What to Do When It's Too Damn Hot in Las Vegas

We've got 10 great ways to escape Sin City's scorching triple-digit temperatures.

Photo courtesy of Lee Canyon
Photo courtesy of Lee Canyon

So far, it's been a relatively mild 2023 in Las Vegas–easy on overbearing heat and heavy on rain. Well, heavy by Vegas standards, anyway. Now that we've officially entered the summer season expect things to change. Las Vegas may be the largest city in Nevada, but it's also just a tiny dot in the middle of the Mojave Desert. It gets hot around here. Really hot. And when summer comes around, there are a few rules to follow: Drink lots of water in between shots of tequila, skip the mid-day hikes at Red Rock Canyon, and don't even think about playing tourist in Death Valley (or even Tecopa for that matter). Instead, study up on the following suggestions for taking the edge off the notorious Vegas heat in the weeks and months ahead.

Photo by Sam Morris, courtesy of the Las Vegas News Bureau

Cruise Lake Mead

If you had a nickel for every time the words "dwindling water levels" were used to describe Lake Mead, you'd retire a millionaire. North America's largest man-made reservoir feels like an endangered species these days but is up about 20 feet compared to last year. Thank the larger-than-expected snowmelt feeding into the Colorado River from the Rocky Mountains. Created by the construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s, the nearly 250-square-mile lake is the primary water source for Vegas, but also a lot of fun, even if the "beaches" are on the rocky side. The Lake Mead National Recreation Area is Southern Nevada's top boating, water skiing, and paddleboarding spot. Book a reservation with Lake Mead Cruises or Hoover Dam Rafting Adventures for up-close photo ops of the dam from the water while enjoying a few snacks and an easy breeze.

Photo courtesy of Waldorf Astoria

Lounge by the pool

Las Vegas has more hotel rooms than any other city in the world, and the biggest resorts try to outdo each other with the most extravagant pools possible. It's hard to beat Stadium Swim, a rooftop pool deck at Circa with a massive 143-foot video wall. This is a good time to point out Circa is 21 and over, so there are no screaming kids to worry about. Mandalay Bay Beach is the only hotel pool with 2,700 tons of sand, a massive wave pool, and a lazy river that wraps around Mandalay Bay. If floating around sounds especially good, the pool deck at the Grand Pool Complex at the MGM Grand has a lazy river too. The Waldorf Astoria now offers massages and other spa services inside cabanas, making a day by the pool more relaxing than ever. The JW Marriott and Red Rock Resort have the best pools in the Summerlin area, while The M Resort and Green Valley Ranch are the top picks in Henderson.   

Photo courtesy of Lee Canyon

Trek to Mt. Charleston

Mt. Charleston is the tallest peak in Southern Nevada, creeping up on an elevation of 12,000 feet. During the winter months, it's the most convenient ski trip within driving distance of Las Vegas. When summer comes around, however, it's an outdoor adventure for nature lovers, with temperatures 20 to 30 degrees cooler than the Las Vegas Valley. The popular Lee Canyon Ski & Snowboard Resort shifts into seasonal mode with archery lessons, ax throwing, and disc golf. A new mountain bike trail soft-opened last year and will be in even greater demand this summer with a chair lift ready to take you and your bike to the starting position. The popular Bristlecone Trailhead begins right outside the parking lot. Other popular Mt. Charleston hikes include Fletcher Canyon and Mary Jane Falls (which both lead to waterfalls), Cathedral Rock (with incredible views), and Robber's Roost (caves!).     

Photo courtesy of Cowabunga Vegas Waterparks

Float, slide, and swim at a waterpark 

Cowabunga Vegas now operates waterparks on opposite ends of the valley. Cowabunga Bay, near the Galleria at Sunset shopping mall in Henderson, has a retro California theme, while Cowabunga Canyon (formerly Wet 'N' Wild) in the Southwest Valley was fully renovated last year with a Wild West motif. The two parks span a combined 45 acres with more than 50 attractions, including wave pools and tubing rides. Cool off at a speed that works for you. Drift away in a lazy river or challenge gravity with a free-fall body slide. The best deal is the Cowabunga Vegas Pass, which provides unlimited admission throughout the season for $99.99. A souvenir cup goes for $34.99. You can bring it back on every visit this year for unlimited ice-cold fountain drink refills.

Photo courtesy of Salt & Straw

Freeze your brain with delicious ice cream

A wave of artisan ice cream shops is hitting Las Vegas. The new UnCommons plaza in the Southwest just welcomed Portland's Salt & Straw, featuring unique flavors like Arbequina Olive Oil and Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper, and San Francisco's Smitten, which uses dry ice and a patented machine to make ice cream to order in less than two minutes inside the Sundry food hall. Nielsen's Frozen Custard has been around Henderson for years but is suddenly expanding with new locations at Red Rock Resort, Santa Fe Station, and soon to come at the highly anticipated Durango resort. The custard is made on-site throughout the day and served at 26 degrees to go easy on the taste buds without an overly frozen bite. Sorry, Not Sorry Creamery is earning raves in the West Valley with fun flavors and a higher-than-average butterfat content for a uniquely thick texture. Cream Me in the Arts District is more traditional with a retro image but has a few surprises, including concha and doughnut ice cream sandwiches.     

