Travel

The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Nevada

Of course Nevada’s best attractions skew toward the surprising and strange.

Valley of Fire State Park, Overton
Valley of Fire State Park, Overton | Jannes Glas/Unsplash
Valley of Fire State Park, Overton | Jannes Glas/Unsplash

Looking for a road trip itinerary that includes pit-stops at a UFO-themed gas station and an overnight stay at the Clown Motel? Nevada is your jam. Looking for an outdoor escape into otherworldly desert landscapes, with ample opportunities for hiking, cycling, climbing, and kayaking? Once again, visit Nevada! 

More than just ghost towns and Las Vegas, this is a state of surprising natural beauty and impressive landmarks -- if you know where to look. In classic Nevada fashion, the best places to visit are often totally unexpected and more than a little strange. Hell, even the Las Vegas Strip is a beautiful sight, depending on who you ask. Whether you’re planning a long road trip or just a weekend getaway, here’s the best of what Nevada’s got to offer.

Incline Village, Nevada
Incline Village on Lake Tahoe's East Shore | 1000Photography/Shutterstock

Incline Village

North Lake Tahoe
True, every part of Lake Tahoe is lovely to visit, but when famous people set up permanent residency in a place, one can only assume they’re on to something special. Besides being on the lookout for Whitesnake’s David Coverdale, visitors can take advantage of the town’s excellent hotels, dining, scenic views, and quick access to some of the lake’s most beautiful spots: Sand Harbor Park and Lake Tahoe State Park. For even more scenery, take a detour to the clothing-optional Secret Cove.

Bonsai Rock

East Lake Tahoe
Not far from Carson City, on the edge of Lake Tahoe just off Route 28, lies one of the most popular photo-ops in Nevada. It's hard to spot from the highway, but you’ll find Bonsai Rock about a mile south of Sand Harbor. The large boulder rises out of the lake’s clear blue depths and gets its name from the four stunted trees on top, evoking the bonsai.

Massacre Rim
Massacre Rim | Kurt Kuznicki

Massacre Rim

Washoe County
An hour north of Reno is one of the darkest, most remote locations on earth. Virtually free of any light pollution, this International Dark Sky Sanctuary is about 80,000 acres in size and 100 miles north of Gerlach (dubbed the darkest town in America). On a clear night without moonlight, not only is the Milky Way visible to the naked eye, but also the neighboring Andromeda galaxy. Note that this isn't a place you just plug into Google Maps on a whim. It requires lots of planning -- and an off-road vehicle if you dare to leave the security of desolate Route 8A.

Valley of Fire
Valley of Fire | Las Vegas News Bureau

Valley of Fire State Park

Mojave Desert
Nevada’s oldest and largest state park, Valley of Fire is so-named for the brilliant sand dunes that, when hit by the sun at just the right angle, appear to be set ablaze. Even cooler are the trippy sandstone formations that twist and bend into loops, arches, and cubbyhole-like caves, and the 3,000 year old petroglyphs that can still be seen today. The whole area is, according to us, and we are rarely wrong, the most scenic drive in Nevada

MORE:  Outdoor adventures within easy reach of Las Vegas

Lee Canyon
Explore Lee Canyon on a scenic chair ride | Lee Canyon

Mt. Charleston

Clark County
A quick drive northwest of Vegas, Mt. Charleston’s peak is covered with snow for much of the year. Real snow! It’s true! The Lee Canyon resort offers skiing, snowboarding, and tubing in the winter months, and hiking, mountain biking, and disc golf during the summer. The high elevation and fragrant pines are a welcome change of pace from the harsh, brittle air in the valley below. Hot tip: get a boozy hot chocolate at the Mt. Charleston Lodge.    

Smith Center

Downtown Las Vegas
Your number-one source for culture in Sin City, the Smith Center hosts the Las Vegas Philharmonic and touring Broadway shows like Hamilton. Take a moment to admire the venue’s architectural beauty from the serenity of Symphony Park. Inspired by the art deco lines of the Hoover Dam, this masterpiece of stone and marble rocks a 17-story bell tower, and is the first performing arts center of its size to be Gold LEED certified.

Fashion Show Mall
Fashion Show Mall | Fashion Show Las Vegas

Fashion Show Mall

Las Vegas Strip
Malls aren’t traditionally “beautiful” per say, but the Fashion Show mall is quietly curating an impressive art collection on its Strip-side plaza. Installations include two pieces from the Burning Man festival: a steel replica of a heart, broken and pieced back together, and laser-cut sculptures inspired by math, science, and technology. A colorful painted mural by local artist Michael Dodson adorns one outdoor staircase and seems to shape-shift, depending on where you stand.

