Las Vegas, Sin City, the Entertainment/Gambling/Marriage/Neon Capital of the World. Whatever name you call it by, there’s nowhere on earth quite like it – though it imitates a lot of places around the world.
Over the years, I’ve become quite fond of Las Vegas, since my first trip in 2019. While I was never called to the bachelorette parties, clubs and techno music, live performances or celebrity restaurants, I have, through the course of return trips since, discovered many parts of Vegas that I love. Access to the outdoors is one of those things: if you want to see some of the United States’ most impressive natural wonders, many can be reached from Vegas – and pretty easily at that.
During one of my recent trips (in December 2021), I spent time on a “Neon to Nature” itinerary which danced back and forth from the bright lights of the city to the outdoor adventures in literally every direction. While I’ve already covered things to do in Las Vegas and where to stay during your trip, today I want to talk about getting off the Strip – way off – to see the work of Mother Nature and time and provide some context for the Neon with nature.
So if you’re looking for some outdoor day trips from Las Vegas to mix up your own itinerary, you’ve come to the right place. You won’t find every day trip from Las Vegas on this list – just the ones that cater to those of us who love and appreciate the outdoors and want to have that as part of the fondness we have for Vegas in our memories. Ready to plan an adventurous day trip from Vegas? Here are the places to go!
In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of the Hualapai, Newe (Western Shoshone), Nüwüwü (Chemehuevi), Nuwuvi (Southern Paiute), Pipa Aha Macav (Mojave), and Pueblos 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.
Red Rock Canyon
- Distance from Vegas: 22 miles
- Travel Time from Vegas: 23 minutes
- Best for: Hiking, Scenic Driving, Locals or in-the-know Visitors
If you ask Vegas locals where they go to get Vegas out of their lungs, almost everyone will suggest Red Rock Canyon. This National Conservation Area is a short drive from basically all of Vegas, but feels worlds away once you get out among the rock formations.
The main logistical challenge in visiting Red Rock Canyon is that you most likely need a timed reservation to drive the loop road that gives you access to the formations and hiking trails. So plan ahead and grab one of those once you know your Vegas travel dates if you need one. (This varies seasonally based on visitation, so it’s best to check no matter what.)
Rail Explorers in Boulder City
- Distance from Vegas: 25 miles
- Travel Time from Vegas: 26 minutes
- Best for: Casual Cyclists, Groups
Y’all know I’ve been on “railbikes” before, during my visit to Fort Bragg, California; riding and gliding among the Redwoods was a highlight of that trip. That’s why I was excited to try them again in Boulder City, a short drive from Vegas.
In the Las Vegas area, Rail Explorers uses old rail tracks that used to connect Vegas and Boulder City during the boom times of building the Hoover Dam. Today the tracks are otherwise unused except by adventurous groups who hop onto four-seater “bikes” to pedal from town out to a nice turnaround. They offer a ton of different tour options and experiences, but what I love best is that there’s a “Night Lights” tour that includes campfire time at the turnaround point – this means you can add this tour onto another outdoor day trip I’ve mentioned and do two in one day!
Boating on Lake Mead
- Distance from Vegas: 32 miles
- Travel Time from Vegas: 36 minutes
- Best for: Water sports, Beach Bums & Speed Demons
When you picture Vegas in your mind, what do you see? Neon lights and the dry, empty desert, right? What makes Las Vegas a great destination is the fact that it has so much more to offer – including water and its associated outdoor adventure activities!
Lake Mead, created by the Hoover Dam, is a short drive and one of the best places for water-filled outdoor day trips from Las Vegas. The best way to enjoy Lake Mead is by boat, and Lake Mead marina offers boat rentals; there are different requirements for different types of boats, but you can use that as a launching point to plan your day on the water. Yes, water near Las Vegas!
