Sure, you could spend all day seeing shows and playing slot machines in the casino, but everyone needs a little break from Sin City's neon landscape. Thrill-seekers can scramble on rock formations at Valley of Fire State Park, or take a helicopter tour to the Grand Canyon. And for those who want to get away, but don't necessarily want to leave the Strip, look for botanical gardens, an observation wheel and even a bowling alley. Here are the 10 best bets when you want to escape the siren calls of the pool parties and card tables — if only for a few hours.
If you're willing to make the 17-mile drive west of the Strip, you'll be rewarded with the scenic desert cliffs, buttes and magnificent rock formations of Red Rock Canyon. Spanning 195,819 acres, this conservation area features Mojave Desert geology, plants and wildlife. If you're not up for a hike, you can enjoy a 13-mile scenic drive with Pink Jeep Tours. Along the way, you'll make stops for views of the Calico Hills and the Spring Mountain Range. Inside the visitor center, learn about the geology and wildlife of Red Rock Canyon.
If you can't get outside of the city, enjoy a birds-eye view of it on the High Roller, Las Vegas's 550-foot-tall observation wheel. Climb aboard one of 28 air-conditioned pods for a 30-minute spin up and over Sin City. There are windows on all sides of each pod, as well as video narration that points out the sights down below. Visit during the day for shorter lines, or go at night to see the Strip lit up.
Take a break from the casinos and bowl a frame or two at Brooklyn Bowl. Here you'll find 32 lanes that allow up to eight bowlers at a time. Sit back on comfy leather Chesterfield sofas while you wait for your turn in the rotation. Order from a menu that includes salads, fried chicken platters and milkshakes. Plus, when compared to the cost of Sin City's other activities, bowling a game here is relatively cheap: $20 Sunday through Thursday, and $25 Friday and Saturday.
The Grand Canyon may be several hours away by car, but you'll get there in no time (and really feel like a high roller) if you go by helicopter. Try a half-day tour with Papillon, which includes a 70-minute flight to the Grand Canyon, plus a landing at the bottom on a private plateau, 4,000 feet below the rim. As a bonus, there's a champagne picnic upon landing and time to walk around and explore.
With just a 30-mile drive southeast of Las Vegas, you can tour one of America's most recognized landmarks. In nearby Boulder City, you can drive across the magnificent Hoover Dam on the Colorado River Bridge. Even better, stop to explore or take a short tour of the Hoover Dam or the power plant to learn how the dam was built and the massive significance of the operations. There are plenty of great photo-ops too like of the state line marker (the dam straddles Nevada and Arizona) and of the bridge from the Hoover Dam.
If you don't have time to make the trek to the Grand Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park — Nevada's oldest and largest state park — is a worthy compromise. Sitting about an hour northeast of the Strip, the park is home to stunning fossilized sandstone and sand dunes, 3,000-year-old Native American petroglyphs, and plenty of desert wildlife. Bring lots of water and be ready to scramble on ancient rock formations and hike up to viewing platforms. There are a number of easy hikes in the park, including White Domes Loop and Mouse's Tank, both of which are one mile or less and worth the sweat if only for the views. To spot incredible petroglyphs, make a stop at Atlatl Rock.
Despite its location inside one of the most popular hotels on the Strip, you'll feel about as far away from the action as you can inside the Bellagio Conservatory. As you walk the 14,000-square-foot botanical gardens, you'll find more than 10,000 colorful flowers, which are uniquely arranged for each season. The Conservatory is open 24 hours a day and offers live music daily from 4:30 to 6 p.m. The best part? It's free and open to the general public.
For an entirely different Vegas experience, get off the Strip and head about 25 miles east for a stay at the Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa. You'll be right on Lake Las Vegas to enjoy plenty of water activities like stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and canoeing. After a day spent on the water, retire to the white sands of Riatta Beach or rent a private cabana at Nuala Pool, both of which are available to guests of the Westin.
For a scenic escape, board a Colorado River raft bound for Black Canyon, which lies just below the Hoover Dam. Black Canyon River Adventures offers half-day rafting tours that depart daily each morning, providing unmatched views of the desert landscape, as well as the Hoover Dam. There's also a 90-minute "Hoover Dam Postcards Tour," which is your best bet for taking unparalleled photos of the dam from the river.
Climb aboard an authentic paddlewheel boat, the Desert Princess, for a 90-minute sightseeing cruise on Lake Mead with Lake Mead Cruises. Or, stay for dinner on select evenings and take in the desert stars. Enjoy remarkable views, including the Hoover Dam and the white "bathtub ring" left by higher water levels on the rocks surrounding the lake.
About the author: Erin Gifford is a Washington, D.C.-based travel writer and founder of Kidventurous, an award-winning family travel resource. You can follow her on Twitter at @Kidventurous, connect with her on Facebook or get the latest tips and tricks for traveling families at http://kidventurous.com.
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