Nearly 42 visitors came to Las Vegas last year to teeter around in seven-inch heels, wait in line for a celeb sighting outside a mega-club, drink yard-long margaritas (in a pool, while gambling), and finally hop on the plane back to sober reality. No one can beat this city for crazy fun; but what many people don’t know is that it’s also the perfect base for a day-long adventure in nature. Give your liver a break for a day and try one of these spectacular trips, right from the Strip.
Helicopter to the Grand Canyon (or just to Red Rock)
There are myriad tour companies, but the fanciest new trip is in one of Sundance Helicopters’ ultra-modern chromed helicopters with their wraparound glass cockpits, which touch down 3,500 feet in the base of the Grand Canyon for a Champagne lunch, and have you back in three and a half hours. One of the most extravagant tours is its six-hour Airplane Quest, involving a prop plane flight to the Grand Canyon over the Hoover Dam, a helicopter flight into the base of the canyon where you’ll pick up a river boat down the Colorado River, then ascend back for a picnic on the rim of the canyon, and later visit the rustic Hualapai Ranch. Can’t commit to a full day? Sundance recently added a two-hour trip just minutes from its Strip terminal to Red Rock Conservation Area. While no other helicopter company can land in the conservation area, Sundance brokered a deal with a local private property owner right on its border. You’ll fly over the homes of Floyd Mayweather and Teller (of Penn and Teller) on your way to Red Rock, then watch the dramatic sunset with a bucket of Champagne and appetizers before hopping back in, circling to the north end of the Strip, and following all the way from the Stratosphere to the southern end. (Keep your eyes peeled for 80's soap icon Lorenzo Lamas, now a Sundance pilot!)
Hike the Valley of Fire
Hike Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada’s oldest and largest state park, at just the right time of day and you’ll understand why it’s so aptly named. Just 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas via the I-15, it’s a massive park of red sandstone formations that’s also filled with ancient petrified trees and 3,000-year-old petroglyphs made by the prehistoric Basket Maker people and the Anasazi. Although it’s open year-round the best time to hike the park is between October and April, when the heat is a bit more manageable (daily summer highs can reach 120 Fahrenheit). Hikes you shouldn’t miss include Rainbow Vista, a short hike that leads you to Fire Canyon and lends a spectacular view of the vista to the north. Fire Wave, only one and a quarter miles round trip, takes hikers to a fabulous view of wildly colorful sandstone, the hallmark of the park. Don’t leave without at least stopping by Elephant Rock, a hike that only takes about 10 minutes from Valley of Fire Highway. Climb behind Elephant Rock to see the incredible “trunk,” a natural arch that looks like an elephant.
Kayak Hoover Dam
You could take a tour of Hoover Dam, which itself is an amazing experience: Most tours follow a guide through the interior and exterior of the highest concrete dam in the western hemisphere, which stands a daunting 700-plus feet above the Colorado River. You’ll get a look at the generator room and Lake Mead, the world’s largest manmade lake. Or, you could get in a kayak and get one of the most exceptional views possible of this modern wonder. A seven-hour tour run by Evolution Expeditions picks you up at your hotel and starts with a descent down the original road that was excavated from the canyon walls to create the dam. You’ll then kayak from the base of the Hoover Dam down the Colorado River and through the Black Canyon, stopping inside a “sauna cave” in a geothermal hot spring pool, exploring the preternaturally green Emerald Cave, and then through the Colorado River Valley. You’ll see lots of wildlife (Desert Big Horn sheep, coyotes, falcons, and even the occasional bald eagle) from the river. Feel free to quiz the guides, who can talk all about the dam, the history of the Black Canyon, and the vertiginous new Bypass Bridge.