Thinking Outside the Vegas Box

May 29, 2018

If you've got that late-winter itch to deep-six your snow boots and head south for some sun, here's a thought that may not occur to you, but should: Las Vegas.

While the Entertainment Capital of the World may be better known for its indoor pursuits, it also gives new meaning to the great outdoors. Where else can you zip line through an urban jungle and desert canyon in the span of an hour, after all? And if you go now, you'll find mild temperatures (high teens, most days), shorter lines and totally reasonable room rates.

Read on for seven more reasons to think outside the Vegas box.

Red Rock Canyon

You'll have a hard time processing that nature this wild exists anywhere near the Strip. But sure enough, there's a 95,819-acre National Conservation Area just 30 kilometers away. To let the scene sink in properly, rent a convertible and drive the one-way, 20-km, overlook-happy loop. You'll also want to stop for hikes along the way. Two favourite trails: Ice Box Canyon, where you'll be treated to seasonal waterfalls (December through April), and Calico Tanks Trail, where the view of the Strip is just part of the payoff.

Red Rock Canyon

Lake Mead

Also improbably close to the Strip (less than 30 minutes away), Lake Mead is part of a national recreation area that covers 1.5 million acres -- about the same size as Banff National Park. There are plenty of hiking and camping options, but the reservoir at the heart of it all is a massive aquatic playground where you can boat and fish year-round. So pack a cooler or a picnic lunch, and plan for a day on the water. You can rent everything from kayaks and stand-up paddleboards to pontoon and powerboats from the lake's three marinas. Tip: If you're going on the weekends, it's best to call ahead to reserve a boat so you're not left out to dry.

Next-level thrills

You know that wind-whipped-hair-and-plunging-stomach combo you feel at amusement parks? Now imagine the rides hoisted almost 1000 feet skyward and you'll start to get a sense of what awaits you at the top of the Stratosphere Hotel, Las Vegas's tallest tower: some of the craziest thrill rides ever. (Here's a clue: One's named "Insanity".) For a final adventure, skip the elevator back down and try the Sky Jump -- described by some as skydiving without the parachute.

For a wind-in-your-hair rush that's slightly lower in elevation, try a zip line. You can soar through the air with views of the Strip (from the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino), see the neon lights of Downtown (SlotZilla) or zoom over a desert canyon (Flightlinez Bootleg Canyon).

Serious golf

The greens and fairways of more than 50 golf courses form a patchwork oasis around Las Vegas. Tip: If you tee off after 2 p.m., you can often score much-reduced greens fees on many area courses.

Bali Hai Golf Club may be the most convenient for travellers -- it's a long tee-shot from the Strip, with an island green on the par-3 16th to test your nerves. For star power, check out Bear's Best -- a greatest-hits compilation of Jack Nicklaus' favorite holes set amid the desert landscape west of town. Finally, the Royal Links Golf Course earns points for creativity -- all 18 holes are modeled after famous holes from the British Open Championship rota.

Eye-popping outdoor art

There's art where you least expect it in Las Vegas. And we're not even referring to the massive chandelier at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas (spoiler alert: there's a bar inside).

If you're driving south on the Strip, continue seven miles past Mandalay Bay and you'll come to a seeming mirage: seven monoliths rising from the desert floor like stacks of Day-Glo coloured poker chips. Titled Seven Magic Mountains, this installation by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone is open through 2018 -- so go this year for the requisite selfie.

For more amazing outdoor art, go downtown -- whether to see the massive Shepard Fairey mural on the side of The Plaza or the Neon Boneyard of retired signs at the Neon Museum. Tip: If you have the flexibility, time your trip to a First Friday arts festival, a free monthly event in the Arts District downtown that brings together local artists, musicians and food trucks.

Pool season

While other cities are limited to four seasons each year, Vegas has a fifth: pool season. Most resort pools -- and their epic pool parties -- officially open in early March. For a DJ-fueled see-and-be-seen scene, check out Rehab at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino or Wet Republic at MGM Grand.

For a tamer vibe, stake out a quiet spot in the massive Garden of the Gods Pool Oasis at Caesars Palace or the Pool Deck at The Palazzo Resort Hotel & Casino. Or simply rent a cabana at the rooftop pool at the Mandarin Oriental.

Tip: Some pools are limited to resort guests during certain days or times, but on the weekends you can generally pool-hop (for an admission fee).

Alfresco Cocktails

When the sun goes down, the fun moves to the rooftop bars and beer gardens. Many rooftop pools double as outdoor clubs at night, including Marquee at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, VooDoo Rooftop Nightclub at Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino and Drai's at The Cromwell. For a down-to-earth scene, try Beer Park at Paris Las Vegas or Oak & Ivy in the Downtown Container Park (where the Moscow Mules are a must).

After all of that outdoor fun, you deserve a cocktail (or two).

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