The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Nevada
From quaint mountain towns with stunning fall foliage to gorgeous desert landscapes, spooky ghost towns, and more, there’s plenty of beauty to behold in the Silver State.
Nevada is a big place: 110,567 square miles to be exact. Most of it is empty, spooky, and desolate, but there's a lot of beauty out there too. Even if you're not in search of fall foliage, there is no shortage of spectacular sights, from skyscraping mountain ranges to majestic desert landscapes. And if you just want to enjoy the bright lights of casino marquees, that's fine too. So take advantage of the season's mild temperatures and hit the highway for a weekend road trip to explore Nevada's most scenic destinations. It's a great time of year to see everything this fascinating state has to offer.
Visit the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe and spend a few nights in the north end at Incline Village, which is more upscale and less tourist-driven than Stateline in the hotel-dominated south end. It's a serene environment to soak in the bright blue alpine waters and miles of pine trees. Book a night at the Hyatt Regency and have access to a private beach. You can also overlook the lake while munching on steaks at the Lone Eagle Grille. Bicycling is the preferred mode of transportation here (with rentals easily available), whether you want to trek the paved Tahoe East Shore Trail to Sand Harbor State Park or zip down a stretch of Lakeshore Boulevard known as Billionaire's Row, due to the high-priced real estate. It's a quick way to see why the locals call the town "Income Village." The views are even better from Diamond Peak and Mt. Rose, two ski resorts that do big business when winter rolls around.
If you just want to be alone with your thoughts, pay a visit to the Sand Mountain Recreation Area, just east of Fallon off U.S. Route 50 (the “loneliest road in America" according to Life Magazine). It's home to the largest sand dune in Nevada, stretching more than two miles long and 600 feet tall. You can pull over and take in a good hike at this odd, out-of-place destination, but it's best suited for campers and off-road fanatics, who can test their ATV skills on the shifting terrain, left behind after an ancient lake dried by more than 9,000 years ago. Listen carefully and you might hear a high-pitched whistle or squeaking sound. Sand Mountain is a "singing" sand dune, producing sound when the wind passes over the grains. You can also visit the ruins of the Sand Springs Pony Express station, which dates back to the 1860s. It's not quite the same as visiting one of Nevada's creepy ghost towns, but has a similar vibe.
Pyramid Lake is the most significant body of water left behind by Lake Lahontan, which once covered most of Nevada before drying up thousands of years ago. Today, it's one of the largest desert lakes in the world, sitting on Paiute tribal land and surrounded by dramatic, often jagged rock formations. The lake is 15 miles long and 11 miles wide with a deep volume of water that acts like a mirror, shifting color between blue and gray, depending on the reflection of the sky above. Visitors come for camping, swimming, jet-skiing, and especially fishing, since the lake is now the only habitat for cui-ui, who've been swimming in the waters for millions of years. Make sure to visit the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Museum, near the southeast corner of the lake (where the Truckee River flows in), to learn about the history of the lake and its connection to the local Paiute tribe.
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 dwindling to all-time lows, but Lake Mead remains a beautiful spot for boating, kayaking, and taking a swim in the middle of the desert. The 250-square-mile reservoir was created by the Hoover Dam back in 1935 and tours of the modern marvel are a must when visiting Boulder City. You can also take a cruise for an up-close look at the dam. 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. Park at either the Lake Mead Visitors Center or Hoover Dam Lodge to access the trail and get in some exercise while soaking in the sweeping views of Lake Mead.
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. If you're short on time, drive around to the north entrance, which provides immediate access to the highest elevation and best views.
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 other tourists. 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 the park 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. A choice of four tours are 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, archery, and disc golf during the summer months. A new mountain bike trail was installed over the summer with plans to expand in 2023. 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 the site is proving to be popular for sporadic pop-up Pine Dining events.
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 quite like landing at Harry Reid 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.
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.