5 Things to do While Staying in Las Vegas (That aren’t Gambling)

Las Vegas. Sin City. The Gambling Capital of the World. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Vegas is where people go to party. Casinos pump oxygen into the air and keep the lights bright. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a clock because they want to you gamble the night away. But what if you don’t like to gamble? Or Party? Or drink? Don’t rule out Las Vegas as a destination just yet. Whether you’re visiting Las Vegas for business and have some free time, or you’re just curious about the Mojave Desert, there are lots of things to do while staying in Vegas that aren’t gambling. And the best part is, you can spend your day hiking and then take advantage of the many hotel spas for a post-hike massage!

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Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Having worked in the tech space on the West Coast for a very long time, I traveled to Las Vegas several times a year for tradeshows and had my fair share of experiences with Las Vegas proper. The luxurious hotels (+ pools + spas) the world-class food (although I do love to get off the strip and over to Spring Mountain Road where all the best Asian restaurants are) and every activity you can think of under the [hot-blazing] sun. But after a few days, and whenever I am visiting for a non-business-related trip, I like to use Las Vegas as a home base to get outside and explore the magnificent landscape that surrounds the city of sin.  [In fact, Nevada is SO much more than Las Vegas, which these 20 things will attest to!)

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

This is the spot where I fell in love with red rocks which would lead to spending quite a big chunk of our 18-month RV trip seeking them out! Just a 20-minute drive from downtown Las Vegas takes you to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. With nearly 200,000 acres of sandstone formations and Mojave Desert topography, you will feel worlds away from the Vegas Strip. Start at the Visitor Center on Highway 159 and get the latest on road and trail conditions. Get tips from a ranger, and learn about the area through the exhibits.

Then, set out on the 13-mile scenic drive through the park. If you have a bicycle, leave your car at the visitor center and take the slow lane through the park. There are over 20 hikes within Red Rock Canyon, so you can easily spend a full day exploring the peaks and waterfalls. Red Rock Canyon is also a hot spot for rock climbers, so don’t forget to look up as you’re hiking along! 

It was a simple picnic here taking in the ombre rock formations after a short hike that made me really appreciate that Nevada had a lot to offer!

Distance from Las Vegas: 20 minutes.

Valley of Fire State Park

Valley of Fire State Park Nevada USA_On top of Fire Wave
Can you see me? On top of Fire Wave. Photo credit: Sel & Poivre Photography

Our absolute favorite spot. We never visit Las Vegas without spending at least a day here. We even spent 2 weeks at an RV park outside of Vegas so that we could spend several days in this state park. This Instagram hot spot is less than one hour from Vegas and draws photographers from all over. The name alone gives you an idea of the spectacular colors to be seen, especially if you can go at sunrise or sunset. Some of the sandstone formations here are very similar to the Wave in Arizona, which is nearly impossible to get into, thanks to the BLM lottery system (or White Pocket if you are heading in that direction!). You won’t have any access problems at Valley of Fire, as not many people venture beyond the Las Vegas strip, and those that do likely stop at Red Rock Canyon.

Start with a drive through the park along the main road. Inquire at the Visitor Center for tips on hiking trails and things to see. There are lots of viewpoints throughout the park where you can pull off to take some photos or just relax and enjoy the view. Several short trails offer amazing views of the Valley, leaving you enough time to enjoy a sunset hike and be back in Vegas for dinner!

Distance from Las Vegas: 45 minutes.

Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park

At 4 ½ hours from Vegas, this is a whopper of a day trip, but if you are a National Park aficionado, the trek is definitely worth it. Great Basin is one of the least-visited National Parks in the United States, thanks to the remote location. With less than 200,000 visitors annually, you’re very likely to have the park to yourself upon arrival. 

Great Basin National Park is home to Wheeler Peak, one of the highest peaks in Nevada. It’s also a designated International Dark Sky Park, thanks to very little light pollution. Below ground, Great Basin National Park houses a network of caves that are accessible on ranger-led tours. With so many things to see in this park, you might want to plan an overnight stay so you can check out the stars and dark skies! Use Las Vegas as our launching point and stay a day or 2 camping or staying in a nearby hotel. There are several campgrounds in and around the park, as well as a few small hotels in nearby Baker. 

Distance from Las Vegas: 4 hours and 30 minutes.

