Nevada’s 5 best budget-friendly vacation spots, according to readers

A sunrise over Reno

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By Stacy Rounds

May 28, 2024

Welcome to our latest readers’ choice poll results, where we unveil the top five budget-friendly vacation spots in Nevada. Whether you’re a local looking for a weekend getaway or a visitor eager to explore without breaking the bank, these destinations offer a mix of natural beauty, historical charm, and unique attractions—all at wallet-friendly prices. Here are the best cheap vacation destinations in Nevada, as chosen by our readers.

An overlook of Mesquite under a blue sky

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5. Mesquite

Located near the Nevada-Arizona border, Mesquite is a small city known for its warm weather, golf courses, and casinos. It’s a great spot for those looking to relax and enjoy some recreation without spending like you’re in Vegas.

Mesquite is home to several golf courses that are both budget-friendly and highly rated. Courses like the Oasis Golf Club and Falcon Ridge offer beautiful desert landscapes and reasonable green fees, especially if you book during off-peak times. And for those who enjoy gaming, Mesquite’s casinos offer a more laid-back alternative to Las Vegas. Many casinos also feature dining options and entertainment that won’t break the bank.

Nature lovers can enjoy outdoor activities along the Virgin River, such as fishing, bird watching, and hiking. The river area offers several free access points and trails. Or if you’re willing to venture out a bit, Valley of Fire State Park is about an hour’s drive from Mesquite. This state park is known for its stunning red rock formations and petroglyphs. The entrance fee is $10 per vehicle, and the park offers numerous hiking trails and picnic areas.

Mesquite’s hotels and resorts often have great deals, especially during the summer months. Look for package deals that include meals or golf to save even more. Travelers can also take advantage of the affordable buffets and dining options available at the casinos. These often provide good value for money, with a variety of choices to satisfy all tastes.

A beautiful view of the rock formations at Great Basin National Park

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4. Great Basin National Park

Located in eastern Nevada, Great Basin National Park is a remote and pristine destination perfect for nature lovers and budget travelers. With its diverse landscapes, from high desert to alpine forests, and dark skies ideal for stargazing, the park offers a wealth of free and low-cost activities.

If you’re into nature, there’s plenty of opportunity to explore at Great Basin National Park. Take a guided tour of Lehman Caves. These stunning limestone caves are filled with unique formations, and tours are reasonably priced, with tickets costing around $12 for adults and $6 for children. The park also boasts numerous hiking trails, ranging from easy nature walks to challenging mountain climbs. Popular trails include the Bristlecone Pine Trail, which leads to some of the oldest trees in the world, and the Wheeler Peak Trail, offering breathtaking summit views.

Great Basin is renowned for its exceptionally dark skies, making it one of the best places in the country for stargazing. It was recognized by Dark Sky International as a Dark Sky Park in 2016 because there is very little light pollution. Visitors are welcome to join one of the park’s free astronomy programs or simply enjoy the brilliant night sky while relaxing with friends.

Great Basin National Park does not charge an entrance fee, making it an incredibly budget-friendly destination. The park offers several campgrounds with fees ranging from $15 to $20 per night. For an even more rustic experience, backcountry camping is free but requires a permit.

Nearby, you can enjoy the Baker Archeological Site. Located just outside the park, this site offers a glimpse into the lives of the Fremont people who inhabited the area over a thousand years ago. It’s free to visit and provides informative interpretive signs. Also, check out Baker Creek Road — a scenic drive that offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and opportunities to spot wildlife. It’s a perfect low-cost way to explore the area.

A highway welcome sign for Carson City with a serene winter scene.

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3. Carson City

As Nevada’s capital, Carson City offers a blend of historical intrigue and outdoor adventures. With its rich history, charming downtown, and beautiful surrounding landscapes, Carson City provides plenty of budget-friendly activities for travelers.

No visit to Carson City is complete without a stop at the Nevada State Museum. Housed in the historic Carson City Mint, this museum offers exhibits on the state’s history, natural sciences, and culture. Admission is just $10 for adults and free for children under 17. Head to your next destination on Carson City’s JAC (Jump Around Carson) public transit system, which boasts affordable fares, making it easy to get around without the need for a rental car.

For history lovers, the Kit Carson Trail offers visitors a charming, self-guided walking tour that takes you through Carson City’s historic district, featuring Victorian-era homes, museums, and landmarks. Maps are available for free, making it an easy and inexpensive way to explore the city’s past.

Carson City is surrounded by opportunities for outdoor activities. Head to the nearby Lake Tahoe for hiking, biking, and beach activities. Alternatively, visit the Carson River for fishing, kayaking, and bird watching. If you’re planning to stay and do a bit of everything, Carson City has a range of budget-friendly accommodations, from motels to charming bed and breakfasts. Booking in advance can often secure the best rates.

