The Best Road Trips from Las Vegas

Pack your bags and check your tires; it’s time for a road trip from Las Vegas.

It's been a wild winter in Las Vegas. So it must be time to leave a season of ski trips and unpredictable weather behind and look ahead to spring and summer's clear skies and sunshine. You've got a few weeks before the heavy winds and overbearing heat show up, so take advantage of the mild-ish weather and enjoy one of the best road trips from Las Vegas while everybody else is hanging out by the pool back home. Vegas may be a tiny speck in the middle of the desert, but it's within comfortable driving distance to several compelling destinations. Fill up the tank or charge your battery and hit the highway. Here are the most exciting weekend getaways to take near Las Vegas.

Lake Havasu, Arizona
Lake Havasu, Arizona | Pamela Au/Shutterstock

Distance from Vegas: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Lake Havasu is the best island getaway within a three-hour drive of Vegas. Breaking up the Colorado River between Arizona and California, the vacation town definitely has charm and character to spare. The waterfront is decorated with scaled-down replicas of historic lighthouses from around the country, and the island connects to the mainland with a brick-by-brick restoration of the same London Bridge that crossed the River Thames in the late 1800s. Lake Havasu is known as a spring break party destination, but the pace picks up even more in the summer when it gets really hot. Lake Havasu holds the record for the highest temperature ever recorded in an incorporated American city at 128 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately, between boating, cruises, JetSkis, hanging out on the beach, and rock jumping at Copper Canyon, there are plenty of water activities to help cool you off.

Tonopah, Nevada
Tonopah, Nevada | Photo by Sydney Martinez, courtesy of Travel Nevada

Distance from Vegas: 3 hours
Getting lost in the desolate central regions of Nevada has its charm. Camping near one of the state's many historic ghost towns probably isn't the answer, so find the right balance with a visit to Tonopah. The small town has two very different overnight accommodations, a creepy Clown Motel next to a cemetery or the historic Mizpah Hotel. Both places are said to be haunted. Just make sure to visit the Tonopah Historic Mining Park, an outdoor museum dedicated to Nevada's gold and silver rush, and load up on beer and barbecue at Tonopah Brewing Company. Half the fun of visiting is the road trip itself. Stop along the way in Goldfield, often described as a "living" ghost town with historic Old West architecture and the International Car Forest, a bizarre art installation of beat-up automobiles sticking out of the ground.

Sedona, Arizona
Sedona, Arizona | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Distance from Vegas: 4 hours, 30 minutes
The spring and summer months are a great time to visit Sedona. The temperatures aren't nearly as hot as other Arizona destinations (we're looking at you, Phoenix and Tucson), and desert flowers are in full bloom. In addition to more than 300 miles of hiking and biking trails, Sedona is known for its Native American history, bed-and-breakfast accommodations, and art galleries. The town also carries a certain sense of mysticism. Said to be in a vortex with the energy of nature especially strong in Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon; you can easily reach these locations without shelling out cash for a tour guide. The town is surrounded by bright pink and red sandstone with gorgeous views in every direction.

Lake Powell, Arizona
Lake Powell, Arizona | worldswildlifewonders/Shutterstock

Distance from Vegas: 4 hours, 30 minutes
Just like Lake Mead, Lake Powell is watching water levels drop to dangerously low levels but remains a popular summertime destination near the Arizona-Utah border. The area is best known for Horseshoe Bend, a corner of the Colorado River where it's almost impossible to take a bad photo. You can also tour the Glen Canyon Dam, which created Lake Powell, and visit Antelope Canyon, although tours affiliated with the Navajo tribe are required to pay a visit. Book one well in advance. Spend the night at the Lake Powell Resort "down-stream" at Wahweap Bay, just steps from where Lake Powell Boat Tours offers a sunset cruise with a three-course meal included.

Boulder City, Nevada
Boulder City, Nevada | Photo by Sam Morris, courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau

Distance from Vegas: 45 minutes
A quick drive from Vegas, Boulder City is the closest town to the Hoover Dam and has a small tourism industry based around the engineering masterpiece. Book a raft tour with Lake Mohave Adventures on the Colorado River to get an up-close look at the dam with surprisingly close access. Remember that Boulder City is the only Nevada community that doesn't allow gambling. So if you need a fix, stop by the Hoover Dam Lodge while driving down on US 93 and play a few slots. However, the casino-free Boulder Dam Hotel (with a Hoover Dam museum in the lobby) offers a more satisfying sense of history. Boulder City is an excellent home base for hitting Lake Mead, where swimming, boating, and kayaking remain popular, despite the ever-dwindling water levels. For more outdoor fun, hang out with the bighorn sheep at Hemenway Park or grab a seat on the patio at Milo's Cellar for wine, the Dillenger for burgers, or Jack's Place to drink a beer and watch a game.

