Go beyond the crowds and bright lights of Las Vegas to experience the vastness of Nevada's dynamic landscapes. Those who enjoy wild and lonely places, will love driving the scenic and remote back roads, so hop in the car to experience the best of the region on a day trip from Las Vegas.

1. Grand Canyon

No matter how much you read about the Grand Canyon or how many photographs you've seen, nothing really prepares you for the sight of it. One of the world's seven natural wonders, it's so startlingly familiar and iconic you can't take your eyes off it. The canyon's immensity, the sheer intensity of light and shadow at sunrise or sunset, even its very age, scream for superlatives. And this is why you shouldn't be doing it as part of a day trip. Consider staying several days at the canyon instead of trying to go there and back in a single day.

How to get to the Grand Canyon: It's over a four-hour drive to the canyon, so if you can really only spend a day, you'll need an early start.

A woman cycling on a paved road through a desert landscape
Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area is a popular spot for Vegas locals © Joshua Resnick / Shutterstock

2. Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock's dramatic vistas are revered by Las Vegas locals and adored by visitors from around the world. Formed by extreme tectonic forces, it's thought the canyon, whose 3000ft red rock escarpment rises sharply from the valley floor, was formed around 65 million years ago.

A 13-mile, one-way scenic loop drive offers mesmerizing views of the canyon's most striking features. Hiking trails and rock-climbing routes radiate from roadside parking areas.

How to get to Red Rock Canyon: The canyon is about 13 miles from the central Strip, which is less than a 20-minute drive. It's just three miles from Summerlin.

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The west entrance to Valley of Fire State Park.
Valley of Fire State Park was Nevada's first designated state park © Alexander Howard / Lonely Planet

3. Valley of Fire State Park

Dedicated in 1935, Valley of Fire State Park was Nevada's first designated state park. Its psychedelic landscape has been carved by wind and water over thousands of years. Make the visitor center your first port of call to find out how best to tackle this masterpiece of southwest desert scenery containing 40,000 acres of red Aztec sandstone, petrified trees and ancient Native American petroglyphs (at Atlatl Rock).

Must-see spots within the valley include White Domes, Rainbow Vista, Fire Canyon and Silica Dome: each is as magnificent as it sounds. For more information on the unique geological features of the park, the visitor center also sells books and maps and takes reservations for guided hikes and ranger-led stargazing expeditions. If you're there for more than a day, you can try your luck for one of the 72 extremely popular, first-come, first-served primitive campsites. Don't undertake any hike without plenty of water.

How to get to Valley of Fire State Park: It's about 50 miles from Downtown Las Vegas to the Valley of Fire State Park visitor center. Drive time is under one hour.

Aerial view of Lake Mead
Lake Mead is a fun spot to cool off  © Weltreisendertj / Shutterstock

4. Lake Mead

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a popular boating, swimming and weekend-camping destination for local residents; and for tourists, is often tied together with a visit to nearby Hoover Dam. Within this protected area of the almost unbearably-dry Mojave Desert are Lake Mead, which extends 110 miles toward the Grand Canyon, 67-mile-long Lake Mohave, which runs along the Arizona–Nevada border, and miles of spectacular desert around the lakes.

While most visitors come to Lake Mead for the water, there is a handful of hiking trails, too, most of which are short. At Grapevine Canyon near Lake Mohave, for instance, a quarter-mile jaunt takes you to a petroglyph panel, but if you want you can boulder-hop further up the gorge, which cups a ribbon-like stream trickling down from a spring. 

Longer routes include a 3.7-mile trail along a historic railway line with five tunnels that links the Lake Mead Visitor Center to the Hoover Dam. The most challenging hike in the park follows a three-mile trail down 800ft to a set of hot springs in a slot off Black Canyon (this one's not recommended in summer).

How to get to Lake Mead: The most visited northern section of Lake Mead is less than an hour’s drive from Las Vegas.

Photo of a bridge over a river taken from a dam. There are pylons at angles from the riverbank, and the dam itself is made of large amounts of concrete
Tourists often visit the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead on a single day trip from Vegas © MedFaiFotograf / Shutterstock

5. Hoover Dam

Day-trippers often visit Hoover Dam alongside a trip to Lake Mead, which was created during the construction of the dam. At the height of the Depression, thousands of men and their families migrated here and worked in excruciating conditions, dangling hundreds of feet above Black Canyon in 120°F (about 50°C) heat to build this massive 726ft-high dam, completed ahead of schedule and under budget in 1936. Ninety-six workers lost their lives building the iconic art-deco styled structure, which redefines the stark landscape. Tours of the dam structure begin at the Hoover Dam Parking Garage & Visitor Center.

How to get to Hoover Dam: It's about a 50 minute drive from central Las Vegas.

A photo of Spring Mountains sign in Nevada
The Spring Mountains run northwest-southeast along the west side of Las Vegas and down to the Californian border © Lpettet / Getty Images

6. Spring Mountains 

To the west of Las Vegas, the limestone cliffs and alpine-forested peaks of the lofty Spring Mountains rise unmistakably above the Mojave Desert. The modern, state-of-the-art interpretive center featuring educational dioramas, exhibits and artworks should be your first port of call for explorations into the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area section of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Rangers are on hand to steer you toward your ideal forest experience.

How to get to Spring Mountains: The drive from Vegas takes around one hour and 20 minutes.

A car driving down a road that cuts through a desert landscape
Death Valley is not the barren landscape its name suggests ©Mark Read/Lonely Planet

7. Death Valley

The very name evokes all that is harsh, hot and hellish – a punishing, barren and lifeless place of Old Testament severity. Yet closer inspection reveals that in Death Valley nature is putting on a truly spectacular show: singing sand dunes, water-sculpted canyons, boulders moving across the desert floor, extinct volcanic craters, palm-shaded oases, stark mountains rising to 11,000ft and plenty of endemic wildlife. Start at Dante's View, where on very clear days, you can simultaneously see the highest (Mt Whitney) and lowest (Badwater) points in the contiguous USA.

How to get to Death Valley: It's a little over a two-hour drive to get to Death Valley from Las Vegas. 

Mother helping son climb down rocks
Zion National Park features hikes for all abilities ©Mike Tauber/Getty Images

8. Zion National Park

Get ready for an overdose of awesome. The soaring red-and-white cliffs of Zion Canyon, one of southern Utah's most dramatic natural wonders, rise high over the Virgin River. Hiking downriver through the Narrows or peering beyond Angels Landing after a 1500ft ascent is indeed amazing. But, for all its awe-inspiring majesty, the park also holds more delicate beauties: weeping rocks, tiny grottoes, hanging gardens and meadows of mesa-top wildflowers. 

How to get to Zion National Park: It's around a two-and-a-half hour drive from Vegas. If you arrive via the south entrance, you should expect traffic jams of 30 minutes or more just to pass the kiosk – arrive well before 8am to avoid the worst of the traffic and increase your odds of getting a coveted parking spot.

You might also like:
Leaving Las Vegas: ghost towns and alien encounters in rural Nevada
Adrenaline Vegas: an experience of Sin City extremes
The Grand Circle is the ultimate US Southwest road trip

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This article was first published Dec 17, 2020 and updated Oct 8, 2021.

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