The 'Neon to Nature' Routes Should Be a Must-Do on Your Next Vegas Trip

Go from the Strip to petroglyphs, and be back in time for dinner.

Mouse' Tank road in Valley of Fire State Park

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

It’s easy to see why Vegas, with all its lights and vice, is Nevada’s number one tourist destination. But just a short drive out of the city can lead visitors to spectacular landscapes, deep history, and adventure that you can only experience by stepping outside the Las Vegas Strip.

The Neon to Nature trails aim to do just that. These routes can be done as day trips, overnight, or combined together in a larger itinerary based on your interests.

Red rock formations in Valley of Fire State Park

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Fire and Water Trail

The first stop on the Fire and Water route is where this trail pulls its name from, Valley of Fire State Park. Located just 45 minutes outside of Las Vegas, this is Nevada’s first and largest state park covering almost 46,000 acres.

Valley of Fire features impressive large red sandstone formations that date back to when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth. The park has hikes of all lengths and difficulty levels putting visitors smack dab in the middle of a prehistoric world. A personal favorite is the White Dome Trail, which weaves in between different formations. If you’re short on time there is also a scenic road through the park that has several overlooks and pull-off areas to take in the sights including the insta-famous Mouse’s Tank road. 

The second big attraction on this trail is the Gold Butte National Monument. This conservation area covers nearly 300,000 acres that feature prehistoric petroglyphs and desert wildlife like big horn sheep and the threatened desert tortoise. One of the most popular camping and hiking trails in the area is The Whitney Pocket which features remnants of a primitive habitat and prehistoric roasting pit all next to ancient petroglyphs.

There is also Little Finland—or Hobgoblin’s Playground—which is named after the small delicate fins that stick out of the rock formation, and not the country. These uniquely shaped sandstone constructions are also home to more petroglyphs. 

Moapa Valley, located 13 miles outside Valley of Fire, is a great pitstop whether you’re looking for lunch or a place to crash for the night. The Inside Scoop is a slice of Americana serving up classics like burgers and BLTs with an impressive ice cream counter. In town you'll also find the Lost City Museum which is located on an ancient tribal site of the Puebloans, this museum showcases the day-to-day life of Nevada’s first residents that date back to 300 B.C. 

Aerial shot of the Hoover Dam

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Colorado River Corridor

The Colorado River Corridor trail centers around water access, which makes it a great option for the sizzling summer months. First, stop on this route is the famous Hoover Dam. Millions of visitors each year take tours of The Hoover Dam to see firsthand the impressive engineering feat. Besides the tours and photos, this area is a great launching point for access to Lake Mead and hiking. The Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail is a great leisurely trail that takes you through an abandoned train tunnel with amazing views of Lake Mead on the other side. 

The nearby Boulder City is a great stopover. Known for being the city that built the Hoover Dam as this is where all the workers stayed. History buffs will love the Boulder Dam Hotel which doubles as a museum about the Hoover Dam and also includes an art gallery of local artists. Guests also are given the option for a self-guided audio tour of Boulder City’s history.

Boulder City is also a great place to chow down. The Dillinger is located in an old Bank of Nevada building and was rated one of the best burgers in Vegas, despite being 30 minutes outside of the city. There are also several options with small-town charm like Coffee Cup Cafe or Chilly Jilly’z. 

Next, spend an afternoon in the Nelson Ghost Town. What was once the oldest and richest mining town in southern Nevada is now the backdrop for many movies, TV shows, and video games. Visitors can walk through the photo-worthy ghost town and take tours of the mines. The mines are 70 degrees year round so another great option to beat the heat during summer months. 

If you’re interested in going a bit further head toward Laughlin. This town located on the Colorado River provides everything you need to have some fun on the water. From a scenic river walk to boat tours to swimming in the Big Bend of the Colorado State Recreation Area, you’ll find it in Laughlin.

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park
Dougall_Photography / Getty Images

Red Rockin' Loop

If you’re short on time, the Red Rockin’ Loop (that’s not actually a loop!) might be the road trip for you. This route includes all the scenic landscapes, historic ghost towns, and culture of the other routes while taking you no more than 45 minutes away from Las Vegas. Choose one or more of these sights to explore and be back in time for your dinner reservations. 

Up first is Red Rock Canyon. This popular tourist destination has the signature southern Nevada features including bright red canyons, sandstone cliffs, and petroglyphs but on a much larger scale covering more than 195,000 acres. If you’re short on time you can enjoy the 13-mile scenic drive that hits the hotspots.

If you’re interested in spending the day there are several ways to explore this National conservation area. Hikes of all lengths and levels are available like the Lost Canyon Children’s Discovery Trail which is less than a mile but jam-packed with sites like waterfalls, petroglyphs, natural tunnels, and chances to see wildlife. More experienced hikers who aren’t scared away by exposed ledges and the occasional rock scrambling will enjoy the big payoff that the view from Turtlehead Peak Trail offers. Red Rock Canyon is also extremely popular for rock climbing with over 1,200 routes.

Just next to Red Rock Canyon is Spring Mountain Ranch which has been a part of Nevada’s history for generations. Originally a popular stopover for Pioneers heading west evolved into a luxury retreat for Hollywood elites like Vera Krupp and Howard Hughes. Today visitors can peek into the past with their Living History Program to learn about pioneer living. Other activities are scheduled on a monthly basis like guided sunrise hikes, yoga classes, star gazing, and their summer theater program. 

On the way to the final destination, you can stop at Seven Magic Mountains. This Instagram-famous art installation, by artist Ugo Rondinone in collaboration with the Nevada Museum of Art, is located in the middle of the desert and includes seven totems made of differently painted stacked boulders that stand 35 high.

Finally, for a slice of the Wild West head to Good Springs Ghost Town. Considered one of the most successful mining towns in southern Nevada this once-bustling town is filled with stories that draw history buffs and paranormal fanatics alike. The Pioneer Saloon, Nevada’s oldest bar dating back to 1913 is still in operation today. Visitors can see remnants of Clark Gable’s cigarette burns on the bar top or learn about the ghosts that haunt the saloon. The bar embraces its haunted reputation with its Ghost Burger, which was featured on the Food Network. Visitors can also learn more about the history and ghost stories of Good Springs on a walking tour that covers the old general store, the elementary school, and the Campbell stone cabin.