This article is based on years of traveling in and out of Las Vegas to visit some of the most beautiful places on earth. Las Vegas can be a very inexpensive place to fly into.
For our budget, our trip into the Vegas airport begins on a Sunday thru Wednesday. The focus and goal of our trip is to get into the great outdoors. But, we like to stay the first couple of nights in Vegas and then the last couple of nights too, with the middle of the trip spent touring awesome places in the great Mohave Desert.
As soon as you get off the plane you know you are in Vegas and are bombarded by visual entertainment. Everything is bright and flashing, it seems like daytime even at night. Huge screens preview the available shows and entertainment in town. As you leave the airport you will find all modes of transport available along the street including taxis, limos & shuttle buses.
There are a lot of hotels to choose from. Many times I have stayed on the strip at Tropicana Ave. Returning to the car rental lot at the airport is just minutes from this part of the strip. There are many choices for hotels. There are thousands of hotel rooms and more being built every day. There are hotels on Las Vegas Blvd, more just off the strip and some just blocks away from the strip in downtown Las Vegas. Fremont Street has been canopied by tens of thousands of lights. The hotel/casinos in this area have almost a neighborhood feel. At night The Fremont Street Experience comes alive with lights, and music. It’s feels almost like a block party.
Will you need a rental car? Many times your best deal on a rental is going to be for a weekly rental. Even if you rent for just 4 days, the weekly rental is normally a better deal. Normally, the car rentals work on a 24 hour period. For example if you pick up at 6 pm, your return would have to be by 6 pm of the day the car is suppose to be returned. Many times I will fly into Las Vegas and take one of the inexpensive shuttles to my hotel doorstep. Then the day I want to begin my weekly rental, I take a taxi to the rental location to pick up my car being careful to pick it up at the same time of day that I will be returning it the day of my departure. You can also consider renting your auto at one of the downtown off airport rental locations. This can save on the airport tax surcharges that are added on to your rental at the airport locations. As you choose your car rental, you might find that they have a location right at the hotel you choose to stay at.
Las Vegas has plenty of entertainment to enjoy, with shows that change from month to month. There are many free things to do as well. The water show at the Beligio is cool and interesting if seem by night from the Eiffel Tour. Everybody likes the free volcano at the Mirage, the lion’s habitat at the MGM, The show in front of TI, Mardi Gras style show in the Rio and on and on. This article is about getting out into the great outdoors, so I’ll leave the entertainment search up to you. There’s always plenty to see and do.
One of the first things I do as I’m leaving town is to find a big grocery store or the local shopping mart. I buy a cooler and load up on water, fruit, soda, chips, snacks, napkins, plates, forks and deli items. Many times we’ll have an inexpensive breakfast or lunch along the way. We’ll have a great restaurant dinner.
There is where the Mojave, Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts are within striking distance of your entry point of Las Vegas. Some of these areas can be very hot in the summer, but if you plan well and hit the higher elevations, it can be very comfortable. Remember this area of the world can be wild and dangerous. Take all the precautions necessary. This is the Mohave Desert, you’ll need water. You do not want to get stuck in the sand, or have your auto break down in a remote area. There are places your cell phone will not work. If you hike into any remote areas, learn about them first and obtain necessary permits. There are a lot of slot canyons that are very beautiful. A slot is a narrow passageway thru cliff lined canyons. This was carved into the sandstone by water. Beware! If it is raining 100 miles away from you, you may not know it and the slot you could be in is where the water will run. I have heard several stories of people being carried away and drown because of lack of planning. When you are in a narrow canyon, there is no place to escape. Be smart and be careful. Take lots of pictures.
Heading north there is another great little casino city right at the border of Nevada called Mesquite, NV. I have found the hotel room rates to be down right cheap. Mesquite has everything that I need as a base of operations. The rooms are acceptable, the Casinos are modern and fun with pools and even arcades, bowling alleys and movie theatres, without lots of traffic. The town has lots of buffets, gas stations, golf, etc. If you are planning a visit to Zion, staying here is an easy drive up and back for a couple of day trips into the region. Many times I have gone with a group and we have to reserve quite a few rooms.
