Expect the unexpected in the cities and town of the Silver State. From bright lights in Las Vegas to the racing thrills in Pahrump, Nevada always promises something novel around every corner. Ride the rapids in Reno or stroll the riverbanks in Laughlin — there’s no end to the fun here.
Like moths to a flame, tourists from around the world come to Las Vegas to indulge in gambling, mile-long buffets and live entertainment. The town also makes a great base for exploring the surrounding area’s natural attractions, from engineering marvels to surreal rock formations sculpted by Mother Nature. Las Vegas has a habit of shattering stereotypes, serving up compelling museums along with family-friendly theme parks.
Many visitors head straight to the casinos when visiting Vegas, and you can’t blame them. Even if you have a passing interest in gambling, you’ll likely find the fountain show at Bellagio or the gondola rides at the Venetian worth visiting. Other popular attractions include the old Welcome to Las Vegas sign and the more extensive collection of fluorescent ephemera at the city’s Neon Museum (with its “boneyard” full of discarded neon signs from The Strip). While you’re at it, pay a visit to the Mob Museum, dedicated to the city’s Mafioso past; see a replica of the electric chair used to execute mobster Louis “Lepke,” Buchalter at Sing Sing.
Cool Clark County
Although Vegas is surrounded by desert landscapes, there are plenty of opportunities to get wet. Close to town, the marshy Clark County Wetlands Park serves as a habitat for birds, amphibians and mammals, a rare oasis in the desert. About 35 miles east of Vegas, the 726-foot-tall Hoover Dam stands as a testament to engineering genius. Generating 4 billion kilowatt-hours every year powered by the Colorado River, the dam has dazzled visitors since its completion in 1936. Take a tour of the dam or drive the nearby Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge across the river for spectacular views of this testament to American ingenuity. Downstream from the dam, Willow Beach Harbor is a launching point to see the spectacular geological formations native to the Black Canyon region of the waterway. Explorers can catch glimpses of the big horn sheep roaming the banks.
After touring the dam, visit the town that once housed the dam’s many builders and engineers. Boulder City, located 8 miles west of Hoover Dam, pays homage to the construction effort with the interactive Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum. Exhibits relate the social and economic impact of the dam’s construction. For train lovers, the Nevada State Railroad Museum is a showcase for locomotives, train cars and train-themed memorabilia.
The area around Las Vegas offers some of the finest outdoor recreation opportunities in the country, particularly if you’re fond of desert hiking. If you want to experience the beautiful Mojave Desert, don’t miss a visit to the 40,000-acre Valley of Fire State Park, so named because of the striking red rock formations that dominate the landscape. If you’ve got a little more time, the Grand Canyon is a four- to five-hour drive away, as is Sedona, known for its beautiful red rock mesas and spires. California’s Death Valley National Park is a 2½-hour drive away. Closer to town, in the Red Rock National Conservation Area and Cottonwood Valley offer opportunities for mountain biking.
Barbecue Chicken Wings
Served hot and fresh, this recipe has just the right amount of spice. Recipe by the Good Sam Team.
- 18 chicken wings
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp chili powder
- ½ tsp paprika
- ¼ tsp cayenne
- 1 cup BBQ sauce
- ⅓ cup honey
- 1 tbsp ketchup
Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Coat wings in mixture. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare pan with parchment paper or spray generously with cooking spray. Place wings on pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 35-40 minutes, turning halfway through. Mix BBQ sauce, honey and ketchup in bowl; place cooked wings in bowl of sauce, coating the wings. Place wings back on pan. Bake at 450 degrees for 5-10 minutes, or until bubbling.
There is no shortage of events in Las Vegas, and with its huge hotels, Las Vegas is naturally one of the country’s foremost spots for conferences and conventions. All of the major holidays are celebrated here with aplomb, and if you come during Halloween, you’ll encounter all manner of haunted houses, parties and spooky events. New Year’s Eve is also a big deal here, with everything from street performances to over-the-top fireworks displays. Electronic music fans know Vegas for the Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC), one of the largest electronic dance music festivals in the U.S. Perhaps the oldest annual event is Helldorado Days, a rodeo-carnival hybrid that’s been going on since 1934.
