9 Epic Las Vegas Road Trips to Skip the Strip
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When it comes to Las Vegas, people generally fall into one of two camps: they love it and plan repeat trips to soak in the lights, glitz, and potential for payouts on the Strip – or they hate it and never want to visit. It turns out there’s a third camp though, and it’s full of those of us who realize that Las Vegas is a fantastic destination as a base to strike out and explore this region of the Western U.S.
Many of my trips to Las Vegas have been like this, and while I’ve come to enjoy visiting the Strip, I’m always up for an adventure beyond the city lights. From my first visit to Zion by way of Vegas in 2018 to trips in 2021 and 2022 to strike out to the south and west, I am squarely in the third camp (and a little bit in the first one, too.)
If you want to join me in thinking that Vegas is cool and all but the places you can visit from it are better, you’ve come to the right place. Below you’ll find a list of Las Vegas road trip ideas that will make it worth booking one of those flights to Sin City that are always going on sale.
Read on for nine itineraries for road trips from Las Vegas, from the deserts of Death Valley to the Great Basin and the national park named after it. Here’s where to hit the road and explore a different part of the west.
In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are thetraditional lands of the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla, Hualapai, Newe Sogobia (Western Shoshone), Nüwüwü (Chemehuevi), Nuwuvi (Southern Paiute), Pipa Aha Macav (Mojave), and Wašišiw Ɂítdeʔ (Washoe) peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
My Definition of a “Road Trip”
When I write any post, I always read other articles on the topic to learn what fellow travelers are recommending. I found a lot of junk, to be honest: most of the top results from Google list Las vegas road trip destinations rather than Las vegas road trip routes.
But here’s the thing: you already know cool destinations to drive to from Las Vegas. There are a TON of them and they rock. But they’re not road trips just because you need a car to get there.
Here’s how I define a road trip: a road trip is a car/vehicle journey that takes you to a series of Points of Interest (POIs) or destinations over at least one night.
The focus of a road trip is as much on the journey (by car) as the destinations themselves. Road trip routes can be one-way, a loop, or an out-and-back – kind of like hiking. I generally prefer loops and made all of the Las Vegas road trips in this post into loops or partial loops.
In this post, you won’t find a list of the best day trips or best weekend getaways you can drive to. Instead, you’ll find nine awesome road trip routes that start and end in Las Vegas.
1. Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks
- Suggested Days: 4+
- Suggested Overnights: Springdale (Zion), Bryce Canyon
One of my absolute favorite things about Las Vegas is how many national parks you can easily visit within a few hours’ drives (and great state parks and other public lands too!). My first trip “to” Las Vegas was actually only for a short term, as my friend Marissa and I immediately set out to visit Zion National Park, a few hours northwest of the city.
While we didn’t have time on that trip, you can easily visit Zion National Park as part of a two national park road trip in conjunction with a visit to Bryce Canyon National Park (which I’ve actually never been to).
The parks are only about two hours apart, so with a day to get there and day to get back, you can tick these two parks off your list, get in some epic hikes, and enjoy all the incredible rock formations in both of these parks – so close, but so different.
2. Death Valley National Park
- Suggested Days: 3+
- Suggested Overnights: Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells & Panamint Springs (Optional)
While I don’t normally consider national parks to qualify on their own as a road trip itinerary, Death Valley National Park is a big enough park – 5th largest in the U.S. – that there are more than enough things to do and places to see to fill a few days with driving in between. (This is another national park I visited with Marissa, as we try and take a national park trip together every year!)
From Las Vegas, you need at least one full day to sample the top attractions in the park like Furnace Creek and Badwater Basin; if you are able to spend two days (or even three) in Death Valley, you’ll see the incredible diversity of this unusual geographic and geologic spot. If you click those links, you’ll get even more info about what to do and where to stay overnights on a road trip to Death Valley from Las Vegas.
3. Ely & Great Basin National Park
- Suggested Days: 4+
- Suggested Overnights: Ely, Baker
If you’ve followed my blog for some time, you probably know that I love Great Basin National Park – it’s one of my favorites since it’s small and most of the main sites are easily visited in a day or two… but it’s also remote so you won’t encounter the same crowds as other parks.
In any case, I recently had the chance to visit both Great Basin (and its gateway town of Baker) in addition to the nearest larger city of Ely. Together, these two towns make for good overnight stops on a road trip to this eastern part of the Silver State. For your night (or longer) in Ely, be sure to check out the Nevada Northern Railway schedule to see if they’re offering any neat night train rides.
There are also great sites to see along the way: stop at Cathedral Gorge State Park for incredible slot canyons and the historic Ward Charcoal Ovens south of Ely.
While I marked this as a 4+ day road trip, you could do it in 3 – it’s just a matter of how long you want to spend in Great Basin National Park and Ely.
4. The Extraterrestrial Highway
- Suggested Days: 2+
- Suggested Overnights: Rachel, Tonopah
On my recent trip to Nevada (October 2022), my primary goal was to drive the Extraterrestrial Highway. Never heard of it? Get ready to put it on your list!
The Extraterrestrial Highway – or E.T. Highway – connects Crystal Springs in the East to Warm Springs in the West – both of these aren’t towns per se, so I recommend starting from Las Vegas and driving all the way to Rachel (about midway along the E.T. Highway) on the first day. Then finish the E.T. Highway westbound and turn south to do another overnight at Tonopah before returning to the city.
