The Ultimate Family Road Trip Through Nevada

The Ultimate Family Road Trip Through Nevada
Feb 27, 2020

Vegas may not be the first stop that comes to mind when you’re plotting a family getaway. But as @thetravelingchild—aka the Hambricks, whose travels have garnered a hefty Insta-following—recently discovered, there’s a whole kid-friendly side to the city that’s all kinds of fun to discover (and handy if you’re looking for a jumping-off point for a southwestern adventure).

To see how three generations of Hambricks spent one of their favorite family getaways—that is, almost a week in the Nevada desert—read on. Then start crafting your own Silver State escape.

DAY ONE—LAS VEGAS

Old pros at logistics, some of the adults flew in early to pick up an RV and fill it with groceries so that it was ready to roll by the time the kids arrived on the scene. “It can take a while to get everything together, so this really helps keep the kids sane if you can swing it,” says mom Monet. As for the decision to go with an RV in the first place: Having space for the kids and grandparents to relax and spend time together was key—as was the ability to take proper naps between stops (a mix of activities that everyone would like, and others thrown in purely to keep the kids engaged).


DAY TWO—VALLEY OF FIRE

While there was plenty to tempt the family into staying put a bit longer, they knew they’d have time in Vegas at the end of the trip, and the open road called.

Stop one? The famed Valley of Fire State Park, 40,000 acres worth of red Aztec sandstone swirled into gray and white limestone, where you’ll also find petroglyphs that date back more than 2,000 years. “You can’t quite believe this gorgeous nature exists just an hour away from the Strip,” says mom Monet, adding that there are kid-friendly, 1.5-mile hikes. The Rainbow Vista trail was a highlight for not only the landscape—but also the residents: bighorn sheep!

Pro tip: If you’re going to camp there, get to the site early, as you can’t make reservations, and have an alternative in mind before you go, just in case there’s no room and you can’t get cell service in the park (a possibility). Also, while you could make the Valley of Fire a day trip, the Hambricks found that the sunset and sunrise alone were worth staying overnight—to say nothing of the additional hiking you can do without feeling rushed.


DAY THREE—HOOVER DAM AND LAKE MEAD, BOULDER CITY

These were action-packed, divide-and-conquer kinds of stops, where certain activities were perfect for part of the clan, while others were better for the rest.

Case in point: Boulder City’s Bootleg Canyon, so named for the illegal alcohol transport that used to happen here during Prohibition. Beyond being a beloved mountain biking and hiking destination, the area is home to 1.5 miles of thicker-than-standard cables that had dad James (and grandpa) ziplining extra-fast—up to 40 mph—in tricked-out trolleys over gorgeous landscapes, complete with red-tail hawks, chuckwallas and big horn sheep (sightings of these desert denizens are common, though of course not guaranteed). Bonus: You also get views of Vegas in the distance.

A better activity for the littles? The Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum, which was interactive and engaging—so much so that the kids wanted to stay for almost two hours. Of course, the nearby Grandma Daisy’s Ice Cream + Candy Parlor—with its old-time-y confections and homemade frozen treats—didn’t hurt.  

The activity everyone did together and loved? Touring Hoover Dam from both ground level—and above. The helicopter tour, in particular, “is pricey but worth it, if it fits the budget,” noted Monet. “You see the entirety of Hoover Dam and get a sense of how massive Lake Mead is.”

One more local favorite: Lake Mead RV Village at Boulder City, the best one on the trip, thanks to the stellar views of the lake, right from the RV.


DAY FOUR—ELDORADO CANYON MINE TOUR, NEVADA SOUTHERN RAILROAD AND RAIL EXPLORERS BIKE TOUR

One of the most prominent gold mines in southern Nevada, Techatticup operated from 1861 until 1942. Now, there are tours that show you the quartz veins that once housed the gold and silver—an especially kid-friendly pursuit given that you’re in and out of the quarter-mile trail in an hour or so. Bonus: The old cars, airplanes and other movie props scattered around the mine delight kids as much as learning about what life used to be like here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (Full disclosure: This was a dad favorite, too.)

One more thing to note: While the Colorado River once provided steamboat access to the area, you can now rent kayaks and canoes at the mine if you’d like to have a paddle around.

At the nearby Nevada State Railroad Museum Boulder City, there were cool old trains to explore, including the fancy ones the upper crust traveled in, complete with butlers’ quarters.

Of course, taking a train ride was the best part—and though being up front with the conductor was fun, the back was better for views. (Monet’s advice: Just ask to go see the front of the train, then ride in the back.)

One related experience that was a group hit: the Rail Explorers, which had the family biking on the train tracks at sunset. (You pedal a quad or double three miles one way, then get a handy tow back.)


DAY FIVE—NEVADA STATE MUSEUM, DISCOVERY CHILDREN’S MUSEUM

Though museums don’t top the typical Vegas to-do list, they should—especially if you’re traveling with kids, as the Hambricks discovered.

One that boasts an astounding array of exhibits—truly, something for everyone—is the Nevada State Museum, where you’ll find everything from skeletal recreations of the mammoths that used to roam this area well before the first high roller did to all manner of feathered creatures—i.e., the mannequins in what’s reported to be the world’s largest collection of cabaret costumes.

But the museum the Hambrick kids were obsessed with was the DISCOVERY Children’s Museum, and especially its career section, where they learned about (and pretended to be) everything from mechanics to pilots, then got to spend their “paychecks” at a super-fun grocery store.

Other cool aspects to the museum included the theater, where the kids donned costumes and played on the stage—and the conga line to the exit.


DAY SIX—VEGAS, BABIES

With one last day in Vegas, there was a lot of fun still to be had. Topping the list was the Downtown Container Park, where the family went to check out the shipping containers-turned-restaurants, and the kids took advantage of the wait for lunch to play with the outsized blocks, cruise the slides, explore the container-based treehouse and put on an impromptu piano performance.

On nearby Fremont Street, everyone took in the famed murals before heading over to the (free!) Botanical Gardens at the Bellagio and checking out the famed water show.

As the day (and vacation) drew to a close, one of the kids made an urgent appeal: "I do not want to leave—can we please pay more money to stay longer?"

Ready to pack your bags? Start planning your own Neon to Nature road trip.

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