So you have had enough of the Las Vegas Strip and want to spend a day away from the tourist madness? Well, I have just the remedy for you. A day trip. Rent a car, get some supplies and head out of town and see the rest of the world around us. My favorite day trip for weary tourists is the Valley of Fire Loop.
This little drive is about 3 to 4 hours not counting any stops for photos, adventures or other reason. Easy to do and very scenic.
For an easy reference, let’s start at the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign”. From here, head north (towards Mandalay Bay) and follow the signs to get onto Interstate 15. That’s the highway that runs parallel to the Las Vegas Strip. Head north like you are going to Salt Lake City. It’s best if you get as far over as possible in the left-hand lanes. You will avoid a lot of congestion with other vehicles coming on and off the Las Vegas Strip.
You will pass downtown Las Vegas or what people like to call “Old Las Vegas” and you are heading into the city of North Las Vegas. Yes, a different town with a similar name. Passing the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Home to TWO NASCAR Races this year!
Keep heading north like you are about to leave civilization. It may seem like it, but you are not. You will still be able to find flush toilets! Exit 75 is the Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza and it is also the road that takes you to Valley of Fire. If you need anything, fuel, food, snacks, drinks, get it here now. Next spot with such amenities is about 2 hours away.
Follow down this road until you get to the gates of Valley of Fire State Park. There is an entrance fee and the National Park / America The Beautiful pass will not work here. Currently, its $10 a car, Nevada Residents get a $2 discount.
There are several magnificent overlooks, turnoffs and walking paths. If you want to spend any time here, start at the visitor center first to get a feel for whats all around you. This place is famous for its rock formations, geology as well as its use for backdrops in science fiction and western movies.
Exit, Stage Right
As you exit the other end of the park, you turn right to enter Lake Mead National Recreation Area (National Park Services). If you do have a National Park pass, this will get you in free, otherwise, there is a $25 per car fee and that is good for several days.
This park was created in 1964 as a way to protect Lake Mead. The lake was created after the building of Hoover Dam in 1935. It was the first national area protected not for its natural creations but for its recreational purposes. With hiking trails, there is actually more to do off the lake than on the lake! And yes, The lake is dangerously low of water. Currently, it’s less than 50% filled to capacity.
Towards the end of the road out of the park, at the Las Vegas Boat Harbor, is the Desert Princess. A paddlewheel Sightseeing cruise. Great for lunch or dinner excursion. They will take you around the basin of Lake Mead and get you as close as legally possible to the back side of Hoover Dam. This will give you a real perspective of just how big that dam is and what it took to build it out in the middle of nowhere!
Boulder City Bound
Exiting Lake Mead National Recreation Area gives you a chance to do several things: Walk the historic railroad tunnels, Drive down and visit Hoover Dam or head into Boulder City. Boulder City, the town that built a dam! The only city n Nevada that does not allow gambling. It’s like a step back in time. Small family owned stores. Lots of history. Easy to walk and to visit. Lots of options for food, shopping, and entertainment. (it has an 8 lane bowling alley!)
You may want to checkout Hemenway Park. Its where the native Big Horn sheep like to occasionally come out of the mountains and lounge around the fresh grass of the park with a scenic view of Lake Mead and the mountains behind it. They are wild, so please do not try to approach them or to pet them. keep your distance and view from afar… Thank You!
Getting Back to Vegas Reality
This will sound more complicated than it really is. Set your sights on Boulder City Parkway. Its Highway 93 and it takes you out of Downtown Boulder City and ultimately into Las Vegas. Once you leave Boulder City, you will be heading north. You will pass the intersection for Highway 95 that will take you to searchlight and to Laughlin, Nevada. Highway 93 will turn into Interstate 11 at Railroad Pass.
Stay on this highway and it turns into Interstate 515 before changing back to Highway 93. See, its easier than it sounds. You are now entering Henderson, Nevada. This is the largest suburb of Las Vegas and the second largest city in Nevada.
You are looking for the “215 West” exit. It’s also the exit for Lake Mead Parkway. Just one mile past the Just past the Horizon Drive exit. Also, you will see the Fiesta Resort on the right-hand side. This overpass will take you onto the Interstate 215 West that leads you into Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Boulevard exit will take you back to the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign.
You Survived! Now, what did you think about the loop?