Las Vegas On and Off the Strip

Las Vegas is known for gambling, extravagant shows, and wild partying. The lavish hotels are attractions themselves, not just a place to lay your head at night. My best friend Rachel lives in Las Vegas, so I’ve been there to visit several times. I’ve spent hours wandering through Caesar’s Palace looking at all the extravagant shops, dined in the Venetian trying to pretend I was in Italy, watched the fountain show in front of the Bellagio, and even spent some time gambling at the Hilton with Star Trek themed casinos. (Just to be clear, Rachel had Hilton points to redeem, we are not Trekkies.) While in Vegas you can also go to the Stratosphere to experience the SkyJump, the world’s highest controlled free fall at 855 feet. Sin City is probably one of the most popular destinations for bachelor parties due to the club scene and abundance of strippers. People expect crazy things to happen in Vegas, and if you haven’t heard the phrase “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” you might be living under a rock.

fountain display in front of the Bellagio

But what if you also enjoy outdoor activities? A few days spent on the Strip might be enough, maybe you want some nature to balance out the materialistic, fast-paced city. Well, there are plenty of places to go near Las Vegas that are perfect for the outdoorsy type. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is about 15 miles west of Las Vegas. Here you can go biking, hiking, or you can drive the 13 mile scenic loop. Rachel took me there on my first visit, and while I wasn’t up for the miles of biking she normally does, I did enjoy a leisurely hike through the park. There is also a campground at the park for those who want to sleep under the stars. If you want the gambling and nature without much of a drive, there’s even a casino nearby called Red Rock Casino.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

A little further out is Mount Charleston. It’s amazing that just 35 miles outside of Las Vegas you are no longer in the sweltering desert heat, but instead on a wooded mountain with a variety of wildlife and flowers, and the temperature is about 25 to 40 degrees cooler. From certain parts of the mountain, you can see Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon, and Lake Mead. There’s even a ski resort nearby!

Other side trips from Las Vegas include the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, and Death Valley. You could also make Las Vegas your home base and take slightly longer trips to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Joshua Tree National Park in California, and Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. Rachel had to work a couple days while I was visiting a few years ago, so I drove to Zion National Park. It was only about 150 miles and I really enjoyed the desert landscape as I drove.

Zion National Park

Don’t write off Las Vegas as simply a city of gambling, drinking and partying. While those activities can be entertaining, there are plenty of other more peaceful (and less expensive) aspects of the Las Vegas area to enjoy. Planning your Vegas trip to include different types of activities will make for a much more balanced vacation. I try to include one each time I visit, and next time I’m thinking Bryce Canyon.

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