There aren't many cities in the world—let alone in the U.S.—that can top Las Vegas. It's got the food, the history, the attractions, the nightlife... you get the picture. But an escape from even the busiest cities is necessary once in awhile. Luckily, you don't have to travel too far in order to find natural beauty in spades (casino pun intended). Whether you're inspired by land art, stunning state parks, scenic drives, or just a relaxing day on the lake, this road trip through the natural wonders outside of Sin City is sure to surprise and delight.
Since 2016, a unique (and highly Instagram-able) land art installation has been attracting visitors to the middle of the Nevada desert. The 25-foot-tall pillars of neon-colored boulders are known as Seven Magic Mountains, and the piece is the brainchild of Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone. The seven towers are the only thing for miles around, a “creative expression of human presence in the desert.” In addition to making for a great photo op, there's a ton of symbolism to the installation. The rock stacks mimic stone cairns, which were once used to mark the road for travelers making their way through unfamiliar and unsettled landscapes. And while most land art blends into the landscape, the bright colors of Seven Magic Mountains makes everything really stand out. It’s like pop art-meets-land art. Though Seven Magic Mountains was only intended to last through 2018, it's been such a success that its lease has been extended through 2021.
Seven Magic Mountains is just off I-15—the main route for travelers between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. When you visit, you’ll find interpretive signs and a rough dirt path… and not much else. There’s a guide-by-cell offering, however, that you can take advantage of during your trip. Simply call the phone number and follow along as you get an in-depth tour of the totems. And definitely heed the warning signs to watch out for snakes!
Just outside of Las Vegas, in Henderson, is the Lion Habitat Ranch, a unique nonprofit educational zoo that functions as an exotic wildlife refuge center. The ranch is uniquely permitted by the Department of Agriculture to exhibit lions and other wild animals. They not only care for the lions (many of which are retired from the MGM Grand Hotel), but they also house a giraffe that can paint, talkative parrots, rescued tortoises, ostriches, and other exotic animals. General admission is around $20 per adult, but there are package deals and lots of discounts available. If you're looking to go above and beyond for your trip, the Lion Habitat Ranch offers a behind-the-scenes tour, and you can even feed the giraffe for an additional fee.
Vegas isn't the only place with stellar accommodation options—Henderson can hold its own as well. The Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Henderson has everything a guest needs for a comfortable and relaxing night of rest, without any extra frills. But, if you are looking for extra frills, then be sure to use your IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card to pay for your stay to take advantage of the additional points you will earn here. Free high-speed wireless internet, a complimentary breakfast buffet, spotless and spacious rooms, and a heated outdoor pool are among just the few enticing amenities offered here.
On your way out of Henderson, stop by the Clark County Museum. It's made up of several buildings, including the exhibit hall, old heritage homes, a garden space, a church, a print shop, a train station, and an adorable retro travel trailer. If you're looking to take in some history while still enjoying sun and fresh air, the Clark County Museum is ideal. The exhibit hall offers a fun look at Nevada's past—including exhibits on Native Americans who lived in the area—as well as background on mining, gambling, and entertainment throughout history. And, as an added bonus, admission is only $2.
For a break from the decadence of Las Vegas' foodie scene, try out Boulder City's Southwest Diner, which serves up big portions of home cooking in a quirky atmosphere. The menu is mostly diner staples, from meatloaf to omelets (often with a Southwestern spin), alongside Tex-Max staples like chimichangas and enchiladas. They serve cocktails, but their raspberry tea, served in a big mason jar, is always a refreshing choice. And if you can, save room for dessert. A home-cooked meal is never complete without a slice of homemade pie.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a massive park, covering nearly 1.5 million acres of land around Lake Mead and the smaller Lake Mohave. It also includes nine wilderness areas. It all adds up to make the National Recreation Area a diverse place with a lot to see and do. The lakes and marinas provide plenty of boating opportunities, as well as excellent swimming beaches. There are water trails for those seeking to paddle, and additionally, the fishing is top notch. The park has some well-maintained trails, ranging from easy to very strenuous. The St. Thomas Trail, which leads to a ghost town once submerged by the lake, is a notable favorite. You can even find natural springs in the park. The Lake Mead Visitor Center is a great place to start—it has a ton of great information on the history in the area. Fun fact: There are dozens of historical sites and structures, as well as more than a thousand archaeological sites scattered throughout the property.
You can't visit Boulder City without stopping by the Hoover Dam. Its main purpose is to staunch flooding, be a source of water for the arid deserts of Nevada, and provide a bit of hydroelectric power. The massive structure was supposed to take five years to build, from 1931 to 1936, but the thousands of laborers finished the dam two years ahead of schedule. The Hoover Dam now sits 726 feet tall, and goes from 660 feet wide at the base to a mere 45 feet wide at the top. And yes, you can still drive across it, although they've put in some restrictions on the kinds of vehicles that can drive across the top. The dam does have tours through limited sections of the power plant and some of the passageways, but the visitor's center sees about a million tourists every year, making it one of the country's most popular attractions.
It might seem like nothing can outdo the striking neon of Sin City... but Mother Nature pulls it off at the nearby Valley of Fire State Park. The landscape of red Aztec sandstone was formed 150 million years ago from shifting sand dunes. There's evidence in the form of petroglyphs that the Anasazi occupied the area between 300 BC to 1150 AD for hunting, food gathering, and religious ceremonies. There are also notable sandstone formations, like Elephant Butte, which looks exactly like a (you guessed it) elephant. There are some great hikes in the park, but if you're worried about the intense heat, a scenic drive along White Domes Road is a great way to admire the scenery and stay cool.
Las Vegas does everything bigger and better, including outdoor adventure and natural beauty. Explore ghost towns, admire exotic animals, sun yourself at a beach, soak in a natural spring, enjoy a scenic drive, and ponder the meaning of art as you skirt the city limits. And thanks to our IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card partners, you'll be so busy adding up points from using the card and having fun, you won't even miss the Strip.
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