You’ll see a number of alien sites along the way, from E.T. Fresh Jerky at the east end of the highway to the iconic sign to the Black Mailbox where folks leave notes for Area 51 to the Little A’Le’Inn where you can spend a night in Rachel.
There are also funky and unusual sights on the return trip: the International Car Forest of the Last Church and the Goldwell Open Air Museum are both artistic and a bit otherworldly if you want more spots to stretch your leggs.
5. Valley of Fire State Park
- Suggested Days: 2+
- Suggested Overnights: Valley of Fire State Park
I’ll be honest: suggesting Valley of Fire State Park as a road trip is a stretch of my own definition. However, if you A) love camping and/or B) want a road trip destination that’s close to the city, there’s no better choice than Valley of Fire State Park for getting away from the glare of the strip and out among some incredible natural scenery.
Valley of Fire State Park has become iconic on social media, but there are a number of different geologic areas within the park, and a bunch of hiking trails that connect them. You can spot everything from awesome rock formations to petroglyphs dating back some 2,000 years – plus the iconic social media photo spot, which I featured at the top of this post.
In terms of the logistics of a road trip to/from Valley of Fire, there are two campgrounds within the 40,000-acre park; these are first-come, first-reserved if you make this a multi-day trip, which I recommend so you can also enjoy the sunset, stargazing, and sunrise in the park.
6. Clark County Loop
- Suggested Days: 3+
- Suggested Overnights: Laughlin, Boulder City
For a less conventional Las Vegas-based road trip option, how about heading south? Most people skip the triangle at the bottom of Nevada, but there’s plenty to do here – and it’s usually much less crowded than bigger destinations and more popular natural destinations elsewhere in the state.
It’s a 90-minute drive to Laughlin, which can serve as a great base for a day of outdoor adventures like UTVing in the desert and hiking. Then loop over into Arizona on a two-hour drive to Boulder City; on the way you can stop for a glass-bottom kayaking excursion (which I detailed in my list of great outdoor trips from Vegas). Once in Boulder City – home to the Hoover Dam – you can have a unique adventure by riding the Rail Bikes at night on the railway that used to connect this historically dry city with neighboring Sin City. From there, it’s a short drive back to Vegas
This is a great short weekend road trip to a part of the state you’ve probably never seen or thought to visit.
7. Grand Canyon National Park
- Suggested Days: 3+
- Suggested Overnights: Grand Canyon
Okay, here’s another road trip from Las Vegas that stretches the definition – but I think you’ll agree that the Grand Canyon is worth stretching the definition, right?!
It’s a long drive from Vegas to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, about 4.5 hours in total. For this reason, I recommend planning at least three days for this road trip itinerary: one day to drive/get oriented, one full day to enjoy the park, and another day to see any last sights before driving back to Vegas. This is an out-and-back road trip, because there are no reasonable points to cross the Grand Canyon and turn it into a loop.
If you need tips on how to spend your time once you arrive, I have resources for spending either a half-day or a full day at the Grand Canyon. Check either of those links once you decide how long you’ll have to visit at the park.
8. Carson Valley, Reno & Tahoe
- Suggested Days: 4+
- Suggested Overnights: Gardnerville, Reno, South Lake Tahoe
If you’re up for a bit more driving and a longer road trip, these last two road trips from Vegas are perfect for you. First up, a long haul up to the second-largest city in Nevada and a few of the other sights worth seeing in the area.
On Day 1, you’ll drive from Las Vegas to Carson Valley; I recommend staying in or near Gardnerville. This area of Nevada is more rural, but home to the oldest town in the state (Genoa, established in 1851!) as well as a few hot springs worth soaking in (literally – like David Walley’s Resort south of Genoa or Carson Hot Springs in Carson City).
After an overnight, make the short drive up to Reno for a night or two. There’s more than dated casinos to this town: there are plenty of new casinos now too! All jokes aside, you can also explore the MidTown District, which has up-and-come quite a bit, as well as along the Truckee River Walk.
For one more day of driving and sightseeing, you can then head up and around Lake Tahoe to spend a final night in either South Lake Tahoe (California) or Stateline (Nevada). This will show you some of the most iconic views of America’s largest alpine lake, and you’ll get a chance to explore life on the south shore before driving the long way back to Vegas the next day.
9. The Great Great Basin
- Suggested Days: 4+
- Suggested Overnights: Tonopah, Reno, Ely + Baker (optional)
One of my favorite parts of exploring Nevada is that it’s primarily comprised of the Great Basin. Aside from a national park named after it, the Great Basin is a cool geographical region of the United States: it’s an “endorheic” watershed – meaning all the water that falls in the Great Basin stays in the Great Basin, rather than flowing out to the Pacific. (Kind of a “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” attitude for precipitation!)
While my suggested route – 3 hours to Tonopah, 4 hours to Reno, 5 hours to Ely, and 4 hours back to Vegas, with an option to add on an extra day or two to visit Baker/Great Basin as detailed above – doesn’t show off the entire Great Basin (since it stretches into Oregon and Utah as well as other neighboring states) – it does show off the unique geology, largest cities, and fascinating evidence of human history (both indigenous and mining-era) of the area.
I’ve done several parts of this road trip but not all in one trip, so if you decide to do this one as I’ve detailed in the map above, I’d love to hear how it goes!
So that’s nine incredible road trip itineraries you can plan from Las Vegas; while the Strip may not be for you, there’s always more to explore in Nevada, which is what I love about visiting. Have any questions about planning one of these Las Vegas road trips? Let me know in the comments!