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Home Tourist Attraction Las Vegas day trips: 5 perfect spots for a quick getaway

Las Vegas day trips: 5 perfect spots for a quick getaway

by Staff

Las Vegas has plenty of fascinating things for intrepid travelers to see, many of which can be found just a short walk from a visitor’s hotel room. But savvy folks also know that there are unexpected pleasures to be seen a bit farther away, simply by hopping in a car and spending a few hours on a day trip.

From the moonlike landscapes of Valley of Fire State Park to the small-town charms of Boulder City, a day trip can serve as a sort of aesthetic palate cleanser, allowing a visitor to decompress from the amped-up vibe of Las Vegas.

Now, enjoy immersing yourself in few nearby destinations that are perfect for a quick getaway.

Valley of Fire State Park

People soak in the view at the Valley of Fire State Park on Sunday in Overton, Nevada, Feb. 4, ...
People soak in the view at the Valley of Fire State Park. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Southern Nevada is home to fascinating, and picturesque, geology, from Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area to Lake Mead National Recreation Area. But just about a one-hour’s drive northeast of town lies an amazing collection of geological features to explore at Valley of Fire State Park.

Here, distributed over 40,000 acres, are strikingly breathtaking rock formations painted in colors found only in nature. Also waiting to be explored are petroglyphs and blooms of wildflowers and, at the visitor center, stories about the area’s Native American settlers.

There are trails for serious hikers and shorter walks for more relaxed amblers.

And if the all of that natural appeal isn’t enough, pop culture enthusiasts will love that Valley of Fire has amassed Hollywood credits that include “Con Air,” “Total Recall,” “Transformers” and — spoiler alert — Captain Kirk’s heroic death in “Star Trek: Generations.”

Death Valley National Park

Above, Death Valley is the home of what might be the most alien environment on Earth, and it's ...
Above, Death Valley is the home of what might be the most alien environment on Earth, and it’s only a day trip away from Las Vegas.

It hardly needs an introduction. Covering more than 3.4 million acres — 93 percent of which is designated as wilderness, according to the National Park Service — Death Valley is the largest national park outside of Alaska and is the hottest and driest place in North America.

Beyond all of that, Death Valley just about universally evokes a sense of awe, even among those who know of it only from photos and cowboy movies.

The fact that Death Valley can be visited with a drive of two to three hours from Las Vegas makes it suitable for an unforgettable day trip, too. But this is a trip for which planning is particularly important. Make sure your car is in good shape, pack extra water and supplies and take paper road maps to back up GPS. Also consider a visit to the National Park Services’ website (www.nps.gov) vital both for advice about road closures and trip planning.

Park officials report that access to most major points of interest along paved roads is possible, but many secondary and backcountry roads remain closed because of storm damage.

Boulder City/Hoover Dam

Hungry desert bighorm sheep graze through Boulder City's Hemenway Park. (Ron Eland/Boulder City ...
Hungry desert bighorm sheep graze through Boulder City’s Hemenway Park. (Ron Eland/Boulder City Review)

Sure, Hoover Dam is the obvious tourist attraction to take in on a day trip to Boulder City. But just as appealing an undertaking is simply ambling through its scenic downtown.

You’ll feel a definite small-town vibe and discover the quaint beauty of the town the dam birthed.

Downtown features small shops — fans of secondhand and antique shops will feel right at home — as well as cozy eateries and coffee shops. Art lovers can peruse the city’s public Art Scape, a public art exhibition consisting of sculptures and other street art. And for something really unexpected, check out Tom Devlin’s Monster Museum, featuring costumes and effects from Devlin’s career making creepy effects for film and TV.

The Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail in Boulder City offers hikers a glimpse into the history of ...
The Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail in Boulder City offers hikers a glimpse into the history of Hoover Dam and Boulder City amid fantastic views of Lake Mead. (Natalie Burt/Special to the Review-Journal)

Meanwhile, the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum can tell you the fascinating story of how both came to be. It’s free and open year-round.

Hikers might want to tackle the Railroad Tunnel Trail, while bicyclists could ride along the River Mountain Loop Trail.

Don’t forget stopping at Hemenway Park to see if the desert bighorn sheep have arrived to graze.

Oh, and about that dam. Often counted among one of the world’s great engineering achievements, it’s worth a tour, too.

Cedar City, Utah

Erosion and time have shaped the sandstone landscape at Cedar Breaks National Monument in South ...
Erosion and time have shaped the sandstone landscape at Cedar Breaks National Monument in Southern Utah, USA (Getty Images)

The easy, three-hour jaunt along Interstate 15 is a drive that many Southern Nevadans know well: Southern Utah University hosts the Utah Shakespeare Festival, perhaps Las Vegans’ favorite non-Vegas entertainment offering. That means you’ll find no lack of places for a quick lunch and a pleasant walk.

A much more temperate climate during the summer, Cedar City, Utah offers a refreshing vibe even ...
A much more temperate climate during the summer, Cedar City, Utah offers a refreshing vibe even when the Utah Shakespeare Festival isn’t in session. (The Shakespeare Festival)

Even when the festival isn’t running — this year’s season will take place from June 17 to Oct. 5 — Cedar City offers the charms of a scenic college town, from performing arts events to wooded hikes and strolls around town.

For walks of a more woodsy nature, head to nearby Cedar Breaks National Monument in Brian Head, Utah, located east of Cedar City, where an array of striking natural attractions includes a natural amphitheater.

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge

Bird-watchers will love a visit to Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge thanks to its location a ...
Bird-watchers will love a visit to Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge thanks to its location along the Pacific Flyway, Many species can be spied here during spring and fall migrations. (Getty Images)

At first, the greenery comes as a surprise. So do the lake and the waterfowl.

An emerald oasis in the desert, Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge sprawls across more than 5,000 lush acres just a 90-minute drive north of Las Vegas. It’s a prime destination for bird-watching, owing to its location along the Pacific Flyway, which extends from Mexico to Canada. So, during spring and fall migrations, ample numbers of songbirds, shorebirds, raptors and waterfowl can easily be spotted here.

The Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge is a two-hour drive from Las Vegas and provides camping ...
The Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge is a two-hour drive from Las Vegas and provides camping, hunting and bird viewing opportunities. (U.S. Fish & Wildlife)

The refuge also offers day hiking opportunities, including walking the trail around Upper Pahranagat Lake or tackling the slightly more strenuous 1.7-mile Davenport Trail. Stop in at the visitor center to explore the possibilities.

But whatever path you choose and whatever sights you see — Joshua trees, cactuses, wild flowers and petroglyphs among them — taking in the beauty of Pahranagat is all the more striking because that beauty is so unexpected. ◆

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