Tecopa, California
Tecopa, California | Hans Wismeijer/Shutterstock

Distance from Vegas: 1 hour, 30 minutes
The heat and bugs in Tecopa are unbearable during the summer, so spend the calm and mild spring season checking out the quirkiness of this tiny California destination. Tecopa isn't quite a ghost town, but you'll see a few abandoned buildings, a rundown jail, and other remnants of its history as an old supply route and railroad community. Las Vegans come here to disconnect. There's minimal cellphone service and hardly any landlines. It has the most breweries per capita in the United States, as long as you understand it's two breweries for about 60 people. Tecopa Brewing Company has killer barbecue. Death Valley Brewing is next to Steaks and Beer, a shack that serves charred ribeyes and local organic sides (with no website or social media, so call 702-334-3431 to book a reservation). Yet the most popular attractions in Tecopa are the natural hot springs at two resorts (Delight's and Tecopa Hot Springs) and the China Ranch Date Farm, home to a small museum and bakery.

Cottonwood, Arizona
Cottonwood, Arizona | EQRoy/Shutterstock

Distance from Vegas: 4 hours, 40 minutes
Cottonwood is a small town in the heart of Arizona's Verde Valley between Phoenix and Flagstaff. The quiet region doesn't forget its Old West roots as a mining community and boasts picturesque mountain scenery. It's also in the heart of Arizona's booming wine country. Visit historic downtown Cottonwood and check out at least eight tastings rooms within steps of each other. Neighboring Jerome is home to the Grand Hotel, formerly a creepy hospital and currently one of the most haunted hotels in America. Grab lunch and enjoy the views at the Asylum Restaurant before taking a ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad, a three-hour train ride that follows the river and turns around at Perkinsville ghost town. Spend some time exploring the great outdoors, especially the Tuzigoot National Monument, where Pueblo ruins are preserved and protected.

Williams, Arizona
Williams, Arizona | Jordi C/Shutterstock

Distance from Vegas: 3 hours, 30 minutes
If you want a cool way to visit the Grand Canyon, take an old-school train ride from Williams, Arizona, which provides direct passage to the scenic South Rim inside the national park. The small town values its reputation as a gateway to America's largest hole in the ground, but Williams is a pretty cool place to visit all by itself. Spend a few days here and you'll see a proud history that combines a rough-and-tumble Wild West past with a legacy as the last operational stretch of Route 66, which helped usher in a new era of road tripping. Roam the streets of downtown, where old brothels and saloons have been converted to bars and restaurants. Ride down a mountain on a self-controlled alpine roller coaster at the Canyon Coaster Adventure Park, get into the cowboy spirit at Wild West Junction, and check out vintage gas pumps and other antiques inside Pete's Gas Station Museum. Just outside of town, animal lovers can feed dozens of deer, meet a zonkey, and hang out with a camel at the Grand Canyon Deer Farm, or drive through the Bearizona wildlife park, which also includes a walkable zoo.

Caliente, Nevada
Caliente, Nevada | Photo by Leslie Kehmeier

Distance from Vegas: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Want to get away from the crowds? Caliente, the only incorporated city in Lincoln County north of Las Vegas, is a quiet community with a small-town feel and an unexpected variety of outdoor activities. Early growth was based on its role as a railway stop between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles—a legacy recognized with a mission-style depot, still standing as a photogenic piece of history, with the Box Car Museum just steps away. Spend some time here and further explore the great outdoors with mountain biking at Barnes Canyon and hiking at Kershaw-Ryan State Park. Caliente is also a great home base to visit the towering rock formations and slot canyons of Cathedral Gorge State Park, about 15 miles away. Otherwise, hang out for a while and mingle with the locals at Side Track, one of our favorite restaurants on the outskirts of Vegas, and its sister weekend cocktail lounge, Side Car. The Caliente Hot Springs Resort is closed for renovations until 2023, so ask for the log cabin at the nearby Pine Tree Inn & Bakery bed-and-breakfast in Panaca.

Beatty, Nevada
Beatty, Nevada | Nick Fox/Shutterstock

Beatty, Nevada

Distance from Vegas: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Beatty is an old mining and railroad town on the outskirts of Death Valley. It's also close to the ghost town ruins of Rhyolite, the weirdness of the Goldwell Open Air Museum, and the Tom Kelly bottle house, made from more than 50,000 glass bottles. All three places are within steps of each other west of the town. For another weird photo spot, travel three miles north of the town center on U.S. 95. You'll see wreckage from an airplane crash by a roadside sign for what used to be the Angel's Ladies brothel. Back in the heart of Beatty, you'll want to try the chili and beer at the Happy Burro, an old saloon with vintage spirit, quirky decor, and a boardwalk-style patio. Hang around long enough and you might see burros roaming the streets. With a travel time of less than two hours, Beatty is a great day trip from Vegas, but if you want to spend the night, check out the renovated rooms at the Stagecoach Hotel & Casino.

