If you came here looking for little-known secrets of Sin City that may actually help you stomach a place you currently loathe, you’ve come to the wrong place. Don’t get us wrong — Las Vegas is a real hoot if you’re into certain things. Things like mind-blowing shows, more live music than you can shake a stick at, gambling galore and some of the world’s best eateries. But believe it or not, Vegas isn’t the end-all destination for every traveler. It’s also not the best destination for business travelers, but as I’ve personally found with covering the Consumer Electronics Show, sometimes your job just lands you here. Thankfully, there’s loads to see and do just outside of Vegas, and if your company pays to get you into McCarran International Airport, you might as well use any available downtime to your advantage.
Despite the local government’s best efforts to clean things up in southern Nevada and make Las Vegas more of a “family friendly” destination, there’s still a good deal of unbecoming aspects that are impossible to avoid. Driving on Paradise Road and seeing glorified advertisements for call-girls isn’t exactly the greatest way to start one’s morning, and frankly, there’s only so much alcohol to be drank, cigarettes to be smoked and money to be lost. If you’ve found yourself bored with the so-called Entertainment Capital of the World, we’ve got a few drastic diversions that are all just a day trip away — all of which are markedly cheaper than indulging in yet another played-out show or overpriced restaurant. Read on if you’re dying to escape.Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Just a half hour southeast of the city lies one of Nevada’s (and Arizona’s, to be fair) greatest treasures. If driving south to north on Highways 147 and 167 — which we recently did on our road trip around America’s Southwest region — you can go from one end to the other in around an hour. Thankfully, you’ll find a plethora of pullouts, hiking trails and picnic areas along the way, which should be enough to help you make a day of things. Due to the combination of desert ecosystems in the area (and the placement of Lake Mead and Lake Mohave), you’ll come across a surprisingly varied amount of flora. You’ll also be taken aback by the miles of mountains and overall peacefulness — a far cry from the intense hustle and bustle that you just left.
Cost: $5 per vehicle (covers up to 5 consecutive days)
Valley of Fire State Park
Conveniently positioned to the west of the northernmost section of Lake Mead National Recreation Area, this park is a natural landing point for those who aren’t quite ready to fight the Vegas traffic after an already delightful morning in the desert mountains. Even if you drive straight here, it’s just an hour from the city center. An expanse of mountains and red sandstone formations are littered about, offering visitors a great chance to work on their photography skills, hike, camp or toss a blanket out and have a picnic. And let’s be honest — any of those options beat spending another day in the City of Lights, right?
Cost: $5 per vehicle entry fee
Located about 45 minutes southeast of Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam is a must-see. You’ll need to allow for lots of traffic and a potential multi-hour wait, but the reward of seeing one of the most historic hydroelectric power plants in America (if not the world) is well worth it. You’d be doing yourself a huge disservice to pass this one up if you’re already so close (and so anxious to get out).
Cost: $8 per person
Situated only 25 minutes northwest of the city, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is a world away from the high frequency Vegas atmosphere, a serene, bucolic landscape where one can jump out of the car, hike around the massive, sandstone features and drink in the sprawling views of the Keystone Thrust.
Cost: $5 per vehicle
Death Valley National Park
A National Park just a day-trip away from Las Vegas? You bet. California’s own “Land of Extremes” offers up a veritable plethora of sights. From desert landscapes to snow-spotted mountains, you’ll find numerous faces of nature just 2 hours of 45 minutes away from the city you can’t wait to evade.
Cost: $20 per vehicle (covers up to 7 consecutive days)
Mojave National Preserve
If the heat of Death Valley frightens you, maybe the sand dunes at Mojave National Preserve sound a bit more inviting. This area — which sits just 1.5 hours away in the south of California — also houses wildflowers, Joshua tree forests and a government promise of “serenity and solitude from the crowds of major metropolitan areas.” Funny — that’s exactly what you were searching for, wasn’t it?
Zion National Park
It’s nearly 3 hours away in the south of Utah, but for the early risers in attendance, that’s hardly enough to deter you from spending a day at one of America’s most gorgeous National Parks. Monolithic red rock formations and canyons that rival the best offered in northern Arizona are everywhere, and in the winter, the snow adds even more character to a place that already feels alive.
Cost: $25 per vehicle (covers up to 7 consecutive days)
Got even more time? The 5 hour drive to the infrequently visited North Rim of the Grand Canyon is a no-brainer, as is a visit to Cedar Breaks National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park. If you’re looking to book a week’s vacation following your business trip to explore the Southwest, we admire your ability to make the most of a Vegas situation. Thankfully for you, we’ve got a guide to cover that as well.