The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Nevada
You could use some fresh air right now.
Nevada is home to just over three million people, but it's the seventh-largest state in the nation when it comes to land mass. That leaves plenty of room to stand at least six feet apart, practice social distancing, and see what this big chunk of America has to offer. So take advantage of all those sprawling (and sometimes inconvenient) highways and check out a variety of scenic locations throughout the Silver State. The most beautiful destinations in Nevada are often found in unexpected places—and half the fun is getting there.
Red Rock Canyon is usually the place Las Vegans go first when they want to escape city life. Located just west of Summerlin, the protected National Conservation Area is known for its colorful sandstone peaks and canyons, drawing hikers, rock climbers, and those who just want to enjoy the 13-mile scenic loop from the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle. More ambitious visitors will prefer to book reservations for the official campground, which is typically closed during the hot summer months. The sprawling Cottonwood Valley Trail System is popular with bikers who can have the mountains of Red Rock Canyon as their backdrop while enjoying the fresh air and exercise.
The Ruby Mountains are among the best reasons to visit Northeast Nevada—and where the state suddenly gets a lot more green. Hikers can't get enough of the "Rubies," especially Lamoille Canyon, where streams, lakes, and wooden bridges add charm and character to the trees and lush vegetation. Known as the "Alps of Nevada," the mountains provide a wide variety of slopes and snow-covered terrain throughout winter. And why worry about a chair lift when you can have a helicopter drop you off at the top? A big part of the appeal is the solitude, although you're not far from the civilization of Elko. Drivers can get a taste of what the area is all about with a detour through the Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway.
Just off State Route 93, a visit to Cathedral Gorge State Park is the perfect way to break up a road trip between Las Vegas and Ely. It's named after the towering spires and jagged rock formations created by volcanic activity over millions of years. The park is also one of the few places you'll see slot canyons in Nevada. Cathedral Gorge actually hosted plays and other forms of entertainment against its majestic backdrop in the 1920s—when road trips suddenly spiked in popularity due to America's growing highway systems. An abandoned stone water tower is a popular photo spot, providing a dramatic contrast to the surrounding natural beauty.
There's rugged charm—and yes, beauty—in the Old West spirit that helped shape Nevada. The best example is Virginia City, an old mining hub in the mountains southeast of Reno that's done an impressive job preserving its Victorian architecture from the late 1800s. Walk the boardwalks that frame C Street and explore saloons, shops, and museums that feel like a trip back in time. Despite the touristy appeal, Virginia City is all authentic and original. No Disney-esque recreations here. The Virginia & Truckee Railroad travels from the heart of Virginia City to Gold Hill for an instant history lesson on how mining turned Nevada into a hot destination more than a hundred years ago.
White Pine County
As far as national parks go, this is one of the least visited, making it a dream come true for those eager to experience nature without the nuisance of people around. Hikers swear by the Alpine Lakes Loop Trail, which passes two different alpine lakes and offers killer views of Wheeler Peak, the second-tallest mountain in Nevada. Yet Great Basin is perhaps best enjoyed after dark. The stargazing is next level, especially with a brand-new astronomy amphitheater now in place. It's equipped with red lights that actually enhance the viewing experience. If that's not enough darkness, venture deep inside the Lehman Caves, where stalactites and other sinister rock formations await. Guided tours are currently suspended due to the pandemic, but will hopefully resume at some point in 2021.
North Lake Tahoe
Any part of Lake Tahoe can easily qualify as a "beautiful place," but Incline Village goes above and beyond with residences that include access to private beaches, ski trails, and golfing. The town makes a point to keep tourists at arm's length, which is exactly why you want to come here in the first place. It's quiet and not overrun by shops or attractions—at least not by the clear, blue water of Crystal Bay. Your best bet is to book a room at the Hyatt Regency, which has its own beach, and rent a bike for a ride down Billionaire's Row to see all the crazy expensive vacation homes you can't afford.
