The Most Beautiful Day Trip from Las Vegas

Vegas baby!

When I was in Las Vegas five years ago, we drove from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and stopped by the Grand Canyon on the way. The Grand Canyon is a stunning work of Earthen art itself, but what surprised me at the time was how scenic the rest of the drive was on the way to California.

In my most recent trip to Vegas last week, I was determined to explore the area outside of the Strip and enjoy what the State of Nevada's natural landscape had to offer.

At the Valley of Fire State Park.

1. Hoover Dam

Since we had to check out of our hotel at 11:00AM but didn't fly until midnight, we decided to rent a car on the last day. That way, we had a place to store our luggage, and worst case take a nap. We took an Uber to the McCarran Car Rental Center and picked up our car, a reliable Nissan Altima.

TIP: You can save on insurance costs by getting a travel rewards card that covers damage to the car, but you will need proof of personal liability insurance to avoid getting charged ~$25USD per day. Unfortunately, my friend didn't bring her insurance coverage with her so we had to pay for it at the car rental place, but it was split between 3 people so it wasn't too bad.

A view of the Memorial bridge from Hoover Dam, the world's largest concrete arch bridge.

Hoover Dam straddles the border between Nevada and Arizona, and was built during the Great Depression to provide irrigation water and hydroelectric power to both states, as well as California. There are a few options for viewing and touring the area:
  1. You can drive along and around the dam for free, but you won't be able to stop to take photos.
  2. You can park in the multi-level parking lot ($10 USD), and take a leisurely stroll around the dam itself.
  3. You can take guided tours, such as to the Visitor Centre ($10 USD), the power plant ($15 USD), or make a few extra stops along the way ($30 USD).
Since we mainly wanted to see the Valley of Fire, we opted to park the car, skip the tours and walk around the dam.

Another view of the dam.

2. Lake Mead

Formed by the construction of Hoover Dam is Lake Mead, a gorgeous blue jewel in the middle of the desert. You will be able to see it along the drive to Hoover Dam, though there is a view point just outside the entrance to Hoover Dam to get this picture.

At Lakeview Overlook located right off Highway 93 near Hoover Dam.
You have the option of going down to Lake Mead for $25 USD, but we decided not to cut through Lake Mead to get to the Valley of Fire. Warning: Google Maps will constantly direct you to go through Lake Mead from Hoover Dam to Valley of Fire because it's the fastest route, but it does not flag this as a toll road! You HAVE to pay the national park fee to go down to Lake Mead on the way to Valley of Fire. To avoid this, make sure you are circling back around the Strip to take the slightly longer route to Valley of Fire State Park (about 1.5h instead of 1h).

3. Valley of Fire State Park

Due to getting redirected multiple times by Google Maps to go through Lake Mead, it was close to sunset when we arrived at Valley of Fire State Park. While not ideal, we also found that the slightly darker sky made the rock formations in the park glow even redder and more fiery than they already were.

The park entry fee is much more reasonable than Lake Mead at $10 USD per vehicle instead of $25 USD. They actually have a box where you place your cash in an envelope and deposit it on an honour system.

Our first stop were the beehives, which were these beautiful rocks in the shape of - you guessed it - beehives!

Our first stop in the park.

There are tons of interactive pieces in the area to take pictures with. We had to tear ourselves away to jump in the car and explore the rest of the park, as we were having too much fun.

Next up were the Petrified Logs. If you squint a little, you will be able to see a face at the peak of the rock formation, in the shape of a man screaming - aka "petrified".

Can you see how petrified he is?

We then followed signs for Rainbow Vista and White Domes, stopping at the Visitor Centre along the way. Here, we found some beautiful cacti in the garden in front of the Visitor Centre.

After the Visitor Centre, we came upon Rainbow Vista. This area is absolutely beautiful. The colour of the rocks start getting lighter and pinker, with patches of white. The shape and colour kind of looks like sashimi. We saw a couple taking wedding photos in the area - who can blame them? What a spectacular backdrop!

Rainbow Vista.

The drive through the park is incredibly dramatic, so much so that I had trouble putting my phone down while in the car. It's pretty difficult to select just one driving video, but I picked this one as it catches hints of "fire waves" throughout the rocks, as well as the glow of the bright red sunset.

The total time for this trip was about 8 hours (including getting lost a few times), which still left us plenty of time to eat and catch our flight comfortably. If you have a late flight back home, I highly recommend doing this day trip in Vegas to see what the outskirts of the City of Lights has to offer!

The total cost was shared among 3 people, and included car rental ($52 USD), gas ($24 USD), and parking/entry fees ($20 USD). If we hadn't gotten lost so many times on the way there, we would have definitely done a hike in Fire Wave Park. I guess that'll be part of the planning for our next trip!