Day Trips from Las Vegas
Although Las Vegas is in a pretty grim, polluted setting, there is good to great scenery close at hand. Several day trips to some fine western scenery are possible from Las Vegas, and at least one, Zion National Park, is a must. Las Vegas is about a three hour drive from Zion National Park, one of the world’s greatest scenic spots. We consider a trip to Las Vegas to be an extension of a trip to Zion..
The Grand Canyon is too grand to fully appreciate from the ground. A sightseeing trip by plane, or even better, by helicopter, is best. In additon tto air tripsform Las Vegas, there are bus also one day trips, but it’s more than 600km round trip, so there can’t too much time at the National Park. Go by air, or rent a car and take 2 or 3 days.
3) A visit to Valley of Fire State Park requires a car. The Valley of Fire has strange rock formations, mostly red rock, and is 40 miles straight north by I-15. Make it a loop drive by returning along the shore of Lake Mead. Be sure to go to the Visitor’s Center and take the dead end side road that runs uphill behind the Visitor’s Center. There are several scenic short walks from tteh parking areas along this road.
4) Red Rocks are about 20 miles straight west of Las Vegas. Technically closer than Valley of Fire, there isn’t much difference in driving time and Red Rocks is a more stressful drive, seeming to go on forever through the suburbs. Getting to the Valley of Fire is all Interstate.
5) The Mojave National Preserve is one of the most outstanding areas of the vast Mojave Desert. There are forests of Joshua Trees, one of the strangest cacti, 600-feet high sand dunes, mountains, deserts, ghost towns and semi-ghost towns, dormant volcanoes, mines, and vast lava flows. A few thousand feet higher than Las Vegas, the Preserve is just a tad cooler, but still very hot in summer.
A note on red rock counttry: Las Vegas is located near the erratic boundary between the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau, once the greatest desert on Earth when it was more than three times larger than today’s Sahara Desert. Desert sands thousands of feet thick were then covered by water and transformed into sand stone. When the prehistoric sea retreated and uncovered the rock, rains colored the rock by carrying disolved minerals into them. Today, the dominant color of the rock is deep red—rust from iron oxide–with bands of pink, white and yellow, and even an occasional green and purple. If you live in a landscape of gray rock, red rock country will be a remarkable change.
6] A 2-3 day trip. One of Las Vegas’ best features is that Cedar Breaks National Monument and Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks can visited in 2 days with Vegas as the Gateway City. Add one more day and take in Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon or Capitol Reef National Park.
First, let me explain why you should give up gambling for a couple days to take this trip from Las Vegas. Do it because it is the most spectacularly scenic 2 days of sight seeing you will ever find anywhere. Frankly, anybody who visits Las Vegas without doing this side trip is a fool. Forget gambling, shows andshopping; this drive is THE reason to go to Las Vegas.
DAY ONE: The route, which is best driven as specified for the finest views: Start North from Las Vegas on I-15 to Cedar City, UT. There is a decent lunch buffet on the way in Mesquite at the Oasis Casino for about $10.
At Cedar City, take UT Rt 14 to Cedar Breaks National Monument. There are two routes from Cedar Breaks to Bryce Canyon National Park. East on UT Rt 14, north on US 89, east on UT Rt 12 is the fastest, but UT Rt 143 to Panguitch, then south on US 89 to Ut Rt 12 is a bit more scenic except during the fall colors when it is a lot more scenic (see journal Fall in souther Utah).
Stop at Red Canyon on Rt 12 for a short visit.
At Bryce, head first to the Sunset Point Overlook. Next best views are at Inspiration Point, then Sunrise Point. Spend the first night at or near the park–convenient, but more expensive than Panguitch–or in Panguitch for lower rates.
I take an informal poll of people I meet who have been to Sunset Point. I ask, "Can you think of anywhere you have been in the world with a more specular view?" The answer is 100% "no."
Reasons to stay at Bryce Canyon Lodge: Although the Lodge is not on the edge of the cliff, it is a short walk to both Sunset and Sunrise Points, two of the three most impressive overlooks in the park. The Hoodoos stand out best when there are lots of shadows–at sun rise and sun set. Moreover, the soft, red tinted light produced when the sun is near the horizon accentuates the colors of the rocks. It all looks even better at sunrise and sunset. Although the Lodge is one of the most expensive hotels in the area, it is worth springing for at least once so you can experience
these views under optimum conditions, and while you are there, be sure to head over to the rim after dark to see a display of stars like you never imagined possible.
DAY TWO: Go south on US 89 to UT Rt 9 to Zion NP, about one hour away. Once you reach Zion Valley (the Visitor’s Center), it is about a three hour drive back to Las Vegas.
In allocating your time in Zion, a Biblical place more or less meaning Heaven on Earth, and a pretty good description of this Park (see my extensive journal on Zion for details): The bus ride round trip from the visitor center–1 ½ hrs. with no stops. The best stops: Zion Lodge, Big Bend, Temple of Sinawava, Court of the Three Patriarchs
The best short hikes: 1) Middle Emerald Pool, 45- to 90-minute (depends on how much you want to linger. We linger a lot.) route from Zion Lodge; 2) Get off the bus at Weeping Rock stop and walk uphill for 10 to 15 minutes (do not take the turn to the left for Weeping Rock), turn around and return; 3) River Walk 50 to 70 minute route.
WHERE TO EAT: Zion Park Lodge, smack in the middle of Zion Canyon at one of the most scenic spots in the Canyon, has a decent breakfast buffet with grand views out the widows. Lunch is also decent, with the same grand views, but for the last several years, we have opted for lunch at Casa del Sol—from the visitor center, head down canyon, leave the park, cross the bridge, and it is the second building on the left. Casa del Sol is mostly sandwiches, including have Buffalo burgers, and a great outside seating area.
I noted above that visitors justifiably find Bryce to be the most spectacular view in the world, so it is hard to explain why Zion is even better, but it is something like the difference between getting wasted in binge drinking or sipping a fine burgundy with tenderloin served with Sauce Bernaise for diner. The first blows you out, the second creeps up with elegance and ultimately delight. More than three times as many people visit Zion as visit Bryce each year, and most of the visitors are people who live within a day’s drive. Why do you think the people who live in this land head to Zion? No matter how much you are taken with Bryce, and taken you will be, don’t linger. As the Bible says, "hie thee unto Zion" (or if it doesn’t, it ought to) just as fast as you can. We live in northern Utah and we spend our time like this: 2 or 3 trips to Zion every year. Once every 3 years to the Grand Canyon and Bryce. The only thing wrong with our schedule is that there are not enough trips to Zion.
WHEN TO VISIT: Fall and spring are best because summers are very hot. Winter is great for Bryce and Zion because crowds are way down and you can drive into Zion Canyon instead of having to take the park bus; the road to Cedar Breaks is closed—snow depths at the overlooks reach more than 30 feet.