As you head north on I 15 you’ll see the Las Vegas Speedway home of NASCAR races as well as Nellis Air force base. You’ll probably see or hear air force jets flying around or landing as you travel past the base. The thunderbirds have a presence here, as well as some funky looking stealth and unmanned remotely piloted aircraft. Maybe this is where all the UFO Area 51 stuff comes from. If you’re interested in more information about the mystery lights in the sky, search for Groom Lake or Area 51.
The Valley of Fire State Park is up this way and located only six miles from Lake Mead, it’s 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas via Interstate 15 and on exit 75. Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest and largest state park, dedicated 1935. The valley derives its name from the red sandstone formations and the stark beauty of the Mojave Desert. There are some really awesome campsites nested within the red rock cliffs. This is a great place to stretch your legs and do a little rock scrambling. It’s about a 30 minute drive from the highway exit. The Moapa Indian Reservation runs a store right at this exit.This can be a nice stop for bathrooms; they sell fireworks, have a small casino, tax free cigarettes and liquor in their small convenience store.
If you continue north into Utah on highway I 15 from Las Vegas you can go to Zion National Park. It’s just a few hours north of Las Vegas and can make a great day trip. April thru Oct. the environmental friendly shuttle bus provides transportation in the park. Other month’s autos are allowed in. There is a highway Rt 9 that goes thru park of the park and is open to traffic all year. If you might be planning a hike into the Virgin River and upstream, talk to the rangers first. Our last trip the water levels were too high and not safe. After you tour of Zion, be sure to take RT. 9 through the tunnels, and the landscape totally changes after the tunnel. It’s like a different planet. The second day we visited the Zion Plateau where we found a resort and paid the all day pass to ride their ATV’s, use their pool, play paintball, climbing wall, etc.
From here you now need to plan out your trip based on how long you’ll be traveling for. You could head to Bryce Canyon Nation Park or you could go to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Lake Powell, even The Grand Canyon. I normally take Utah highway 89 if I am going to Lake Powell and on the return just to see even more scenery I return towards Las Vegas using Arizona ALT highway 89.
Heading south on Utah highway 89 from either Zion or Bryce you’ll see a turn off for Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Here pinkish sand worn off the sandstone cliffs was deposited by the winds creating 3,000 acres of sand dunes. Continuing along highway 89 is the town of Kanab, Utah. One popular visit in the area is the Paria and Johnson Canyon Movie Set where over 300 movies and TV shows were filmed.
This area is called the Arizona Strip. We visited The Glen Canyon Dam which created Lake Powell. Lake Powell has 2000 miles of shoreline and canyons etc. We rented a speed boat for the day at the Marina. As you look for boat rentals, you need to decide if you want to rent at the marina where the boat is in the water or another rental where you may have to tow or arrange for the boat to be launched. You may choose to not have a hotel/condo and stay on a houseboat. The sun is strong and lots of sunscreen and sun block should be used. Many people visit Rainbow Bridge and it is the world’s largest natural bridge.
Antelope Canyon is a Page, Arizona photographer’s opportunity. This is the most spectacular slot canyon I have been to. You’ll find that all tours require a Navajo guide and there is an upper and lower canyon. The tours are separate. You can join a tour in Page, AZ or drive the few miles to the Navajo Nation. There is a cost for parking at the Navajo tour site, as well as for the tour itself. Our tour was in an open safari type vehicle for a few miles into the desert. As you get there you see just a dark crack in a huge cliff. It is an amazing slot canyon carved by water and wind over millions of years. The sandstone colors are awesome and many people are touched by this natural cathedral that the Navajo’s have treasured for years. When the sun is directly over head, beams of light can then shine into the canyon.
I like to return back towards Las Vegas using AZ alt 89 out of Page, AZ. Be sure you make the turn on alt 89 or you will continue south towards Flagstaff, AZ. Taking this route will bring you past the Vermilion Cliffs. As you continue on highway alt 89 you’ll get to Jacobs Lake, this is the turn off if you are interested in visiting the North Rim of The Grand Canyon. I timed my last trip so we could overnight at the Lodge. We showed up late afternoon, watched the sunset, stayed in a cabin right near the rim. We ate at the dining room with an awesome view. You’ll need reservations or you’ll be out of luck.
From here you’d just return back to highway 15 and your trip back to Las Vegas.