And you may want to stay a while to see all the nearby attractions. Virginia City is just a short drive from Carson City. This historic mining town offers attractions like the Virginia & Truckee Railroad and the Mark Twain Museum. Many of the town’s attractions are free or have low admission fees. And let’s not forget Lake Tahoe. While some areas around Lake Tahoe can be pricey, there are plenty of free or low-cost activities, such as hiking trails and public beaches, that allow you to enjoy the lake’s stunning beauty without spending much.

Lake Mead surrounded by boulders under a blue sky

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2. Boulder City

Near the banks of the Colorado River, Boulder City is a hidden diamond offering a delightful mix of history, outdoor activities, and small-town charm. Known for its proximity to the Hoover Dam and its quaint, friendly atmosphere, Boulder City is an ideal destination for those looking for a relaxed and affordable getaway.

No trip to Boulder City is complete without visiting the iconic Hoover Dam. Entry to the dam itself is free, and self-guided tours of the visitor center are available at a low cost. For an even more comprehensive experience, you can take one of the professionally-guided tours to learn about the dam’s history and the engineering marvels of the early 20th century.

Looking for a more relaxing vacation? You’re in luck! Lake Mead is just a stone’s throw from Boulder City, Lake Mead offers a multitude of recreational activities including boating, fishing, and swimming. The park’s entrance fee is only $25 per vehicle for a week-long pass (now that’s affordable!), providing excellent value for a multi-day adventure.

Hiking and biking enthusiasts of all skill levels — hold onto your rails. The Historic Railroad Trail is just a stone’s throw away. This easy, flat trail was once an operating railroad, but the tracks were removed in the 1960s, so now it’s a level, easy-to-traverse sightseeing trail along the Hoover Dam. It’s ideal for families and also offers stunning views of Lake Mead and the surrounding desert. By the way, this trail is free to access.

Boulder City boasts a variety of affordable dining options, events, and attractions. There are tons of wallet-friendly local eateries from classic diners to family-owned restaurants. (Don’t miss out on the famous hot dogs at the Coffee Cup Cafe, a local favorite featured on the Food Network.) Throughout the year, Boulder City hosts numerous free events and festivals, such as Art in the Park and the Boulder City Christmas Parade. Or for a small fee, explore the Eldorado Canyon Mine Tour, where you can learn about the area’s gold mining history and enjoy scenic desert views.

Majestic red rock formations under a bright blue sky.

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1. Red Rock Canyon

Just a short drive from the busy, party-centered metropolis of Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon offers a serene and stunning escape into the quiet of nature. Known for its vibrant red sandstone formations and scenic desert landscapes, this conservation area is a must-visit for outdoor enthusiasts and budget travelers alike. It’s also a must-see for photographers and those who wish to reconnect with nature.

Outdoor sportsmen, grab your hiking, biking, or climbing gear and get a good stretch. With over 30 miles of hiking trails, Red Rock Canyon is a haven for explorers of all levels. Popular trails include the easy Moenkopi Loop and the more challenging Calico Tanks Trail. For bikers, the 13-mile Scenic Drive provides breathtaking views and a solid workout. The area is also renowned for its rock climbing opportunities, with routes suitable for beginners to advanced climbers. Guided climbing tours are available for those who are new to the sport.

If hiking or biking isn’t your thing, the Scenic Drive offers a leisurely way to enjoy the canyon’s beauty. Pack a picnic for some budget-friendly eats and stop at one of the many viewpoints along the route. Speaking of budget-friendly, the entrance fee for Red Rock Canyon is a modest $15 per vehicle for a day pass, making it an affordable outing for families and groups.

For an immersive experience, consider camping at the Red Rock Canyon Campground. At just $20 per night, it’s a cost-effective way to extend your stay and enjoy stargazing in the desert. Spring Mountain Ranch State Park is just a few miles away, and this historic area offers additional hiking trails and living history programs. Admission is only $10 per vehicle.

Or for some family-friendly photos and old-timey fun, check out Bonnie Springs Ranch. This quirky, Old West-themed attraction not only has a petting zoo that kids love, but you can also take vintage photos and even participate in mock gunfights. It’s a yee-haw-filled, affordable stop for families.

  • Stacy Rounds

    Stacy Rounds is a writer and growth producer for The Nevadan News. Prior to joining the team, Stacy has worked as a writer, editor, and engagement specialist covering topics ranging from local history, disability advocacy, recreation, and food hotspots to relationships and mental health.

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