While most people come to gamble at its casinos or catch a show at one of its mega-resorts, Nevada also boasts lots of breathtaking scenery and landscapes. Home to not just endless deserts and rugged rock formations, but twinkling lakes and snow-capped mountains too, the sun-scorched Silver State really does have something for everyone to enjoy.
Despite being home to a whole host of striking natural sights such as Red Rock Canyon, Cathedral Gorge, and the Valley of Fire, the vast majority of visitors never make it beyond Las Vegas. This is somewhat understandable though as the ‘Entertainment Capital of the World’ is packed with hotels, casinos, and nightclubs with gambling, fine dining and live music shows being just some of its many amusements.
As well as experiencing Sin City’s sights, sounds, and slot machines other things to do in Nevada including hiking and biking about the state’s stunning desert scenery. Visitors can also relax and unwind at either Lake Mead or Lake Tahoe, ski amidst its soaring mountains or visit the iconic Hoover Dam.
23. Cathedral Gorge State Park
Although it is located quite far from all of the state’s main population centers, Cathedral Gorge State Park is definitely well worth a detour for its dramatic landscapes and incredibly colorful canyons. Set alongside U.S. Route 93 in east-central Nevada, it offers all kinds of exciting outdoor activities with stunning views and scenery on show wherever you go.
Besides all its extremely narrow slot canyons, the park’s countless columns and cathedral-like spires also all exhibit an astounding array of rich red, yellow and orange hues. Aside from snapping photos of the remarkable rock formations and their vivid colors, visitors can hike to various viewpoints, camp at its cozy campsite or learn more about the area’s geological past in its visitor center.
22. Nelson Ghost Town
A very fun and fascinating place to visit, the long-abandoned Nelson Ghost Town can be found just forty-five minutes’ drive south of Sin City. Once known to the Spanish as El Dorado due to the vast quantity of gold found in the area, it has lots of atmospheric old buildings for you to wander around while one of its main highlights is taking an educational yet entertaining tour of its former mine.
While it was settled in 1775, it wasn’t until about a hundred years later that prospectors, miners, and Civil War deserters poured into Nelson to make their fortune. Abandoned in the 1940s once the rich seams were exhausted, its dilapidated and decaying cabins, church, and water tower now make for a strangely romantic sight with the rusting remains of classic cars, trucks, and even planes littering the parched earth around them.
21. Sand Harbor Beach
If instead of dusty desert landscapes it is sun, sand, and watersports that you are after then the lovely Sand Harbor Beach is certainly one of the best places to head in the state. Lying along the northeast shore of Lake Tahoe, it stretches 2,500 feet in length with amazing rock formations and lush forests lining its sands and majestic mountains rising up in the distance.
Aside from lounging on the beach and splashing about in the lake’s crystal-clear waters, visitors can enjoy fishing, kayaking and sailing or go hiking and camping in the scenic state park right next to it. Some of the most popular times of year to visit Sand Harbor are July and August when it hosts the annual Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival on its outdoor stage overlooking the lake and mountains.
20. Fremont Street Experience (Las Vegas)
Besides the Strip, the colorful and chaotic Fremont Street Experience is one of the most happening spots to hit up in all Las Vegas. Lined by glitzy casinos, high-end shops and trendy restaurants with bright lights and loud music playing and flashing all the time, the enormous pedestrian mall sprawls across five blocks in the historic downtown of the city.
Known as ‘Glitter Gulch’ due to all its massive neon signs, the lively entertainment area has been an ever-popular attraction since it first opened in 1995. While many come to check out its innumerable eateries and establishments, Fremont Street’s nightly free sound and light shows are undoubtedly its standout sight.
With over 12 million LED lamps lighting its overhead canopy, ziplines shooting through the air and live music blasting from its three stages; the Experience really is not to be missed when in Vegas.
19. Tonopah Historic Mining Park
Once known as the ‘Queen of the Silver Camps’ due to its vast and valuable deposits, the Tonopah Historic Mining Park now instead preserves the region’s rich mining heritage. At the secluded site in the southwest of the state, visitors can peruse interesting old artifacts and equipment while engaging exhibits, videos, and tours really bring the defunct mine back to life.
Established in 1901, the mine extracted huge quantities of ore before it ceased to exist some fifty or so years later. Dotted about the expansive park are lots of the original old buildings for you to amble around with rusting yet well-preserved mining machinery also being on display.