Grapevine Canyon
Petroglyphs of bighorn sheep in Grapevine Canyon | Brian Jones/Vegas News Bureau

Grapevine Canyon

Laughlin
Laughlin, a funky gambling town wedged in the southernmost corner of the state, is something of a miniature Vegas on the Colorado River. When you tire of the slot machines, seek out Christmas Tree Pass, a gravel road a few miles outside town. It leads to Grapevine Canyon, which has a concentrated amount of petroglyphs (artwork by Native American tribes -- most likely the Mojave) near its entrance. Traverse the dry river bed between the parking area and the canyon, and keep an eye out for bighorn sheep -- they're depicted on some of the petroglyphs, so you know their presence in the area goes way back.

MORE:  The story behind Laughlin, plus the best places to stay, eat, and gamble

Hoover Dam

Lake Mead
Drawing nearly a million visitors a year to the Arizona/Nevada border, the Hoover Dam keeps Lake Mead in check while producing a crap-ton of energy that mostly gets hijacked by California. Curious how it works? Power plant tours (on hold for now due to COVID-19) are offered daily. Or sign up with Black Canyon River Tours for a rafting expedition on the Colorado River to get a unique perspective near the base of the dam. The landmark is also in clear view when taking a helicopter from Vegas to the Grand Canyon.

Rhyolite Nevada
Eerie buildings accent Rhyolite, an abandoned town near Death Valley | Doug Lemke/Shutterstock

Rhyolite Ghost Town

Nye County
In the early 20th century, this mining town experienced such a financial boom it even had its own stock exchange, not to mention a thriving red light district. But when the market tanked in 1907, the population rapidly dwindled and the electricity was shut off. More than a century later, you can still find remnants of this old town near the edge of Death Valley, including the eerily beautiful ruins of a bank, jail, and train depot. 

MORE:  A guide to visiting Death Valley, one of America’s most extreme national parks

Fly Gyser Nevada
The algae gives Fly Geyser character -- and its red and green appearance | Lukas Bischoff Photograph/Shutterstock

Fly Geyser

Washoe County
Fly Geyser was a drilling site in the 1960s, but some mishap along the way caused this bizarre five-foot geyser to take shape. A form of algae, thriving in the spring's hot temperatures, gives this landmark its signature red and green appearance. The constantly-spewing geyser sits on Fly Ranch, nearly 4,000 acres of private land in the northwest corner of Nevada. Off-limits to the public for decades, it’s now owned by the folks behind Burning Man, who offer walking tours on a limited basis.

Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park
It's not everyday you see giant, 30-foot tall ovens | Written In Silver Visuals/Shutterstock

Ward Charcoal Ovens

Ely
They look like giant beehives, but these 30-foot-tall structures were originally charcoal ovens used in the 1870s to process silver during the mining boom. After the mines went bust, they occasionally served as hideouts for stagecoach bandits, and later inspired the name for the surrounding Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park. For more Silver State mining history, head about a half-hour north to downtown Ely, where you can ride a haunted ghost train during Halloween season at a railroad museum.

Cottonwood Valley Trails
Add mountain bike riding on the Cottonwood Valley Trails to your bucket list | Bureau of Land Management Follow/Flickr

Cottonwood Valley Trails

Blue Diamond/Red Rock Canyon 
A favorite of mountain bikers, the Cottonwood Valley Trails are believed to have been created, at least in part, by wild burros. They consist of about 120 miles of track in the Red Rock Canyon area, west of Las Vegas. A bike ride is a great way to appreciate the scenery of red sandstone without driving your car through it. Try the Blue Diamond loop; just remember, the mid-day weather is hotter than you expect, so bring water and make a pit stop at Cottonwood Station, Blue Diamond's first and only restaurant. 

Eldorado Canyon in the Nevada Desert
Eldorado Canyon in the Nevada Desert | Harry Beugelink/Shutterstock

Eldorado Canyon & Gold Mine

Searchlight
Take a trip underground to the Techatticup Gold Mine, which many historians consider to be the oldest and richest gold mine in Southern Nevada. According to urban legend, $1 million in gold remains buried in the walls, but it would require $2 million in labor and machinery to extract it. If you step outside and walk through the Eldorado Canyon ghost town, you’ll find a different kind of treasure: vintage cars, gas station pumps, and a general store long abandoned. Check the latest information before planning a visit.   

Las Vegas Strip

Clark County
There's beauty in all that neon. One of the brightest and most distinctive locations on the planet, the Strip looks even better from the sky (at least astronauts seem to think so). For the full bird's-eye experience, book a helicopter tour. Papillion has a fun deal with its Flight of Flights package, which includes not only a nighttime helicopter tour between the Strip and Downtown, but also a ride on the FLY LINQ zipline and a draft beer tasting. 

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Rob Kachelriess really doesn’t want to send a reporter out to cover your attempts to get closer to Groom Lake. Follow him on Twitter: @rkachelriess.