Top 5 Las Vegas scenic drives
Explore the beauty of the deserts near Sin City
There’s only one night-time byway in America, and after a little thought everyone would probably guess that it’s the main street of Las Vegas — the Strip. This 4.5-mile stretch of casino-lined road is an icon of America, seen by anyone who has ever been to the movies. Driving along the Las Vegas Strip Scenic Byway at night, and visiting its casinos on a tour of the US, is as obvious as seeing the Hollywood Sign in L.A. and taking a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. A Las Vegas to Grand Canyon road trip is an automatic choice too, but you don’t necessarily have to travel that far to be dazzled by the scenery. So what else does the 24-hour city have to offer, and where do locals drive to relax?
Since Las Vegas is located in the Mojave Desert, the majority of the trips listed here will lead you to desert experiences. Generally speaking, deserts are thought of as lifeless, flat landscapes. But in reality, this is very much not the case.
Las Vegas Scenic Drives #1: Hoover Dam & Lake Mead
Once you decide to leave The Strip and its casinos, showgirls and attractions behind, the Hoover Dam is the no.1 of the best road trips from Las Vegas. The world-famous engineering marvel on the Colorado River is only 30 minutes away from the city, and welcomes 7 million visitors each year. The middle of the dam is the border between Nevada and Arizona, and you can walk or drive through it. After a security check, the dam — once the largest in the world — is free to visit, but the visitor center and guided tours are subject to a fee. To take in the impressive sight of the huge concrete structure from all directions and to have time to walk around it, it’s worth spending 1-2 hours on this program.
The man-made water reservoir, Lake Mead, is the result of the swelling of the Colorado River. It’s the largest reservoir in the US and also serves as a National Recreation Area. When it’s full, it’s 112 miles long, so there really are endless opportunities for water sports enthusiasts and those who want to enjoy waterfront recreation in a desert environment.There are two routes to explore the lake, Lakeshore Road and Northshore Road, the latter being one of the best scenic drives Las Vegas offers. It winds for 50 miles along the lakeshore between Las Vegas and the Valley of Fire National Park. Along the way, you’ll discover the flooded town of St. Charles, beaches and speedboat harbors, as well as the magnificent desert vistas.
To complete the Hoover Dam experience you can visit Boulder City, which owes its existence to the dam. It was originally built to house the construction workers, but today it’s one of the most livable cities in the area and is popular with tourists for its historic downtown, which still has a 1950s feel.
Las Vegas Scenic Drives #2: Valley of Fire State Park
The Valley of Fire State Park is known worldwide for its fiery red Aztec sandstone formations. Hence its name. Northshore Road, mentioned above, is one of the best road trips from Las Vegas to the park, with numerous scenic overlooks along the way. Hiking and picnicking in the park is really nice and relaxing away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The Valley of Fire is located in the Mojave Desert and is the biggest state park of Nevada, yet many tourists overlook it.
These attractions are all easy to reach by following the park’s main road, the Valley of Fire road:
- Rainbow Vistas
- Seven Sisters
- Mouse’s Tank
It’s recommended to bring lots of water and sandwiches with you for the day, since there are no shops in the park and the visitor center offers only souvenirs. Check the temperatures before you set off, as it can get very hot in the summer.
Las Vegas Scenic Drives #3: Red Rock Canyon
The shortest road trip: Las Vegas downtown to Red Rock Canyon State Park. This park offers a similar view to the Valley of Fire, and it’s also worth a visit for its unusual and colorful sandstone formations. This is the significantly smaller of the two parks and you’ll find a beautiful, one-way scenic loop drive to the most beautiful sights. Of course, there are many hiking trails starting from each stop along the loop, with trails lasting a few hours or even the whole day. Some hikes offer panoramic views of all of Las Vegas.
Las Vegas Scenic Drives #4: Nelson Ghost Town
Deep in the Mojave Desert, a 45-minute drive away from Las Vegas, the once active mining town is today an inviting place for photographers, filmmakers and travelers who like to see something extraordinary. Wooden buildings on the verge of collapse, an abandoned Texaco gas station, rusting cars and the remains of crashed airplanes have appeared in many films, videos and photo sets.
It’s among the best road trips from Las Vegas if you’d like to get a glimpse of the Wild West or want a guided tour in a gold mine. Nelson Ghost Town is a family-run business built on the remains of the town, to stage an abandoned mining settlement that feels as if time has stood still, somewhere around the ‘30s and ‘50s. Of course there are elements placed here from later times, but they don’t break the overall effect in a distracting way.
Las Vegas Scenic Drives #5: Mt. Charleston
Would you believe that you can ski less than an hour’s drive from Sin City? Mt. Charleston Scenic Byway offers many recreational areas along its 31-mile route, like the Lee Canyon Ski Resort. It’s a great winter and summer destination from Las Vegas. For those escaping the summer heat, it offers superb hiking, picnicking, camping and mountain biking opportunities at the highest point in southern Nevada. Nature lovers also love the area because it is home to 25 species of animals and plants found nowhere else in the world. Mt. Charleston is accessible via the Lee Canyon Road and the Kyle Canyon Road, both to indulge the senses of keen drivers. These roads are especially nice to drive in the autumn.