Either on tours or in its museum, you’ll learn about the geography of the area, the special equipment the miners used and what life used to be like in the claustrophobic shafts far below the ground.
18. Great Basin National Park
As it encompasses everything from mighty mountains and verdant forests to sweeping valleys, cool caves and glittering lakes; Great Basin National Park boasts some of the most diverse scenery in the state. Located just a stone’s throw from the border with Utah, it lies just outside of the tiny town of Baker in the arid east of Nevada.
Founded in 1986, the picturesque park is named after the Great Basin – a dry and mountainous area lying between the Sierra Nevada and Wasatch Mountains. While much of its landmass is coated in gorgeous woodlands and ancient groves of bristlecone pines, the 13,063 feet Wheeler Peak rises up dramatically above its valleys and lakes.
Among its main highlights are the spectacular Lehman Caves, sparkling Stella Lake and ginormous Lexington Arch while some outstanding hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing can be enjoyed throughout the park’s wild reaches.
17. Seven Magic Mountains
Alongside the endless desert road that connects Las Vegas to Los Angeles you’ll find an amazing art installation called the Seven Magic Mountains. Standing out majestically against their sun-scorched surroundings, the brightly painted totems make for some fabulous photos with the strangely alluring Mojave stretching away interminably into the distance.
Standing more than 30 feet in height, the seven huge sculptures consist of unwieldy, fluorescently-painted boulders stacked atop of one another. First installed in 2016, the brainchild of Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone has been a popular draw ever since with instagrammers and art aficionados alike.
This is because its giant, gravity-defying boulders and their excessive colors somehow symbolize not only the human and natural, but the past and present too while contrasting them at the same time.
16. National Atomic Testing Museum (Las Vegas)
Another very interesting and educational institution to visit is the excellent National Atomic Testing Museum in the center of Las Vegas. Home to all kinds of unique artifacts and exhibits, it offers up an unrivaled look at just what went on at the Nevada Test Site in the desert to the north of the city.
First opened to the public in 2005, it covers the nation’s nuclear history from the very first test at the NTS in 1951 right up to the present. In addition, it also recounts the early beginnings of the atomic age and looks at the earth-shattering bombings of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
While wandering about its galleries you’ll see Geiger counters, a replica of the ‘Fat Man’ bomb and Native American artifacts from the test site. On top of this, you can also experience a nuclear bomb blast in its state-of-the-art Ground Zero Theater simulator.
15. St. Mary in the Mountains Church (Virginia City)
Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful buildings in the entire state is the stupendous St. Mary in the Mountains Catholic Church. Set right in the center of Virginia City, it showcases some absolutely exquisite architecture with a sparkling white belltower rising up above its fetching red brick facade.
After having taken in the fine features of its romantic rose window, its elegant entrance portals and the huge buttresses that flank the 1876 Gothic Revival building, make sure to head inside and enjoy all its stunning statues and stained glass windows.
Particularly impressive are the intricately carved wood columns and rafters that hold up the entire structure with the church’s antique pipe organ and lovely friezes also attracting lots of attention.
14. Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe
Although Nevada is known for its endless stretches of inhospitable desert, the Silver State also has some superb ski resorts for visitors to check out. One of the biggest and best is the world-class Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe which overlooks the large lake and lies in between both Reno and Carson City.
Nestled high up amidst the Sierra Nevada mountains and Toiyabe National Forest, it has sixty or so trails for you to shoot down with three terrain parks and countless cozy chalets and lodges also being on offer. As well as skiing and snowboarding down the soft, powdery slopes of the 9,702-foot Slide Mountain, you can also bask in breathtaking panoramas of the snow-coated mountains or go hiking about its rugged ridges.
13. Area 51 (Rachel)
Just outside of the tiny village of Rachel in the south center of the state is one of the most secretive spots in the entirety of the USA: the enigmatic Area 51. Actually home to a highly classified United States Air Force facility, it is the subject of constant speculation and conspiracy theories as sightings of unidentified flying objects are often reported in the area.
While these are most likely just stealth bombers and spyplanes, the base’s intense secrecy has seen the site associated with aliens and UFOs since the fifties. Aside from driving along the dusty and deserted ‘Extraterrestrial Highway’, seeing its strange signs and stopping by the lonely yet legendary black mailbox, there is not all that much to do besides visit the quirky Alien Research Center and scan the skies for flying saucers.