More Than Gaming
Although most people come to Vegas to gamble, there are plenty of other activities for thrill seekers. Live entertainment is big business here, with everything from music performances to off-Broadway musicals to magic shows, not to mention Cirque du Soleil and Blue Man Group performances. Amusement park thrills are everywhere. The Stratosphere Casino, Hotel and Tower features a roller coaster and a drop tower, plus Sky Jump. For a quirky shopping experience, take a stroll through Container Park in downtown. Stick around during the evening to see the giant praying mantis sculpture shoot flames from its antenna. Speed Vegas lets patrons hit the gas in a high-powered sports car, while the High Roller Observation Wheel takes riders up to 550 feet.
Though the area now known as Las Vegas was inhabited by Paiute people for generations, it wasn’t until a railway was built between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles that the city began to flourish. The city began to grow even more when the nearby Hoover Dam was constructed, and by the 1960s, the city as we know it today began to take form. If you’re interested in learning about Vegas’ history, head out to the Clark County Museum on the outskirts of town. This living history museum features an array of buildings from the olden days of Vegas, along with an exhibit dedicated to life in the region as far back as the pueblo days.
Don’t Forget Fremont Street
No visit to Vegas is complete without a stroll down Fremont Street, one of the city’s oldest thoroughfares and home to fabulous attractions. Defy gravity at SlotZilla, a combination zipline and thrill ride that runs from the mouth of the world’s largest slot machine. By buckling in for a ride, brave guests can zip their way down the entire length of Fremont — just beneath the flashing lights and displays of Viva Vision — in mere minutes.
Nestled into the west bank of the Colorado River, Laughlin is at the southern tip of the Silver State’s arrowhead. It’s a friendly, family-oriented town with an abundance of outdoor activities to supplement its casino attractions.
Casinos on the Bank
With eight casinos stretched along the river, and the Tropicana just across Casino Drive, Laughlin is a walking town. Each of the casinos offers many restaurants offering different cuisines. Even though all seven casinos have hotels attached, they all allow dry-camping in their parking lots. You can stay in Laughlin for a week and eat breakfast in a different casino each morning. Take a few chances with Lady Luck before heading out for outdoor adventure.
Ride on Land and Water
To work off a full breakfast and a pot of coffee, you may want to enjoy the fresh air of the Mojave Desert with an ATV ride or a stint on a Jet Ski. You can bring your own or rent your choice of toys from a huge selection in Laughlin or across the river in Bullhead City, Arizona. Or simply settle back into your seat on a jet boat tour through the beautiful Topock Gorge to Lake Havasu City, Arizona. The jet boat departs from Edgewater and Harrahs’ docks.
Maybe you prefer fishing to scooting over the waves on a jet ski? Boats can also be rented to enjoy on the river or on Lake Mohave, just upstream from Laughlin. If you happen to notice the difference in the spelling of Mojave/Mohave, an explanation is in order here. The U.S. Post Office decided early on that to avoid confusion between Mojave, California, and Mohave, Arizona, a slight change in spelling was indicated. Therefore, the lake was named with the Arizona spelling, because it was the state border between Nevada and Arizona. For fishing, you’ll require a license, which is available at the rental agencies. Although, if you already have a license from Arizona, California or Nevada, you can use it.
If you enjoy exploring a setting that’s more rugged than a casino parking lot, drive just a few miles north of Laughlin on a well-graded dirt road to find Telephone Cove on the Nevada side of Lake Mohave. It’s a quite large, flat beach, where you can park your RV and anchor boat with equal ease. Be advised, on holiday weekends, it can get very crowded. But once you’ve found your spot, it’s a great place to sit back and enjoy the sounds of birds, the gentle waves hitting the beach and the soothing breezes that rustle the leaves on the cottonwood trees. It’s a true oasis in the desert.
Laughlin is a relatively young town when compared to other Western towns and cities. Old-timers will harken back to the wild days of the 1970s, when the small community supported only three casinos and two motels. There were no hotels, no RV parks and just a few cafes. At the time, to visit the larger Bullhead City across the river, visitors had to drive over Davis Dam (which has been closed to traffic since 9/11) or ride one of the many shuttle boats plying the river (which are still in use). Then, In 1987, developer Don Laughlin funded and built the Laughlin Bridge at a cost of $3.5 million. He then donated the bridge to the states of Nevada and Arizona. Today, the bridge carries at least 2,000 vehicles daily.