Mesquite, Nevada

Mesquite Hot Air Balloon Festival

If you are looking for a Vegas-type vacation without the prices and crowds of Vegas, check out Mesquite, Nevada. This retirement community sits along the Nevada-Arizona border. It is known for its golf courses and casinos, where your dollar will go much farther than Lav Vegas. But the BEST thing about Mesquite is the Hot Air Balloon Festival, an annual 2-day festival taking place near the CasaBlanca Resort and Casino. Spectators can enjoy food, entertainment, and games. There is the early morning launch and the night glow, just like they do it the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Mesquite is also just 40 minutes from St. George, Utah, and 90 minutes from Zion National Park. (Plus more things to do if you do go to Zion.) The location makes Mesquite the best of both worlds as you can enjoy gambling and golfing, or make day trips out to nearby parks for hiking and outdoor adventure. 

Distance from Las Vegas: 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Houseboating on Lake Mead

Houseboating on Lake Mead

Although you can visit Lake Mead for a day and enjoy kayaking, canoeing, sport fishing, hiking, and swimming, the best way to experience the lake is in a houseboat!  Rent one for the weekend or a whole week and have some family fun on the water. And after a few days together on a boat, everyone will be ready to head back to Vegas for a little bit of civilization!

Lake Mead is the largest man-made lake and reservoir in the United States and is 30 miles outside of Las Vegas, on the Nevada-Arizona border. The desert temps won’t seem too bad when you are on the water. You can see some wildlife and the stars as the skies are darker than all that neon on the strip and it is quite beautiful. 

Distance from Las Vegas: 40 minutes.

There you have it. 5 things to do “in” Las Vegas that have nothing to do with gambling! You get all the logistics of Las Vegas – an efficient airport, lots of hotels, restaurants, and activity options – plus the opportunity to spend some time outside of the city enjoying the parks and all that they have to offer.  Next time you are thinking about a trip to Las Vegas, think about what you can do in the surrounding area as well! You won’t regret it!

How about you? Have you spent time doing non-gambling things in and around Las Vegas? Do share!

For a visual summary of this post, check out my Las Vegas web story!

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Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area Great Basin National Park Houseboating on Lake Mead

14 Comments

  1. Amber Myers
    February 18, 2021

    Thank you for this list! We hope to make it to Las Vegas soon so I’ll keep these in mind.

    Reply
  2. Heather
    February 18, 2021

    I have only been to Vegas once but it was for business so I didn’t get to see any of this. I would love to go back soon!

    Reply
  3. Beth
    February 18, 2021

    I recently saw some photos that were taken near Las Vegas and they changed my perception of a trip to Las Vegas. While I have no interest in casinos, I would love to see these gorgeous places!

    Reply
  4. Nikki Wayne
    February 19, 2021

    Wow, Vegas is really a great places! From casinos to these wonderful nature.

    Reply
  5. Briana Baker
    February 19, 2021

    Great post! The last time we were in Vegas we stayed for a week and that was TOO long for just the strip! I wish I had read this then!

    Reply
  6. Tammy
    February 19, 2021

    We’ve been to Vegas a couple of times and loved the “out of town” trips we took. Red Rock was great!! But we thought we would never get out of the park. It just goes and goes and you never see anyone. We thought we were lost. There was a place you could go in and see an old-time cowboy town, a petting zoo, and a bar. Don’t know if it’s still there are not. But it was fun.

    Reply
  7. Janeane M Davis
    February 19, 2021

    Oh My Goodness! These photos are so amazing. I do not gamble but want to visit Vegas. I would like to do and experience the things you shared.

    Reply
  8. Kathy
    February 19, 2021

    It’s nice to see there is more to do then just gambling. I would love to go to Las Vegas someday. I wouldn’t mind doing a little gambling, but it’s nice to do more then just that.

    Reply
  9. Monica Simpson
    February 19, 2021

    I know it’s so beautiful out there. I would much rather spend time outdoors than gambling.

    Reply
  10. MELANIE EDJOURIAN
    February 19, 2021

    I’ve heard there is much more to do there and this really helps as it’s such a pretty place to visit.

    Reply
  11. Rosey
    February 20, 2021

    I’ve been there once. I’d like to head back and take a side trip to Antelope Cnyon.

    Reply
  12. Anosa
    February 20, 2021

    When we visited Los Angeles two years ago we drove to Las Vegas and checked out Lake Mead and had a lovely time.

    Reply
  13. Mama Maggie's Kitchen
    February 21, 2021

    There are so much to do in Las Vegas other than gambling! The place is really stunning and these spots you shared are wonderful!

    Reply
  14. Everything Enchanting
    February 22, 2021

    Las Vegas is on my travel bucket list! If I ever visit this place, will check out your recommended places for sure 😍

    Reply

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