New Washoe City
The eastern edge of Lake Tahoe is a quick drive from the dull government dealings of Carson City—and one of its best kept secrets is the quiet beauty of Bonsai Rock, just south of Sand Harbor. A photographer's dream, it creeps out of the water, topped by just four petite trees that will never grow taller due to their barren location. The best vantage point is about a five-minute walk from the main road. Take your time, relax, and enjoy the journey. Don’t forget your camera.
Much like a Spinal Tap album cover, Massacre Rim is an experience best described as “none more black.” More than an hour north of Reno, it's one of the darkest and most remote locations on Earth—and one of just a few dark sky sanctuaries certified by the International Dark Sky Association. That means it's virtually free of light pollution. On a clear night without moonlight, not only is the Milky Way visible to the naked eye, but also the neighboring Andromeda galaxy. The stars are so bright, they can even cast shadows on Earth. Massacre Rim is about 80,000 acres in size and 100 miles north of Gerlach (dubbed the darkest town in America). This isn't a place you just plug into the GPS and go check out on a whim. It requires lots of planning—and an off-road vehicle if you dare to leave the security of desolate Route 8A.
Dedicated in 1935, Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest and largest state park. The name comes from the bright-red sand dunes that appear to be on fire when hit by the sun at just the right angle, but the real beauty is in the Aztec sandstone formations that twist and bend into loops, arches, and cubby hole-like caves. Pull over at Rainbow Vista for the most Mars-like terrain. About 3,000 years ago, Native Americans left behind petroglyphs that can still be seen today. The park is just an hour outside of Vegas and makes for a great scenic road trip.
It's often national news when it snows in Las Vegas but really, it's not that big of a deal. Mt. Charleston is just a quick drive northwest of Sin City and the mountain peak is covered with snow during much of the year. The Lee Canyon resort has skiing, snowboarding, and tubing in the winter months, and hiking, mountain biking, and disc golf during the summer months. No matter when you visit, the high elevation and miles of pine trees are a welcome change of pace from the harsh, brittle air in the Las Vegas valley below. Just make sure you stop for a boozy hot chocolate at the Mt. Charleston Lodge.
Laughlin is about an hour-and-a-half drive from Las Vegas, tucked away in its own corner of southeast Nevada. If the stress of the slot machines become too much, look for Christmas Tree Pass, an old gravel road a few miles outside of town. It leads to Grapevine Canyon, which has a concentrated amount of petroglyphs by its entrance. Some like to take a few photos and drive away. Others continue on hiking trails, where you can spot an active spring if you listen for the flow of water. On a good day, you may even spot a bighorn sheep. A dry river bed with steep edges lies between the parking area and the canyon. Whether you walk along the side or across the bottom itself, you'll have no choice but to imagine what the rushing waters were like hundreds of years ago.
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.
Back in the early 20th century, Rhyolite was a booming mining destination. The economy was so good, the town even had its own stock exchange, not to mention a thriving red light district. But everything changed when the market tanked in 1907. Within five years, the population dwindled and the electricity was shut off. More than a century later, you can still find remnants of the old town near the edge of Death Valley, including ruins of a bank, jail, and train depot. It's also near the Goldwell Open Air Museum, an eclectic outdoor collection of art pieces.
Fly Geyser was a drilling site in the 1960s, but some kind of mishap caused minerals to dissolve and accumulate into a spectacle of a structure you could say is both natural and man-made. A form of algae in the hot springs gives the landmark a colorful red and green appearance, making it an enticing stop for hikers and photographers. However, not only is the northwest location remote, it's on Fly Ranch, which is private property. Avoid trespassing with limited private tours, offered to the public once again after a pause during the pandemic.
Las Vegas Strip
Clark CountyThere's beauty in all that neon. Mix in some lights and digital marquees and you've got one of the brightest and most distinctive locations on the planet. Even astronauts seem to think so. The Las Vegas Strip is a colorful splash of excitement in the middle of the desert—and it looks even better from the sky. Frequent flyers know there's nothing else quite like landing at McCarran International Airport, but for a better bird's-eye experience, book a helicopter tour with the likes of Maverick or Papillon. Hovering in the air while next to the top of the Stratosphere tower is a trippy experience all by itself.