The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Nevada
From the Lake Tahoe mountains to the Las Vegas Strip, here are 16 scenic destinations.
Nevada is a big place: 110,567 square miles to be exact. Most of it is empty, dull, and desolate, but there's a lot of beauty out there too. From skyscraping mountain ranges to desert landscapes and mysterious ghost towns, the Silver State has a little something for everybody. So fill up on gas and hit the pedal for a weekend road trip to explore Nevada's most scenic destinations. Between winter ski getaways and brisk outdoor hikes, it's a great time of year to see everything this fascinating state has to offer.
The waters of Lake Tahoe are quiet during winter, but still offer incredible scenery. Soak in those views from Mt. Rose, an extinct volcano that's now the tallest mountain in Washoe County. The area is a hub for skiing, sledding, and other winter sports. Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe (technically on nearby Slide Mountain) is the closest ski resort to Reno and has a base elevation of more than 8,000 feet. Diamond Peak is a smaller ski resort, but has even better views of those crystal blue alpine waters and miles of pine trees. Venture down to Incline Village, a quiet town with bars, restaurants, and bike rentals for a ride along Billionaire's Row, where you can check out the beaches and all the crazy expensive vacation homes you can't afford.
The Gold Butte National Monument is 300,000 acres of federally protected land—and where the first known inhabitants of Nevada lived thousands of years ago. It's between Las Vegas and Mesquite, and while not as convenient or scenic as the nearby Valley of Fire, the natural surroundings have a distinct, remote beauty for those eager to take a trip back in time. The roads are rocky with 4x4 vehicles highly recommended. The reward is an up-close look at large petroglyphs and the occasional item left behind by Native American tribes. Just make sure to follow an important rule: leave everything as you found it. So if you see an arrowhead or piece of pottery, let it be—and please don't leave trash behind or touch ancient carvings with your oily fingers. Travel even deeper into the park beyond Whitney Pocket and you'll discover old mining equipment, debris, and tunnels (which you should absolutely not enter for your own safety) as well as the remnants of the original Gold Butte town site. The Friends of Gold Butte is a great resource for visiting the area and leads hikes when the weather is ideal between September and April.
The water levels may be sinking to all-time lows, but Lake Mead remains a beautiful spot for boating, hiking, and admiring the waterside scenery (which you don't see often in the middle of the desert). The 250-square-mile reservoir was created by the Hoover Dam back in 1935 and while official tours of the modern marvel remain closed due to the pandemic, you can still explore the trails around it or take a cruise for up-close views. Remnants of the old Hoover Dam Railroad system have been repurposed as the Historic Railroad Trail, with walking paths stretching through five mountain-carved tunnels where tracks once stood.
While the name may sound like "garbage" after a few too many drinks, this tiny Northern Nevada town is actually the Shoshone word for "devil," due to a belief that the nearby mountains were haunted. Known as one of the most secluded communities in the entire state, Jarbidge emerged during the later stages of the Gold Rush and to this day, still has no paved roads. It's part of the Jarbidge Wilderness area, which stretches more than 100,000 acres with canyons, rivers, and sweeping mountain views. Aspen trees turn golden brown in the fall, while sunflowers and other colorful flowers sprout in waves closer to spring. Most visitors come for the hunting and fishing. Jarbidge's Main Street is sometimes described as a living ghost town (which means people still live there) and doesn't feel like it's changed much in more than a hundred years. Order a shot of whiskey at the Red Dog Saloon and shop for souvenirs at the Outdoor Inn.
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 a reservation for the official campground, which stays busy between fall and spring. 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 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 have resumed after a pause during the pandemic and are now available with a reservation.
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.
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 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. Lee Canyon 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. The area is mourning the recent loss of the Mt. Charleston Lodge, destroyed in a fire, but visitors can still grab refreshments at Bighorn Grill, the Brewin' Burro (both at Lee Canyon), and the Canyon Restaurant at The Retreat on Charleston Peak.
There'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 Harry Reid (formerly 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. There are also plenty of luxury resorts and hotels if you’re wondering where to stay.
Nevada has more historic ghost towns than any other state in the country, but Nelson is probably the most tourist-friendly. Located near Searchlight (between Las Vegas and Laughlin), the remote town looks like a movie set and is occasionally used as one. Aircraft "wreckage" from 3,000 Miles to Graceland is still there after 20 years, mixed in with vintage architecture that includes an old general store, water tower, church, and gas station. Yet the town's reputation was built on the Techatticup Mine, 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. See the history up close for yourself during an excursion with Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours.
Life Magazine famously called the stretch of U.S. Route 50 between Fallon and Ely the "loneliest road in America" more than 30 years ago. Little has changed since then, which is good news if you're craving a socially distant off-the-grid road trip. The highway slows down when it hits Austin, turning into Main Street for this old Pony Express hub with less than 200 people and four churches, a notable ratio for sure. St. George's Episcopal Church, built in 1878, is an especially striking example of Gothic-Revival-style architecture. Overall, the tiny Old West town has 11 sites on the National Register of Historic Places, including the three-story ruins of Stokes Castle and an old hotel now known as the International Cafe & Bar. For added weirdness, spend the night at Paradise Ranch Castle, a bizarre bed and breakfast built to look like an Old Word fortress with suits of armor and a "dungeon" that doubles as a game room and lounge. It overlooks the picturesque Reese River Valley for an extra dose of peace and serenity.
Genoa mixes a mountain lifestyle with charm and history. The oldest town in Nevada was settled by Mormon pioneers in 1850. It's also home to the oldest bar in Nevada, the Genoa Bar & Saloon (or "thirst parlor" as the sign says out front), which came around just a few years later. The red brick structure had its share of bathtub gin during Prohibition while masquerading as a soda shop. It's long since gone legit, but is still a great place for a cold beer and soaking in the rugged cowboy spirit of the town's historic district. Beyond that, Genoa is known for its lush wide-open spaces, mountain views, Walley's Hot Springs Resort, and Mormon Station State Historic Park, where you can explore buildings that replicate Genoa's original trading post among nearly four acres of grass and trees.