I used to work next to an older gentleman who sold tours to the Grand Canyon at a help desk in the Venetian Hotel. Any time someone would stop by his desk, his opening line would be ‘so… you want to go to the Graaaaand Canyon.’ He had this very specific (almost nasally) voice you could hear from surprisingly far away, and he would drag out the words in an old-timey manner. He never failed to start his pitch in this way. Sometimes I can randomly hear him in the back of my mind inquiring if anyone, anyone at all, wants to go to the Grand Canyon. So to bring that image to you, dear reader, that’s how I’ve decided to start this blog, except I’m going to reverse it and say: so, you DON’T want to go to the Grand Canyon…
This article is about all the cool things you can do in and around Las Vegas that don’t involve the (albeit stunning) giant hole in the ground. Now I should start with saying I have nothing against the Grand Canyon: it’s just that it’s the “go-to” when visiting Nevada and there is so much more near Vegas than that. These other micro-adventures don’t get nearly enough accolades, so I’m here to pay them the respect they deserve.
To refrain from rambling on, I’m going to focus on four areas you should definitely try to visit while in Sin City. The first is Valley of Fire, which is just under a two-hour drive from the metropolis. This breathtaking area is filled with towering red and orange rock formations perfect for fantastic photo ops and hiking. You can camp at two sites in the park, which you can learn about here, or you can just grab a day pass for some truly spectacular views. I recommend spring or fall if you plan to camp, or going early in the day during summer as temps can get hot hot hot!
If you’re wanting to feel like a Vegas local (I know — a Vegas WHAT? But trust me, it’s kind of cool) you can check out the Arts District in downtown Las Vegas. This spot is a little off the beaten track but filled with local gems like awesome thrift and antique stores, breweries, and mouthwatering cuisine. You can spend an entire day hopping from spot to spot, or head to funky bars like Velveteen Rabbit or Able Baker for a concentrated drinking sesh with über cool vibes. Trust me when I say the Arts District is THE place to be and you don’t have to deal with the super touristy crowds.
If you’re an avid hiker, Mount Charleston is right up your alley. Rachel and I did a little daytime wander here after our hot springs trip, and the views are unparalleled. Honestly, you don’t even feel like you’re 30/45 minutes outside of Vegas at all with the sky-high pines and fresh breezes. There are a variety of trails to choose from and they range in difficulty from easy to challenging. Mary Jane Falls is a popular path that leads you to (you might’ve guessed it) a small waterfall, and the steep switchbacks make the peak even more rewarding. If you’re looking for an easier adventure, try some of the trails near Fletcher Canyon, then head to the lodge for some of the tastiest French Onion soup around and top it off with a warm hot chocolate or Bailey’s filled cocktail.
Lastly, if you’re wanting to try something truly spectacular and out of the box, Gold Strike Hot Spring is hands down one of the coolest areas Las Vegas has to offer. Just over 30 minutes from the strip, this hike is filled with challenging ropes courses and stupendous views. You can explore this 7-mile round trip trail at your own pace, and as you climb further down into the canyon you’ll be greeted with stunning hot pools and an uninterrupted view of the Colorado River.
You can even check out the Hoover Dam from a different vantage point and enjoy a relaxed snack on the beach before soaking in the springs or heading back. I will implement a warning here: this hike is incredibly challenging in some areas. There was a moment where I laid belly down on a rock like a weird oversized gecko and shouted for Rachel to ‘leave me and save herself’ because I was terrified of making a rather treacherous leap between to boulders situated above a deep ravine. As amusing as I am sure it was to the group of people behind us (who were conveniently getting stoned so everything was already amusing to them) it was actually terrifying and slightly weird.
You need to be able to climb the ropes which assist you in getting in and out of the canyon, and the physical exertion is intense but completely worth the end rewards. We enjoyed a sandwich at the mouth of the river when we made it to the hot springs and let me tell you, it was the best tasting ‘wich I’ve ever had thanks to the effort put in beforehand.
If you come to Vegas hoping to leave with more than an STD and an empty wallet, might we suggest trying some of these divine adventures in between the giant slushies and blackjack tables? We can assure you you’ll see a whole other side to Sin City — and you might just leave the debauchery behind permanently in favor of these new discoveries.