Laughlin Nevada
Laughlin, Nevada | Jacob Boomsma/Shutterstock

Laughlin, Nevada

Distance from Vegas: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Describing Laughlin as a mini-Vegas on a river isn't entirely off base. Less than a hundred miles apart, both towns are famous for casinos, entertainment, and bright neon lights. But Laughlin is less chaotic, with a small-town feel and employees who actually recognize regulars by name year after year. The dining and nightlife is lowkey and low-pressure. Yet the town's character is best shaped by its location along the Colorado River, which separates Nevada from Arizona. Rent a JetSki, go kayaking, or hang out on the beach at the Big Bend of Colorado. Take water taxis from one hotel to another and board guided boat tours and dinner cruises. Save hikes for the early morning temperatures during the summer, especially at Grapevine Canyon, where you can explore a dried river bed and examine petroglyphs, which are drawings on stone walls left behind by Native American tribes hundreds of years ago.

Mesquite, Nevada
Rainbow Vista in Valley of Fire State Park | Pierre Leclerc/Shutterstock

Distance from Vegas: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Mesquite, about 95 miles northeast of Las Vegas, tends to market itself as a more laid-back alternative to Sin City, but it's really a casino town for the party animals who live right across the border in Utah. A vintage vibe is felt in the tableside food presentations at Katherine's Steakhouse or the seven golf courses squeezed within a few miles of each other. Interact with exotic animals at Camel Safari or go off-roading with an ATV. Yet half the fun of a road trip to Mesquite is getting there. Detour off Interstate 15 and take one of America's most scenic drives through the Valley of Fire State Park before reconnecting later. The bright, dramatic sandstone formations almost appear to be on fire when the sun hits them just right—hence the name. The red sand at Rainbow Vista creates a life-on-Mars feel, so it's no wonder parts of Total Recall were filmed there back in the ‘80s. Now that summer is over, the cooler temperatures are perfect for hiking the park.

Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe | Anne08/Shutterstock

Distance from Vegas: 7 hours
Lake Tahoe, often connected to Reno tourism, is the largest alpine lake in North America and worthy of a road trip on its own. The area is loaded with ski resorts for winter sports, but the clear blue waters, sandy beaches, and miles of pine trees make it a fantastic summer destination as well. South Lake Tahoe is tourist-oriented, with ample resorts, sunset cruises, and water sports. The Nevada side (officially the town of Stateline) has four casino resorts, but the Hard Rock is easily the most contemporary and appealing. By comparison, North Lake Tahoe is more residential, especially Incline Village, where exclusivity is part of the charm. It's quiet and serene without intrusive attractions designed for mass appeal. The best way to vacay is by booking a room at the Hyatt Regency, which feels like the world's largest log cabin and has its own private beach with cabanas and the Lone Eagle Grill, the town's best restaurant. Roast marshmallows at fire pits near the pool and rent bikes for checking out the luxe real estate on a stretch of Lake Shore Boulevard modestly known as Billionaire's Row.

St. George, Utah
Zion National Park | Martin M303/Shutterstock

St. George, Utah

Distance from Vegas: 2 hours
St. George is the first place Las Vegans run into after cutting through the northwest corner of Arizona and crossing the border into Utah. The city combines a charming downtown area with a thriving art scene and proximity to four state parks, including the bright red sandy beaches of the Sand Hollow reservoir. Outdoor explorers will be most excited to know St. George is the largest city outside Zion National Park, one of the most colorful examples of rock formations, sweeping cliffs, and waterfalls. The infamous Angels Landing is a 2.5-mile hike with steep and narrow pathways. It comes with a warning sign that mentions the number of people who have died on the trail. Just make sure to apply for passes at least a day in advance. Balance out all that outdoorsy stuff by visiting independent restaurants, art galleries, and shopping in downtown St. George. The Painted Pony and Wood.Ash.Rye. are the top spots for dinner and drinks.

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Rob Kachelriess has been writing about Las Vegas in Thrillist for more than eight years. His work has also appeared in Travel + Leisure, Trivago Magazine, Sophisticated Living, Modern Luxury, Leafly, Las Vegas Magazine, and other publications. He fills up the gas tank before crossing into California. Follow him on Twitter @rkachelriess.