Going beyond The Strip: Nevada day trips (and sips) worth the detour
The mere mention of Las Vegas is always going to conjure up gaming, neon lights, palatial resorts and now, the Biggest Game in Football, too. But for anyone who's heading to town for Nevada's best-known draws, this is what you should know: There's so much to explore beyond The Strip — and indeed, beyond city limits — you'll want to factor in time for day trips and perhaps a road trip or two.
Even if you're sticking to just southern Nevada, there's a lot to explore. To give you a sense of what's on offer, we've created a tasting menu of sorts — one that pairs some of the region's coolest activities with the tastiest local brews. Read on, then start planning your own adventures here.
Seven Magic Mountains
Everyone from Beyoncé to BTS leader RM has journeyed 10 miles (or about half an hour) south of Las Vegas to behold this eye-popping desert installation. Created by the Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone under the auspices of the Nevada Museum of Art and the Art Production Fund, Seven Magic Mountains is a series of brightly colored boulders stacked into towers against the backdrop of the McCullough, Bird Spring and Goodsprings ranges. The site opened to visitors in May 2016 for what was supposed to be two years, but these soaring sculptures are so otherworldly, alluring and — yes — Instagrammable, the run time keeps extending.
Go experience the towering trippiness for yourself, and pair it with another kind of otherworldly experience: the nearby ghost town of Goodsprings, where — even if most locals are spectral — the oldest bar in southern Nevada lives on. At the 111-year-old Pioneer Saloon, you’ll find beers, burgers and bullet holes (if you look closely at the original Sears & Roebuck stamped-tin walls). The story goes that in 1915, the resident poker dealer caught a fella cheating and didn’t take kindly to foul play.
Only slightly farther afield — and made with enough concrete to build a highway from San Francisco to New York — this National Historic Landmark and National Civil Engineering Landmark is about 37 miles (or 45 minutes) from Las Vegas. Juxtaposed against the surrounding red rock desert, this massive complex has supplied water and hydroelectric power to multiple states in the region for the better part of a century.
To learn more, you can do everything from a self-guided tour of the Visitor Center to a guided dam tour, the latter of which lets you experience — for starters — historic tunnels, the original elevator to the top of Hoover Dam and a ventilation shaft with views of the Colorado River. On your way back to Vegas, stop and toast the experience with a Red Dwarf Lager or Gamma Ray Burst Belgian Triple at the family-run Astronomy Aleworks in Henderson.
Gold Strike Hot Springs
If you want to spend more time exploring the area around Hoover Dam before you head back, consider a 5.3-mile out-and-back hike to these springs in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. You'll encounter serious scrambling, a series of fixed ropes and a 600-foot descent into a canyon, but the reward is a warm soak and absolutely surreal scenery. Picture waterfalls, pools and grottos — all in the middle of the Mojave Desert. (Note that the trailhead closes between May and October.)
Celebrate your trail triumph at Boulder Dam Brewing Company in Boulder City, where the Dam Brews include such creations as Powder Monkey Pilsner — a nod to the explosive-packing dam workers — and Year 16 BC IPA, a 16th "annibrewsary" ale. You'll also find plenty of beer-battered snacks here, from onion rings to mushrooms to pickles.
Death Valley National Park
If that 600-foot descent gave you a taste for the depths you can reach around here, consider a visit to the lowest spot on the continent: the salt flats of Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park, set 282 feet below sea level (and about 155 miles from Las Vegas).
But if you travel here at the beginning of March, you’ll be shifting your focus upward: The annual Death Valley Dark Sky Festival (March 1-3, 2024) celebrates Death Valley’s designation by the International Dark-Sky Association as a Gold Tier Dark Sky Park (the best kind you can be, as far as astrotourism goes) with programming that ranges from astrophotography meetups to ranger-guided stargazing walks to “Astronomy on Tap” gatherings with space-themed pub trivia and Caltech-led talks at the Badwater Saloon.
Another reason to visit this part of the world in the spring? The possibility of wildflowers — a colorful contrast to the park’s name and a gorgeous addition to the Death Valley Rally, where requisite regional stops include Rhyolite for the surreal sculptures and Happy Burro Chili & Beer for the stellar Sagebrush Saloon fare.
Though Mount Charleston sits only 39 miles — and not quite an hour — northwest of Las Vegas, you’ll feel like you’ve entered a different realm as you ascend. In contrast to the surrounding desert floor, the slopes and peak are improbably forested, taking you from arid to alpine faster than you probably realized was possible. You’ll find 60 miles of trails there, most starting above 6000 feet, and some reaching the 11,916-foot summit.
Though you’ll also find plenty of picnic areas, a great alternative is The Retreat on Charleston Peak, a sustainable lodge with a restaurant and bar where the drink menu includes local brews such as the Great Basin Icky IPA.
The Atomic Museum
If you don't have time for a full day trip, but do have an afternoon to explore beyond The Strip, you can still have epic experiences within the Las Vegas city limits. One of the best places to see for yourself — particularly given Oppenheimer’s 13 Oscar nominations — is this Smithsonian affiliate. Consider a visit to this museum the ultimate companion piece to the film, though as you’ll see in the Pop Culture exhibit, Oppenheimer is only one of countless ways the atomic age has permeated the worlds of art and commerce. Also check out Spy, a new exhibit in partnership with the National Security Agency’s National Cryptologic Museum.
Pair the experience with the likes of an Excited State (“in atomic terminology, when an atom or nucleus possesses more than its normal energy”) Pilsner at the nearby Able Baker Brewing Company.
Tonopah Mining Park
When you're leaving Las Vegas — and perhaps headed to Reno or Lake Tahoe — consider spending the night in a different century along the way: Anyone interested in mining history (and/or haunted places) will want to make the approximately 210-mile journey on the Free-Range Art Highway from Las Vegas to the so-called Queen of the Silver Camps, where a 1900 silver strike turned Tonopah into Nevada's largest city (for a few years, at least). That legacy is extremely well preserved at the Tonopah Historic Mining Park, where highlights include a walk down a mine tunnel into a viewing cage suspended over an original, 500-foot-deep stope.
You can learn about some of the most fascinating one-time locals at the Old Tonopah Cemetery — or at the Mizpah Hotel. One of the state’s earliest luxury stays, this 1907 beauty was lovingly restored by a family with local ties. That same family is behind Tonopah Brewing Company, where local craft beers are arguably the best accompaniment to the ghost stories you’ll hear (or experience) in town.