Las Vegas is nicknamed "Sin City" for a reason. Whether you're in town for a bachelor party, convention, or a poker tournament, at some point one of your friends will blurt out, "Let's go to a strip club!".
A side trip is a perfect way to take a much-need respite from gambling and partying by visiting other tourist areas outside of Las Vegas. Rent a car or RV for a couple of days and visit the Grand Canyon. If you don't have much time, then rent a car for a day to explore Red Rock Canyon (30-minute drive) or the Valley of Fire (60-minute drive).
Here are five of the most popular side trips people take while in Las Vegas…
Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock Canyon is one of the most beautiful things you'll ever see in Las Vegas. It is the also the shortest side trip and less than thirty minutes away from the Las Vegas Strip (and only five minutes from Red Rock Casino). It cost $7 to enter the park with a vehicle. If you visit Vegas a lot, you should consider buying a year-long pass for $30.
Yes, the eroded sandstone rocks are red at picturesque Red Rock Canyon. The landscape is filled with Joshua trees and wildlife like roadrunners, coyotes, gila monsters, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, and scorpions.
Red Rock Canyon has a one-way scenic loop that is 13 miles long. Sometimes you see cyclists braving the route and even the rare jogger or two. The scenic loop includes several spots to pull over and snap pictures at scenic overlooks. There are also designated picnic areas and 19 specific hiking trails (designated easy, medium, or difficult) catering to hikers of all shapes and sizes. You can camp out (with a permit) and even go rock climbing.
Whenever things get a little too crazy in Vegas, I always take a quick trip out to Red Rock to clear my head and recharge my spiritual batteries. Whenever I'm driving the scenic loop, I always say the same thing, "I'm so shocked this park is so close to Vegas. How come there aren't more people here?"
Valley of Fire
Las Vegas is surrounded by several national parks, and the Valley of Fire is Nevada's oldest one. Located less than an hour outside Las Vegas, the Valley of Fire's name originated from its omnipresent flaming red spires.
You might have seen the Valley of Fire used as a backdrop for some of your favorite TV shows and films. Several scenes from Total Recall (with Arnold Schwarzenegger) are supposed to takes place on Mars, and the red rocks at the Valley of Fire provided the perfect backdrop for filming.
Take a hike and look for the many petroglyphs that were carved into the rock centuries ago by earlier settlers. The Valley of Fire is also only six miles from Lake Mead, so if you're up there, you might as well visit Lake Mead too.
The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is one of America's most beautiful national parks. You really need a week or more to fully explore everything the Grand Canyon has to offer. Definitely set aside at least 2 or 3 days to visit the Grand Canyon and its attractions like, hikes, mule riding, rafting, and boat tours on the Colorado River.
The popular South Rim is five hours away from Las Vegas and it only costs $25 per vehicle to access the park. Along the way, you might want to check out the frightening Sky Walk, which is located at Grand Canyon West approximately three hours from Vegas. Sky Walk is a state-of-the-art glass bridge that suspends 4,000 feet above the Grand Canyon. The Sky Walk is not for the weak hearted, but is one of the most exhilarating experiences you'll ever have.
If you don't have time to spend a few days to explore the Grand Canyon, or if you're not exactly the outdoors type, you should consider a helicopter tour originating in Las Vegas. If you have the money, you can always charter your own private plane to give you an aerial tour.
Different companies offer “express” helicopter tours if you just want a quick trip in under 4 or 5 hours, or you can book day-long tours that also stop at Lake Mead or the Valley of Fire. Helicopter tours can be very expensive (minimum $500) but they offer deep discounts for big groups.
Las Vegas might not be Las Vegas if the city was not powered by the Hoover Dam. The dam is one of the greatest man-made engineering feats in history. Hoover Dam was constructed in the 1930s and decorated with a blend of Gothic, art deco motifs, and Native American art. Although it is only 30 miles away, if you visit Hoover Dam it will take at least an hour to get there and you can expect some delays due to added security precautions.
Take a tour of the dam and the power plant to learn about its origins and how it holds back the Colorado River, which generates power for three states (Arizona, Nevada, and California).
The Mustang Ranch
Prostitution is legal in the state of Nevada, but not within Las Vegas city limits. You have to make a special trip to Sparks, NV (approximately 15 minutes outside of Reno) to visit the infamous Mustang Ranch. The renowned brothel caters to every possible fantasy, but be prepared to spend a pretty penny.
The industry is heavily regulated so you won't have to worry about contracting STDs. The benefits of legal brothels versus picking up freelance working girls in casino is that at the Mustang Ranch, you do not have to worry about getting robbed or "rolled by a hooker", nor do you have to worry about getting arrested by an undercover vice cop.
The Chicken Ranch is located in Pahrump, NV, less than an hour outside of Las Vegas. The prices are significantly more expensive compared to the Mustang Ranch, but it's also much closer.
Bonus Side trip: Area 51
I wouldn't suggest this trip unless you're a full-blown UFO freak and you're really devoted to finding the truth about the U.S. government covering up the existence of UFOs and aliens. Groom Lake is the "supposed" location of Area 51, but you'll never get close to the perimeter before you're rushed off by a security detail that has the authorization to "shoot to kill all trespassers".
The closest town to Area 51 is Rachel, NV, approximately 2.5 hours away from Las Vegas. That nifty little town has plenty of alien/UFO souvenirs.
I get asked about poker rooms all the time. It's really hard to give someone a specific answer, because much like playing poker, it all “depends” on the situation. What constitutes a good poker room? I'm looking for terrible players with deep pockets, comfortable seats, good and quick dealers, and a knowledgeable floor staff to adjudicate disputes in a swift, fair manner.
Buffets and Las Vegas go hand-in-hand. Buffets represent the best and worst aspects of our self-indulgent culture of overconsumption. If you like to people watch, then a trip to the buffet is like a National Geographic special – spending time in the wildlife watching lions in the Serengeti feast on gazelles.
You're in downtown Las Vegas and either got really drunk and a taxi dropped you off there, or you opted to let your friend book a cheap vacation and ended up at one of the many seedy no-tell motels on East Fremont. Well do not fear, I have a couple of things you can do while you're slumming in Downtown Vegas…
When I was a kid, my parents told me they saw Elvis Presley perform in Las Vegas, so from a very young age I associated Las Vegas with musical spectacles and over-the-top performances. The King has been dead for several decades, but the modern-day headliners in Sin City are still heavyweights like Celine Dion and Elton John.
An entire culture in Las Vegas exists around pool parties. There's been a big push to capitalize on "day clubs" or massive gatherings poolside with lots of booze, lots of skin, and lots of loud music.
Las Vegas is one of the few places in America in which you can legally place a sports bet. You don't have to worry about getting scammed by an offshore book or dealing with shady local bookies. If you're a fan of any major sport or horse racing, you'll be able to wager on the outcome at different sports books in Las Vegas.
If you're visiting Las Vegas for an extended period of time, you might want to break up your holiday by scheduling a side trip. Las Vegas is a pretty crazy place and excessive indulgence has ruined too many people, which is why you sometimes need a vacation away from your Las Vegas vacation.
We've all hit the low point at some point in Las Vegas when you ran bad and lost all your money, whether it was the bad end of variance at the poker table or an annoying dealer cold-decked you at blackjack.