7 Nevada winter day trips within a short drive of Las Vegas

Seven Magic Mountains was created by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone in 2016. Visitors park in a small lot and walk down a dirt path to see the 30 to 35-foot-high totems of locally-sourced boulders up close and take photos. (Frank Alejandre / The Nevadan / El Nevadense)

By Aleza Freeman

December 4, 2023

 

Day trips are a great way to shake things up without causing a major disturbance to your routine. Just one special day devoted to a quick getaway, and your entire family will return refreshed and ready for everyday action.

Las Vegas is close to several destinations in Nevada that make the perfect day trip. Some of these can even be combined into a road trip over multiple days–if you want to make it a longer vacation. Best of all, the weather is perfect, even in winter.

From a reminder of the Old West reminder to a roller coaster of a good time, here are 7 Nevada day trips to take with your family this winter.

Nelson Ghost Town

A well-preserved remnant of Old West Nevada on a sleepy highway, Nelson ghost town is quaintly situated in Eldorado Canyon, along State Route 165, only 50 miles southeast of Las Vegas. It’s a picture-perfect sight with several old wooden structures like a barn, church and water tower, vintage signage, old vehicles, rusty antiques and the infamous Techatticup Mine. Visitors are welcome to peruse Nelson Ghost Town for free–payment is requested if you plan to stay more than 15 minutes or take photos–or on a paid tour. There aren’t any eateries in town but there are plenty of places to eat in Boulder City or on the way back to Las Vegas. 

Day Trip tips

  • On your way to the Eldorado Canyon, check out the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Boulder City and take a ride on a historic train.
  • Drive 5 miles beyond Nelson ghost town to the Colorado River for a refreshing diversion.

Hoover Dam 

Only 37 miles from Las Vegas through Boulder City on U.S. 93, Hoover Dam is a concrete arch-gravity dam, located in the southeast corner of Nevada, bordering Arizona. This feat of American engineering impounds Lake Mead while providing hydroelectric power and irrigation to California, Nevada and Arizona. More than seven million people visit this 726.4-foot by 1,244-foot Art Deco masterpiece every year either on their own (for free) or on a guided tour (for a fee). The 1,905-foot-long Mike O’ Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge towers 880 feet over the Colorado River, downstream of the dam. 

Daytrip tips:

  • While there is a cafe at the dam, consider grabbing a meal in Boulder City at a locally-owned cafe such as Chilly Jilly’z or the Coffee Cup and be sure to check out the shops.
  • You can park at the foot of the memorial bridge and walk across it on foot for photos and views of the dam and Black Canyon.

Lake Mead 

The largest manmade reservoir in the United States, Lake Mead is located in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 32 miles from Las Vegas and less than 5 miles from Hoover Dam. The lake was created when the dam was constructed in 1936. Visitors to the lake partake in outdoor activities like swimming, boating, hiking, camping and fishing. You can also ride to the upstream base of Hoover Dam on a historic three-deck paddlewheeler (February through November). The Lake Mead Visitor Center is a good starting point for information about the lake and its amenities. The fee to enter the park is $25 per car. 

Day Trip tip

  • Hike to Hoover Dam from the Lake Mead Visitor Center on the scenic and dog-friendly 3.7-mile (one-way) Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail.
  • Explore the grounds of St. Thomas, a ghost town that is emerging from the dropping waters of Lake Mead. From here, it’s only 5 miles to Valley of Fire’s east entrance.

Valley of Fire

The iconic Valley of Fire State Park is only 49 miles from Las Vegas via Interstate 15 or 88 miles via Lake Mead, but with its 40,000 acres of funky red sandstone formations, it feels like another planet. The park has represented otherworldly locations in movies and television shows including “Total Recall” and “Star Trek.” In addition to entering Valley of Fire from the west, you can enter via the east, near Lake Mead. Either way, Nevada residents pay a $10 fee per vehicle. There’s a comprehensive visitor center; plenty of camping and picnic areas; easy hikes like the White Domes and Mouse’s Tank trails; one-of-a-kind photo opportunities and 2,000-year-old petroglyphs and petrified trees. Be sure to take the short hike to Elephant Rock for unforgettable photos.

Day Trip tips

  • Check out Overton and the Lost City Museum, 11 miles from Valley of Fire’s east entrance, to see prehistoric artifacts from St. Thomas and other flooded archaeological sites.
  • Grab a meal at Cablp, a quirky cafe in Overton, owned by world-famous magician Criss Angel.

Mesquite

If you want a resort experience for less or you simply want to escape the crowds of Las Vegas, drive 82 miles on I-15 to Mesquite. Located in the Virgin River Valley at the border between Nevada and Arizona, this small Nevada town is home to several casinos, hotels, spas, dining and championship golf courses. It’s a fun getaway, whether you’re there to gamble, eat, relax with a facial, swim or hit the links. There are also fine art and history museums for local culture.

Day Trip tips

  • Even if you don’t plan to return, it pays to sign up for casino player’s club cards for deals and freebies at the local casinos.
  • Since you can’t get lottery tickets in Las Vegas, you can instead make a quick trip past the Arizona state line to buy them there.

Rhyolite Ghost Town

Located about 120 miles from Las Vegas, 6 miles past Beatty on State Route 374, Rhyolite is a fascinating stop whether you’re on the way to Death Valley National Park or simply taking a day trip. The town once boomed and even had electricity, concrete sidewalks, telephone lines and indoor plumbing. Rhyolite’s main attractions today are the train depot, jail and the Tom Kelly bottle house–constructed from 50,000 medicine, beer and whisky bottles. This town is free to visit.

Day Trip tips

  • On your way to Rhyolite, grab a bite at a local restaurant like Happy Burro Chili & Beer, Gema’s Cafe or Smokin’ J’s Barbecue in Beatty (104 miles from Las Vegas), Just watch out for free-roaming burros in the street.
  • Once you reach Rhyolite, don’t skip the neighboring outdoor sculpture garden known as the Goldwell Open Air Museum, erected in 1984 by a Belgian artist named Albert Szukalski.

Seven Magic Mountains

The mammoth Seven Magic Mountains stretches upwards from the desert about 10 miles south of Las Vegas, off I-15, near Jean Dry Lake, The piece, comprising seven towers of stacked, multi-colored boulders, was created by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone in 2016. Visitors park in a small lot and walk down a dirt path to see the 30 to 35-foot-high totems of locally-sourced boulders up close and take photos. Admission is free and open to the public but there aren’t any restrooms or amenities.

Day Trip tips

  • After checking out Seven Magic Mountains, head to the former mining town of Goodsprings, about 13 miles away, to visit the historic and haunted Pioneer Saloon. The dog-friendly restaurant has a full menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Head to Primm at the Nevada state line, about 20 miles from Seven Magic Mountains, to ride the Desperado roller coaster at Buffalo Bill’s or score a great deal at the Primm outlet mall.
  • Aleza Freeman

    Aleza Freeman is a Las Vegas native and award-winning journalist with two decades of experience writing and editing lifestyle, travel, entertainment, and human interest stories in Nevada. Her work has appeared in AARP magazine, Haute Living and Nevada Magazine.

CATEGORIES: COMMUNITY | THINGS TO DO

Politics

Local News

Related Stories
Share This