. U.S. Route 50 (The Loneliest Road in America)
While Nevada is generally known as a desolate state, few places beat U.S Route 50 which runs east-to-west across the state. While the route runs from Sacramento, California to Ocean City in Maryland, and traverses many states, the Nevada portion is by far one of the loneliest stretches.
The term “The Loneliest Road in America” was coined in 1986 by Life magazine and has stuck around since then, as state officials tried to capitalize on it to promote Nevada tourism. The Nevada portion of the highway runs through an open desert and while it has very few towns or rest stops (Austin and Baker are one of them), it boasts amazing blue sky and green sagebrush which combined with the mountains creates a truly remarkable scenery!
Don’t forget to get “The Official Nevada Highway 50 Guide” where you can find several businesses where you can get an official stamp from the Loneliest Road in America.
[Note from Andi: Mr. Misadventures and I RV’d along this route and thought it was awesome!]
Nevada’s second-largest gambling heaven, Reno might not be as popular as Las Vegas, however, it has more than enough to offer. Nicknamed “The Biggest Little City in The World,” Reno boasts a vibrant Midtown District with many stores and restaurants, and the city also has a buzzing art scene that has been spurred by multiple festivals such as the Burning Man.
18. Incline Village
The jewel of Northern Nevada, Lake Tahoe is a must-stop on your Nevada itinerary. While the area offers many overlooks and scenic vistas, I recommend spending a few days in Incline Village, a small resort town that sits on the northern tip of Lake Tahoe.
While Incline Village is known for its water-related activities such as kayaking and paddleboarding, you can also test your hiking skills such as Mt. Rose Hike, Tahoe East Shore Trail, and Stateline Fire Lookout.
Elko is a true western town. Nestled in the Ruby Mountains, it offers tons of history, nightlife, and the outdoors. Take a trip outside of downtown Elko and you will have great opportunities for rock climbing, hiking, off-roading, and other fun activities. While Elko was established as a railroad town in 1869, it has come a long way and today it attracts many visitors from all over the United States.
20. Lamoille Canyon
Known as the Grand Canyon of Nevada, Lamoille Canyon is one of the most striking places in the snow-capped Ruby Mountains.
The scenic drive snakes for 12 miles through the glacier-carved canyon and brings visitors to an altitude of nearly 9,000 feet. The area is a true heaven for adventurers with over 100 miles of hiking trails and tons of space for camping and picnicking.
Thank you, Daria, for your curated list of the best things to do in Nevada, some of these were brand new to me and I am adding them to my list of places to check out on my next trip. (Given I work in tech and there are a lot of conferences in Vegas, I am sure that isn’t going to be too far into the future!) If you enjoyed this guest post from The Discovery Nut, check out more of her blog and follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook!
Now, how about you? Have you been to any of these spots in Nevada? Have another spot to share? Do tell!
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