Lake Mead

The Coolest One-Day Trips From Las Vegas

Las Vegas, America's 'Sin City,' is surrounded by natural wonders, mysterious locales, and places with human imprints from millions of years ago. It is easy to attain a much-needed change in pace for scenically- and emotionally charged day trips within two hours from the Strip. These places of real power will recharge you with energy and maybe even bestow some luck before you head back into the gaming scene. 

Area 51

Area 51
Area 51 signboard on the highway. Editorial credit: Danita Delimont /

Although the focal point of Area 51 is an off-limits US government installation, the area immediately around is the next coolest thing for scenic drives and mystic strolls through a unique atmosphere. Area 51 is featured on TV shows, talks, and documentaries as a magnetic locale veiled in mystery. Many claim to get an eerie feeling of something palpably out of this world that makes one contemplate whether the government really is hiding aliens and UFOs a hand's-reach away from society. The cool destination attracts plenty of curious, extraterrestrial fans and seekers of paranormal sights, like flies to a honeypot. Few know that the locals who work at the mysterious facility, the Men in Black, get to their Area 51 "office" and back home to Vegas via a daily plane from the McCarran Airport for one jealous-worthy commute. 

The day trip encompasses a scenic ride through the open desert to the state's tiny town of Rachel, Nevada. It is set just over two hours away via the scenic Extraterrestrial Highway, also known as State Route 375, right from the heart of Vegas. The great day trip is free-access to the cool atmosphere, inclusive of priceless scenery on-the-way, and time spent with friends. Even the town of Rachel, with 54 residents, is veiled in mystery, where one will run into like-minded seekers of the otherworldly sights to chat up and share a drink at the bar.

 area 51
Vintage pickup truck with an object similar to UFO located along the famous extraterrestrial highway in Nevada close to the Nellis Air Force Range and Area 51.

The town's themed Little A'Le'Inn Bar and Motel welcomes guests for a unique overnight stay proximate to Area 51. Its bar serves alien burgers and out-of-this-world souvenirs, along with maps that guide all the way into Area 51, the Groom Lake Air Force facility, legally, up to the stern warning signs at the edge of the base. Farther down the Extraterrestrial Highway, the Alien Research Center offers facts over fiction about Area 51, along with a greeting giant silver alien at the doors. The real mind-boggling day trip into the greater unknown is optimal for an everyday curious traveler, conspiracy theorists, and military enthusiasts.

Emerald Cove

The Emerald Cove is among the state's top naturally vibrant, hidden sights and one of the best kayaking spots near Las Vegas. The cove is carved through the sturdy canyon walls along the secluded part of the Colorado River within the Black Canyon Wilderness area at the Arizona-Nevada border. The natural wonder is home to picturesquely-green waters (full of algae), hence the name. The glimmering, vibrant green waters reflect the sun's rays for an emerald spectacle all around. It is only accessible via a small vessel rather than on foot due to tight passageways.

Kayaking is the most popular option for exploring Emerald Cove. Tandem kayaks are made for two people to enjoy the marvelous scenery together with a friend. Aside from kayaking, one can tour the cove via a canoe or stand-up paddle boat, with priceless emotions guaranteed over the scenic beauty and unforgettable experience regardless of the method.

Emerald Cove
Kayakers exploring the Emerald Cove. Editorial credit: Claudia Passarell /

Thousands of avid explorers visit this Colorado River's enchanting grotto for a memorable outdoor adventure on a cool day trip. It is easily accessible through most of the year, with complementary dips in the waters during summer when temperatures reach over 100 degrees. There are kayaking tours that highlight the cave's geological features and the region's diverse wildlife while guiding one through a first-time kayaking experience. One can venture even deeper into the waters via a glass-bottomed kayak to see nature's full glory and power.

The unique and beautiful Emerald Cove awaits thrill-seekers under an hour southeast of the city, with eerie silence and darkness of the cave. Following the tour, one can take a dip in the cave's pool, which is also great for wading and swimming amidst vividly-shifting scenery. Wildlife enthusiasts enjoy sighting blue herons, bald eagles, and desert bighorn sheep around the area.

Lake Mead

Entrance to Lake Mead Marina of Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
Entrance to Lake Mead Marina of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Editorial credit: Nadia Yong /

The Lake Mead National Recreation Area lies east of Las Vegas, some 30 to 40 minutes away from the Strip. It is easily accessible to day-trippers via a scenic drive passing by the Colorado River and the Hoover Dam, with an entrance fee of only $25 per vehicle into the area. A whole recreational galore of favorite pursuits awaits for a relaxing and peaceful day spent in lush nature by the largest human-made lake in the world. The "coolest" thing about Lake Mead is the refreshing change in scenery from the hot and bustling strip to the cool and calm waters, ideal for swimming. One can sunbathe during the day, take sunset strolls along the scenic walking trails winding the lake's shores, or opt for a cruise dinner.