Scenic trails, high-speed driving and wine tasting all have a home in Pahrump. From race cars to rugged hikes to relaxing with a wine glass at one of the state’s popular wineries, there’s a little something for everyone in the heart of the desert.
Hit the Gas
Pahrump is an outdoorsy and high-octane alternative to the casinos and shows of Las Vegas. If you have an appetite for adrenaline, Pahrump has you covered. The Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch is a one-of-a-kind driving school where visitors can learn to handle tight corners and banked turns in Corvettes, Cadillacs and other high-performance vehicles. At nearby Lake Spring Mountain, guests can go paddleboarding, swimming and even take hydro flights strapped to a jet pack. Who needs Vegas thrills when you can truly soar?
Driving Outside the Lines
Explore rugged terrain with an off-road adventure in the hills around Pahrump. Whether you arrange a rental with an outfitter or travel with your own ATV, the many nearby trails, such as Carpenter Canyon Road and Wheeler Wash, wind with twisty turns and deliver visitors to stunning vistas.
Leave for a Day on the Lake
Don’t let the arid landscape fool you. Less than two hours east, Lake Mead is a mecca for outdoor lovers. Anglers should head to the lake’s hot spots of Boxcar Cove and the Hemingway area to land top-notch stripers and catfish, while families looking to water ski, tube, paddle and swim can find everything they need at the marina. Further south, Lake Mohave is home to black, largemouth and smallmouth bass, as well as endless opportunities for recreation. It’s all connected by the Colorado River.
Hiking Boots or Bikes
Hiker and mountain bikes can take advantage of the trails that snake through rugged mountains. Just east of town, the Spring Mountain National Recreation Area boasts over 60 miles of trails, including a challenging hike to the 12,000-foot summit of Mount Charleston. Breaking a sweat on the route to this peak is worth the stellar view at the top. Try the Desert Overlook, Mahogany Grove and Pack Rat routes for easier approaches that offer spectacular views of the landscape.
Head to the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge for immersion into untouched Silver State nature. The refuge is home to 26 species of flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world. Even closer to downtown, try the Elk Meadows Trail network or Wallace Canyon trail. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and Death Valley National Park are also quick drives from downtown.
Raise a Glass to Rodeos
Taking advantage of the warm, dry climate, the Pahrump Valley Winery has been producing award-winning vintages for years. The winery’s lush, palm tree-covered grounds are worth a visit, whether you’re a wine lover or teetotaler. Relax with a visit to the tasting rooms, a tour of the vineyards with desert mountain views in the distance. Discover the unique flavors found only in this desert environment.
Catch a Cool Stagecoach
Nevada’s homesteading pioneers are honored during the Wild West Extravaganza and Bluegrass Festival in May. The event celebrates Nevada’s settlers with bluegrass music, rodeos and trail rides. The free event has activities for the whole family. Plan on going sky high if you visit during February’s Pahrump Balloon Festival.
Death Valley Days Beckon
Get the full measure of the desert with a trip across state lines. Just 48 miles west, Death Valley National Park in California thrills visitors with smooth sand dunes and spectacularly stark vistas.
Many people see Reno as a another version of Vegas, but America’s Biggest Little City, complemented by the neighboring town of Sparks, has an ambience that sets it apart. Sure, there are plenty of casinos and nighttime entertainment — that’s no surprise, given that Reno was originally the place to go gambling in the U.S. before Vegas took over — but the Reno/Sparks area distinguishes itself with a vibrant art scene and a mountainous backyard that’s chock-full of outdoor adventure.
Art and Bowling
While many people come to Reno specifically to spend time in casino resorts like the Atlantis, Peppermill Reno and Grand Sierra Resort, there’s plenty more to do here than just roll die or lounge poolside. For starters, the National Bowling Stadium, with 79 lanes and a 440-foot-long video screen, draws fans from across the globe who seek 10-pin action among pros and amateurs alike. For art lovers, the MidTown District exhibits 100-plus murals that showcase bold talent. The Nevada Museum of Art and Wilbur D. May Center boast large art collections, with pieces from all over the world.