12. Reno Air Races
If you instead want a guaranteed sighting of something sparkling shooting through the sky then you might prefer the Reno Air Races. An exciting, adrenaline-fueled event, the multi-day aviation show sees fearless pilots push their planes to the very limit as thousands of spectators gape in awe at their amazing acrobatics and daring feats of flying.
Held every September at the Reno Stead Airport just north of the city, it is now the only remaining venue and event of its kind in the world. While the exhilarating races are of course what most fans come for, several military and civil flight demonstrations also take place, featuring new makes and models. In addition, visitors can also stroll around all the vintage planes, food stands, and exhibition stands that dot the tarmac down below.
11. Lion Habitat Ranch (Henderson)
Although it lies just under fifteen miles from Sin City’s glitzy Strip, the Lion Habitat Ranch in Henderson couldn’t feel further away. A very fun and family-friendly place to visit, it is home to around thirty lions with plenty of exotic birds, tortoises, and of course Ozzie the giraffe also residing at the reserve.
Since 1989, it has educated countless generations about the majestic mammals and the wild natural spaces they roam and hunt about. At the sanctuary, you can not only watch the big cats prowl about and play, but even feed them and enjoy a meal alongside them as they watch your every move. On top of all this, you can also take a behind-the-scenes tour and see the talented Ozzie paint a picture!
10. Burning Man Festival
An absolutely extraordinary event, the artistic, experimental, and interactive Burning Man Festival certainly promises to be a unique and unforgettable experience like no other. Held every year in the bleak and inhospitable Black Rock Desert, it encourages radical self-expression and self-reliance with all attendees expected to participate, perform, or contribute to the community.
For the last three decades, festival goers have flocked to the center of the stark, white desert to create ephemeral art installations, erect illuminated sculptures, and put on some epic performance art. Over the course of the week, a sprawling tent city springs up with bars, clubs, and artworks all appearing amidst its colorful and creative theme camps.
On the penultimate night of the fleeting festival, the Burning Man effigy is symbolically set on fire to signal the end of the gathering. As it is such a transformational experience, many come back year after year for its amazing activities, events, and art and the utterly incredible atmosphere.
9. Lake Mohave
The perfect place to relax, unwind, and enjoy some wonderful watersports, the lovely Lake Mohave lies right in the south of the state along part of the Colorado River. Located in between both Hoover Dam and Davis Dam, its calm waters define the border between Arizona and Nevada with marinas, resorts and campgrounds lining its scenic shores.
Stretching 67 miles in length, the large reservoir lies surrounded by the searing desert with bubbling hot springs dotting its northern shore. Aside from relaxing at its resorts or swimming, kayaking, and sailing about the lake, visitors can also go scuba diving and jet skiing. While most come to enjoy its crystal-clear waters, some great hikes can also be had amidst the desolate confines of the desert.
8. U.S. Route 50 “Loneliest Highway”
Fittingly known as the ‘Loneliest Highway’, U.S. Route 50 passes through some of the most rugged and remote parts of the nation with barely any signs of civilization on show. While its never-ending nothingness is impressive in itself, the Nevada portion of the transcontinental road has everything from alpine forests and desert valleys to ghost towns, petroglyphs, and Great Basin National Park.
Originally intended as a pejorative, its infamous nickname is now instead used by Nevada officials to entice tourists to oft-overlooked attractions along the route. As driving along the seemingly endless road is seen as a challenge, many motorists come to test themselves and enjoy its views and landscapes which conjure up images of hardy pioneers traveling along the old Pony Express.
7. The Mob Museum (Las Vegas)
Offering up a very interesting look at the history of organized crime and law enforcement in the US is The Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas. Located in a former courthouse, its extensive array of artifacts and exhibits cover everything from bootlegging and gambling to smuggling, speakeasies, and the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929.
Founded in 2012, its colossal collection now includes firearms, slot machines, and a crime lab with a replica electric chair and a wall of notorious mobsters’ mugshots also featuring. While perusing its galleries, you can listen to actual wiretaps and oral testimonies, try the museum’s own moonshine and hang out in its atmospheric speakeasy down in the cellar.
With plenty of photos and videos also on display, exploring the perfectly-sized museum makes for a pleasant change from all of the Strip’s casinos, clubs, and mega-resorts.