Skiing on Mount Charleston
- Distance from Vegas: 39 miles
- Travel Time from Vegas: 42 minutes
- Best for: Winter Sports, Those who need to Beat the Heat
Are you ready for another shocker? Not only does Las Vegas have water to play on, there is also snow to ski on! Charleston Peak is located west of Las Vegas and rises to 11,916 feet, high enough for snow to accumulate during the cooler months. This means it’s a playground for snowsport fans who like skiing and snowboarding.
Valley of Fire State Park
- Distance from Vegas: 53 miles
- Travel Time from Vegas: 1 hour
- Best for: Hiking, Instagram Rockstars
Second to Red Rocks Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park is the other outdoor playground that locals will explore on the weekends – if they’re feeling up for a slightly longer drive. However, that extra drive time doesn’t help you escape the crowds, as Valley of Fire has become increasingly popular due to social media. (To be fair, it’s beautiful and well-deserving of the attention!)
The most-visited spot in the park is the Fire Wave (pictured above, right); it’s Nevada’s answer to Arizona’s famous red sandstone wave formation. It’s located on its own short Fire Wave Trail, but you can easily connect up to other cool trails like White Domes Trail. There are also areas of petrified trees, pinnacles (y’all know I love pinnacles!), and natural arches. To say this is a geological wonderland is an understatement, especially since it’s so close (less than one hour!) from Las Vegas.
Glass Bottom Kayaking on the Lower Colorado
- Distance from Vegas: 55 Miles
- Travel Time from Vegas: 58 Minutes
- Best for: Kayaking, Those Who Crave Water in the Desert
For another water activity near Las Vegas (yes, there’s more than one!), plan a day trip (or half-day) to paddle along the calm lower Colorado downstream from the Hoover Dam.
Vegas Glass Kayaks offers semi-transparent kayaks that provide a truly unique kayaking experience. (They are a bit more challenging to paddle due to their wider bodies – to give you better views through the bottom of the kayak – but are well worth the effort.)
In addition to learning about historic sites, admiring the rock formations, and spotting wildlife on them, there are also ghost trees (pictured above) beneath the water that tell the story of the river over time.
UTVing in the Black Mountains
- Distance from Vegas: 96 miles
- Travel Time from Vegas: 1 hour, 30 minutes
- Best for: Drive sports, Adrenaline Junkies
I’ll be honest: before my outdoor/adventure trip to Vegas in late 2021, I didn’t think I enjoyed “drive sports” – but then I found myself yelling “Punch it, Chewy!” in the passenger seat of a UTV on tour with OUI Experience in Arizona’s Black Mountains and now I spend my weekends watching F1!
All this to say, adrenaline junkies who love the thrill of a challenging drive should absolutely plan a trip south to Laughlin for a private tour among the rocks and cacti in the canyons and hills of northwestern Arizona. Hosts Jake and Ani pick you up in downtown Laughlin and provide transport out to their private off-grid property before guiding you out even further off the grid for a day of adventure.
Death Valley National Park
- Distance from Vegas: 123 miles
- Travel Time from Vegas: 2 hours, 5 minutes
- Best for: Hiking, Scenic Driving, Stargazers
If you’re up for a longer adventure, the next few outdoor day trips from Las Vegas will take the whole day but be well worth it. First up is Death Valley, which you might recall I visited in early 2022 on a long-overdue national park friend’s trip.
With just one day in Death Valley, you’ll need to pack a lot in, but there are some incredible hiking trails to enjoy (Golden Canyon to Red Cathedral is my top suggestion), plus you can see the main sights like Artist’s Palette and Badwater Basin. If you’re up for a really long day trip, stay until after sunset to see the stars in some of the best dark skies in the country.
Grand Canyon West
- Distance from Vegas: 130 miles
- Travel Time from Vegas: 2 hours, 15 minutes
- Best for: Ziplining, Adrenaline Junkies
Heading out in the other direction from Death Valley, most people are surprised to learn you can reach the Grand Canyon in a day trip from Las Vegas. Actually, it’s Grand Canyon West, so not the North/South rim of Grand Canyon National Park that you might be picturing – but it’s still wickedly impressive and worth a visit!