Water sports abound in the Reno/Sparks area. Lake Tahoe is a 45-minute drive and offers ample opportunities for boating, parasailing, water skiing, stand-up paddleboarding and even pedal boating. Closer to town, Reno’s Truckee River Whitewater Park encompasses a 2,600-foot stretch of river with 11 drop pools for kayaking recreation. The riverbanks of the Class II to Class III park are lined with 7,000 tons of smooth, flat-top rocks and boulders for easy public access and enhancement of kayaking maneuvers.
In Reno’s sister city, the Sparks Marina Park boasts a 77-acre lake in which visitors can swim, fish and even scuba dive. A bit north of the city, surrounded by desert, Pyramid Lake is a fishing spot that teems with Lahontan cutthroat trout and cui-ui fish. This uncrowded spot is a worthwhile gem for anglers willing to go out of their way for a big catch.
For trail buffs, Reno and Sparks serve as great jumping-off points for hiking and mountain biking, and the climate remains relatively mild (by Nevada standards), making it suitable for outdoor recreation throughout the year. Part of the urban trail system, the Tom Cooke Trail runs along the Truckee River and includes a paved path for cycling and walking. Other hiking trails include the easy Huffaker Hills Trail, a 1.8-mile loop offering great views, and the more challenging Hunter Creek Trail, a 5.7-mile path leading to Hunter Creek Falls. Mountain bikers won’t want to miss the Marlette Flume Trail in the Lake Tahoe area, which offers gorgeous views out over the lake.
Reno Knows Partying
Reno/Sparks serves up a heady concoction of culture, nature, casinos and forward-looking business. Set in a beautiful part of Nevada, near desert, lakes and forest, it’s a popular destination for outdoorsy types. However, it also has enough casinos to give it a bit of a Vegas-lite feel. Reno is also artsy, with plenty of galleries and lots of public art around town, and a growing number of start-ups in the city lend a youthful, techy vibe to the area.
From late spring through early fall, Reno parties with a lively slew of festivals and events. These include the Reno River Festival, with whitewater rafting competitions in the Truckee Whitewater Park and plenty of live entertainment, as well as the Reno Rodeo in June. The Reno Jazz Festival brings top artists to town, while Artown rolls out hundreds of events and exhibitions related to visual and performing arts. Other highlights include the Great Eldorado BBQ, Brews and Blues Festival (the name says it all) and Hot August Nights, a huge vintage car show. And, of course, there’s Burning Man, held outside of Reno in the Black Rock Desert during the week leading up to Labor Day.
From Fort to Fabulous
Once a fort occupying a strategic location on the Truckee River, Reno overlooked key crossing points during the California Gold Rush. The town was established in 1868 as a stop on the Transcontinental Railroad, and the University of Nevada was established here a few years later. When gambling was made legal in Nevada in 1931, the city blossomed as a hub for tourism and entertainment.
Get your Motor Running
With its trailblazing design and broad collection, the National Automobile Museum has set the standard for auto museums worldwide. Most of the 200 historic vehicles displayed originate from the collection of late casino owner William F. Harrah and include rare, vintage and classic automobiles as well as race cars, and even one of the world’s finest collections of “horseless carriages.” Galleries are arranged chronologically (from the late 19th through 20th centuries) and linked thematically via artfully designed “street” exhibits that contextualize the vehicles through engaging scenes of faux shop fronts, diners and movie theaters. Celebrity vehicles include John Wayne’s 1953 Chevrolet Corvette, Elvis Presley’s 1973 Cadillac Eldorado, Frank Sinatra’s 1961 Ghia L.6.4 Hardtop and JFK’s 1962 Lincoln Continental. Also on display is the 1949 Mercury Series 9CM driven by James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause” in addition to one of three 24-karat gold-plated De-Lorean DMC-12s built for American Express.
The best place to begin a tour of the district is Wingfield Park, which leads to West Street Plaza, where the city’s musical verve finds expression in a robust lineup of concerts, festivals and events. First Street satisfies the itch for entertainment and conversation.
Just 26 miles south of Reno, historic Virginia City is one of the oldest continuously occupied towns in the West. The town has admirably conserved its authentic character with board sidewalks and restored buildings constructed during the town’s 1860s and 1870s boom days.
For More Information
Visit Las Vegas
Town of Pahrump
Visit Reno Tahoe