Don’t let the name scare you. A two-hour drive from Las Vegas, Death Valley National Park offers visitors some of the most surreal natural sights — from rock salt spires to 700-foot sand dunes. The park is a study in contrasts: The salt flats of Badwater Basin sit 282 feet below sea level (the lowest point in North America), while Dante’s View offers a look at the entire valley from 5,000 feet. Visitors can also tour Scotty’s Castle, a Spanish-style mansion built in Death Valley in the 1920s. Rhyolite ghost town sits just outside the park’s northeastern border. Built in 1904 and deserted less than 20 years later, the gold-mining town once had more than 50 saloons. Today, only the deteriorating structures of the town remain, including a three-story bank.
Details: Furnace Creek Visitor Center & Museum is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Entrance fee is $20 per vehicle.
One of the natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon is located roughly 300 miles southeast of Las Vegas. If you only have one day to visit the area while in town, a tour is best: Options range from luxury bus tours that take you to the edge of the canyon to over-the-top helicopter rides that include a picnic lunch beside the Colorado River. One of the canyon’s newest attractions is the breathtaking Skywalk at Grand Canyon West. Owned and operated by the Hualapai Indian Tribe, the Skywalk is a glass walkway that reaches 70 feet beyond the rim and is suspended 4,000 feet above the canyon floor.
Details: The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is open 24 hours a day, year-round. Tours start at $80. Skywalk packages start at $30.
Red Rock Canyon
In stark contrast to the bright neon of the Vegas Strip is Red Rock Canyon, named for the red sandstone that can be seen throughout the area. Part of the Mojave Desert, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is located 20 miles west of Las Vegas. Visitors can view the canyon by car by driving the 13-mile scenic loop or by lacing up a pair of hiking boots and walking one of the area’s trails. Red Rock Canyon also offers biking and horseback riding and is home to a variety of wildlife, including coyotes, big horn sheep and golden eagles.
Details: Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is open daily, 6 a.m.-8 p.m. The visitors’ center is open daily, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Entrance fee is $5 per car.
Just 35 miles south of Las Vegas, Hoover Dam is visited by more than 1 million people each year. Standing 725 feet above the Colorado River, it is the highest concrete dam in the Western hemisphere. The best way to explore the dam is to take one of two tours offered on-site. The 30-minute Powerplant Tour starts with a 70-second elevator ride that descends 530 feet and includes standing on top of one of the 30-foot-diameter pipes that carry water from Lake Mead to the dam’s hydroelectric generators. The one-hour Hoover Dam Tour showcases the same sights as the Powerplant Tour and features the opportunity to explore rarely seen tunnels that wind through the dam’s concrete interior.
Details: The visitors’ center is open daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Parking costs $7. The Powerplant Tour is $11, and advance tickets are available. The Hoover Dam Tour is $30 and is limited to 20 people. Tickets must be purchased in person and are on a first-come, first-served basis.
For more Vegas day trips, see Off the Beaten Path.