Photo courtesy of Moorea Beach Club

Drop your top

Topless pools used to be a thing in Las Vegas but are slowly disappearing. The Bare Pool Lounge (which may need a new name) dropped the policy this year at the Mirage, and Venus is opting for a tops-on night swim format this season at Caesars Palace. Don't worry. You can still free the nipple at Moorea Beach Club at Mandalay Bay, which remains the most prominent topless pool on the Strip. You can also show off a little extra skin at the European Pool at The Lexi, which just opened as the first soon-to-be marijuana-friendly hotel in Las Vegas. It's not broadly advertised, but Wet24 at The Strat allows tops to drop during weekend adults-only hours, and the Wynn has low-key European-style pools at both Wynn and Encore hotel towers.   

Photo courtesy of Sahara Casino

Play the slots

Las Vegas casinos have slot machines, blackjack, poker, baccarat, and maybe even pai gow here and there. But that's not all. They also have the air conditioning on full blast during summer, making it easy to duck in and escape the heat while trekking up and down the Strip or Fremont Street. While you're at it, try to win a few bucks too. The Westgate and Circa are known for the size of their sports books, so stretch out and place a bet on a big game. Wander the streets of Downtown and check out the new Brian Christopher Slots (smoke-free with Instagram-ready selfie stations) at the Plaza, The D (home to the only remaining Sigma Derby mechanical horse-racing game in the country), and El Cortez (which has a reputation for player-friendly gaming and will even bring a tray of food to your slot machine). Values and free drinks are harder to find on the Strip these days. The new Horseshoe, renovated from Bally's, is making a play to be gambler-friendly, but you're more likely to find better conditions and odds at Treasure Island, The LINQ, OYO, Sahara, and The Strat

Photo courtesy of Encore Beach Club

Drink and dance at a dayclub

The partying never ends in Las Vegas. So when the best nightclubs close, get a few hours of sleep, refuel with a good brunch, and continue the fun with one of the best pool parties in Vegas. Just like their nighttime counterparts, dayclubs are wild and rowdy destinations with dancing, DJs, VIP tables, and bottle service mixed among packed crowds. Splurge for a cabana or a bungalow. Some even come with their own plunge pools. Wet Republic at MGM Grand and Tao Beach feel brand new after major renovations in recent years. Drai's Beachclub has fantastic views of the Strip from the rooftop of the Cromwell resort. Marquee at the Cosmopolitan and Encore Beach Club at the Wynn also have after-dark events for boozing by the pool under the stars. 

Photo by Sydney Martinez, courtesy of Travel Nevada

Go underground at the Hoover Dam

Checking out the Hoover Dam is a required part of playing tourist in Boulder City. The modern marvel created Lake Mead and set the stage for the Vegas we know and love today. You can tour the visitor center and get some awesome photos of the dam from an official viewing platform, but make sure to book an official tour. It will take you underground—where it's nice and cold—to walk through tunnels and get an up-close look at the power plant generators that transform water flow into electricity (most of which is snatched up by California). 

Photo by Sam Morris, courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau

Go on a road trip

If the above ideas don't work, you may need to get a little farther away from Southern Nevada with a good road trip. Head north and explore cooler parts of the Silver State, such as Caliente, which despite the name, has mild weather, mountain trails, and a charming downtown area next to an old train depot. It's also close to the scenic overlooks, caves, and staggered rock formations of Cathedral Gorge State Park. St. George in Southwest Utah isn't much cooler than Vegas but has quick and easy access to beaches at Sand Hollow and Quail Creek state parks. It's a great base city for exploring the natural wonders of Zion National Park too. South of Vegas, Laughlin is a small casino town on the Colorado River. Travel the clear, blue water on a boat, Jet Ski, raft, or sunset dinner cruise. There are even water taxis that zip between resorts. The Big Bend of the Colorado State Recreation Area has much better beaches than any surrounding Lake Mead. Harrah's has its own private beach as well. Across the state line in Arizona, Lake Havasu City is one of the hottest places in the Southwest, but also the "Jet Ski Capital of the World" with endless opportunities for boating and water activities among coves, beaches, and the serenity of Bridgewater Channel. 

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Rob Kachelriess writes about travel, dining, entertainment, and other fun stuff for Thrillist. He's based in Las Vegas but enjoys exploring destinations throughout the United States, especially in the Southwest. Otherwise, he's happy to hang out at home with his wife Mary and their family of doggies. Follow him on Twitter @rkachelriess.