6. Valley of Fire State Park
Boasting some of the most sublime scenery in the States, the phenomenal Valley of Fire State Park can be found just forty-five minutes’ drive northeast of Las Vegas. While it is known for its rugged red rock formations, prehistoric petroglyphs, and petrified trees are also dotted about with an endless list of exciting outdoor activities being on offer.
Both the oldest and largest state park in Nevada, it was established in 1935 to protect and preserve the otherworldly landscapes that coat its confines. Asides from its enormous Aztec Sandstone rock formations that appear to be on fire when the sun’s rays strike them, it has some incredibly ancient rock art for you to check out alongside crumbling cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Besides hiking about all its tortured terrain, visitors can scramble up to prominent viewpoints of the park, camp overnight, and stargaze or learn all about the region in its excellent information center.
5. National Automobile Museum (in Reno)
One of Reno’s top tourist attractions, the brilliant National Automobile Museum is full of hundreds of classic cars of all makes and models. In its sparkling showrooms you can find not only centuries-old carriages and celebrity-owned vehicles, but automobile-related artifacts, exhibits and artworks.
Since opening in 1989, it has been a very popular draw among petrolheads as its gleaming galleries contain lots of one-of-a-kind cars by Bugatti, Ferrari, and Jaguar among others.
In addition to seeing all its rare race cars, you can also snap photos of Cadillacs and Corvettes owned by celebrities such as Elvis Presley and John Wayne. Delightfully enough, many of the 200 or so cars in its collection are displayed in front of fabulous faux shop fronts that are appropriate for their era.
4. Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Just under an hour’s drive from Las Vegas is one of the most popular and picturesque places to visit in Nevada: the large and lovely Lake Mead National Recreation Area. While most people are almost instinctively drawn to the beautiful blue waters of its two huge reservoirs, the surrounding canyons, valleys and mountains also all have lots of outstanding outdoor activities for you to enjoy.
The first national recreation area in the country, it was founded in 1936 following the creation of the iconic Hoover Dam the year before. At both Lake Mead and Lake Mohave, visitors can swim, fish and boat about to their heart’s content with fine views of their scenic shores on show wherever you go. On top of lounging on its beaches and camping underneath the stars, you can also hike and bike about its nine wilderness areas.
3. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Even closer to all Sin City’s sights is the remarkable Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area just west of town. Due to all its astounding scenery, epic outdoor activities, and easy access, millions of people visit the fantastic rock formations each and every year.
Protected as a park since 1967, the canyon’s radiantly red walls and dramatic sandstone peaks are a treat to explore with some great hiking, horseback riding, and rock climbing being on offer.
Besides basking in breathtaking panoramas of all its colorful landscapes, you can also cycle or drive along its one-way loop road which stretches thirteen miles in length. This takes you past many of the Red Rock escarpment’s standout sights with trailheads and viewpoints dotted here and there.
2. Hoover Dam
A marvel of modern engineering, the humongous Hoover Dam blocks off the Black Canyon of the Colorado River and holds umpteen gallons of water behind its colossal concrete walls. Built back in the thirties during the Great Depression, it towers 726 feet in height with exhibits and tours teaching you all about its incredible architecture.
Once the largest dam in the world, it straddles the stateline between Nevada and Arizona with Lake Mead’s endless waters stretching away behind it. From its lofty bypass, visitors can enjoy awesome views of both the scenic lake and craggy canyon before heading inside to hear all about its history and how it works. Now recognized as a National Historic Landmark, Hoover Dam had a profound impact on not just Las Vegas’ development, but that of the country as a whole.
1. The Strip
As it is synonymous with Sin City, no visit to ‘The Entertainment Capital of the World’ can ever be complete without experiencing some of the Strip’s sights, shows and slot machines. Lined by luxury resorts, lavish casinos, and lots and lots of illuminated signs, this stretch of the Las Vegas Boulevard has all manner of amusements and entertainment for you to enjoy.
The iconic epicenter of the city, its high-end hotels and gigantic glitzy mega-casinos are decadently decorated with most of them boasting fun and exotic themes. Besides playing card games and trying your luck at their endless slot machines, you can always catch a world-class concert or circus show with amazing magic acts and hilarious stand-up comedy nights also on offer.
With some brilliant dining and shopping to be had alongside exciting exotic animal shows, fun thrill rides and some pounding nightlife, the Strip is definitely the most happening spot to hit up in Vegas.