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!
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
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
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
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.
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
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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