The massive lake with a 1.5 million-acre recreational area packs enough cool activities to enjoy from morning to night and visit times again to see and experience everything. Other wet and dry fresh-air activities include kayaking and traditional paddle wheel boating. There is recreation along the shores, like waterside and hiking trails, and relaxing over a scenic picnic in a shaded spot. A cruise aboard the Desert Princess comprises a real dream-come-true pastime. It offers a relaxing glide through the waters over wine and dinner at sunset, with immense blueness to one side and the scenic shore getting smaller to the other. It is the perfect and much-needed respite and change from the noise of the Strip and mundane sights of the Nevada Desert. 

Bighorn sheep IN lake Mead
Bighorn sheep along the shores of Lake Mead.

There are many guided tours around the desert oasis, camping, fishing, horseback riding, and scuba diving. The trails are also perfect for biking before cooling off at one of the swimming areas. The adrenaline junkies get the thrill through the Lake Mead National Park ATV Tour experience. The ATVs traverse 22 scenic miles of the Mojave Desert, stopping at 900 feet above the Colorado River for breathtaking views and descending for a dip in a different body of water. It is easy to spend the entire day at Lake Mead with the region's best Angus Beef burger and fries to recharge at the Lake Mead National Park's onsite restaurant.

Red Rock Canyon

The nation-famous Mojave Desert in California expands into Nevada, where a stunning Red Rock Canyon in Clark County awaits some 17 miles west of Las Vegas. It is open year-round, with cool activities like biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, and even sighting waterfalls cascading into the canyon on certain trails. The impressive Red Rock Canyon is the first national conservation area implemented in Nevada, comprising an immense and isolated scape with incredible sandstone rock formations. It is eerily scenic and quiet for a thought-after change in pace, mood, and sights from the bustling Strip. 1.2 million tourists visit the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area each year for the must-sees, like the gorgeous red and cream Calico Hills and the impressive Keystone Thrust. 

People walk to Red Rock Canyon Nevada Las Vegas
People walk to the Red Rock Canyon, Nevada.

The mountains in the region were formed over millions of years through various geological processes, like fossilized sand dunes and the earth's crust collision. The notable Keystone Thrust fractured as a fault when two plates shoved up and over each other for a magnificent contrast of grey limestone to red sandstone today. Also known as the Wilson Cliffs, this collection of unique sandstone peaks and walls reaching up to 3,000 feet high is easily sighted from the Strip. It is an ideal playground for active hikers and climbers who enjoy conquering the peaks while others relax underneath over a scenic picnic. The La Madre Mountain dominates the range from an 8,154 ft stance. 

There is a 13-mile scenic loop drive with great chances for memorable photo shoots throughout the canyon, like the picturesque Calico Hills' colorful sandstone, ancient Indian limestone roasting pits, and Willow Springs with "handprints" and pictographs. The crimson-red sandstone rocks get their coloring from iron oxide, built up over centuries. There is also plenty of wildlife roaming the conservation area, including 200 different mammals like burros, rabbits, coyotes, bighorn sheep, wild horses, bobcats, and mountain lions. Birding opportunities include hummingbirds, red-tailed hawks, golden eagles, and burros.

Valley Of Fire

Valley of Fire
Motorhome trailer traveling on the road in the Valley of Fire in Nevada. Editorial credit: Nick Fox /

The picture-perfect valley is the state's most iconic natural wonder that is unlike anything else in the entire nation. It is located under an hour from Las Vegas, some 49 miles northeast, with a price to enter of $10 per vehicle. The Valley of Fire is home to ancient petroglyphs left by the Native Indians in the area over 3,000 years ago. The cool day trip offers trekking the incredible scenery with bountiful knowledge into the lives of past residents who carved insights into the perfectly preserved rocks today. 

The Valley of Fire State Park is full of history and stunning landscape, covering 40,000 acres of peaks and plateaus, ancient trees, and millennia-old petroglyphs in the red Aztec Sandstone. This unique landscape was created over 150 million years ago by shifting dunes and named after the striking Aztec red sandstone. Its dynamic scenery is hypnotizing, with shifting shades from the ancient rocks of various sizes and forms that blaze brazenly red against the sun's light. Following a stroll through the fiery scape, it is time to scavenge for the prehistoric hand petroglyphs and even dinosaur bones for a truly-prized find. The absolute must-stop landmarks are the iconic Fire Wave Trail, Elephant Rock, and the petroglyph-covered Atlatl Rock.

A hiker enjoys the desert views from atop the colorful Fire Wave in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.
A hiker enjoys the desert views from atop the colorful Fire Wave in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.

The entry price includes access to the entire park on foot or via a scenic drive, with a day full of sights and activities on the premises. There are opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, and even camping under the wide-open skies for the best star-gazing, with $20 for a tent. There are also guided hiking tours through the Nevada valley's oldest state park and the Valley of Fire visitor's center. One can learn more about the relics and stock up on souvenirs to remember the nature-made wondrous canyon inscribed with human touch. It is best to visit during the pleasant weather in spring or autumn to avoid summer's scorching temperatures of up to 120 degrees. 

These cool day trips within two-hour scenic drives from the Strip will leave one in awe and shivering for more excitement. From chilling mysteries to cooling dips and millennia-old natural wonders with the lingering spirit of our ancestors, each one is a unique, unparalleled, and nation-famous destination that offers an overdose of coolness. 

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