As you can see above, the main attraction at Grand Canyon West is the Skywalk, which opened in 2007 and has been popular ever since. There’s also a zipline, for those who aren’t scared witless by the 1,160 feet vertical drop you can see through the glass floor. This part of the park is on Hualapai land, and there are also cultural experiences and education available.
Zion National Park
- Distance from Vegas: 160 miles
- Travel Time from Vegas: 2 hours, 40 minutes
- Best for: Hiking, Climbing, Stargazers
Another of my favorite spots that’s worth the extra drive from Vegas, Zion National Park is a long day trip but, well, you’ll see when you get there. Spending one day in Zion isn’t nearly enough, and you’ll probably be itching to get back – just as I have been since my trip a few years ago.
Zion is an insanely popular park, so you need to leave early from Vegas to arrive in time to catch a shuttle into the main part of the park. Once there, you can hike a number of trails from different shuttle stops; my favorite is Emerald Pools Trail, but many people are drawn to hike the Narrows or Angel’s Landing; these are both hikes for more advanced and equipped hikers, so do your research on trails before just setting out.
Also, because of its popularity and in an attempt to better manage the impact of visitors, Zion has a permit and reservation system; be sure to check out the details once you know your travel dates so you don’t arrive empty-handed and discover you can’t visit the main part of the park. (If you aren’t able to secure permits/reservations for your desired dates, check out the Kolob Canyon District of Zion; it’s beautiful and far less visited.)
Whitewater Rafting on the Upper Colorado
- Distance from Vegas: n/a
- Travel Time from Vegas: n/a
- Best for: Getting in the Splash Zone, Adrenaline Junkies
You already know that despite the whole desert thing, there are water sports and activities you can enjoy as outdoor day trips from Las Vegas; if you’re looking for an alternative to those, how about going for the full adrenaline experience with some serious whitewater rafting on the Upper Colorado (upper being upstream of the Hoover Dam, where the river is wilder). For most common routes, the rapids are Class II and III (moderate), so good for those who’ve been rafting before but maybe aren’t proficient enough for a more challenging run. Adventurous beginners who are good at following directions can also handle this activity.
I didn’t put a distance or travel time on this one because the best way to do whitewater rafting on the Colorado is as part of a tour, and they’ll arrange the pick-up at your Las Vegas hotel plus provide all the transportation – so you don’t need to worry about those two details. Two tour operators I found while researching include Hualapai River Runners and American Whitewater Expeditions; both are well-reviewed and offer full-day whitewater rafting tours.
Where to Stay Before/After Your Vegas Day Trip
Now that you have plenty of inspiration for what to do during your outdoor day trips from Las Vegas, you might wonder: where should I stay before/after my adventures? Here are two of my favorite properties along the Strip, which will allow you to come back and enjoy the nightlife in the city after you freshen up from these experiences:
- The Park MGM is my favorite place to stay in Las Vegas, for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s right on the strip, so gives you easy access to explore the city’s lights and sights on foot – which is good for burning off calories from those various meals and/or drinks you enjoy during your visit. Second, the Park MGM is the only smoke-free casino in Las Vegas. Rooms at the Park MGM start from $74 per night; you can book on Booking.com, Hotels.com, or directly on the Park MGM website.
- The Palazzo at The Venetian is another great spot for a more traditional glitzy Vegas stay. I’ve stayed in the Palazzo and honestly, the rooms are so nice you might not want to leave – they’re certainly ideal for coming back to clean up and relax after a day out having adventures. Rooms at the Palazzo/Venetian start from $135 per night; you can book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
There are of course, dozens of other options for where to stay in Las Vegas. It’s really up to you, your style, your budget, and what other aspects of Vegas you want to experience during your trip.
Have any questions about these outdoor day trips from Las Vegas? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks to Visit Las Vegas for hosting me during my trip; their Neon to Nature itinerary allowed me to explore the best that Vegas has to offer – and work off the indulgences! Special thanks to Ryan from Elite Country Adventures for the great shots of me in Valley of Fire State Park.