Family-Friendly Adventures Within 90 Minutes of the Las Vegas Strip
You already know Las Vegas as the Entertainment Capital of The World. But hiding behind all that grown-up fun also happens to be one of the greatest destinations for families looking to plan a rocking summer vacation.
While the Las Vegas Strip certainly comes jam-packed with a trip’s worth of adventures, there are ample family-friendly activities farther afield that make it worth straying from all that glitters. From quick half-hour jaunts to easy day trips, from giant art installations to eerie ghost towns, let’s take a look at some of our faves.
No. 1 on the list: Downtown Las Vegas. The Fremont Street Experience is a full-on sensory extravaganza, with the world’s largest digital display on the underside of a canopy that spans five city blocks — watch the kids’ eyes light up as bright as the night’s free light show. During the day, goad the kiddos to zoom down the treehouse slide in the center of Downtown Container Park, or relax on the steps at locally-loved-and-run Fergusons Downtown with some goodies from Vegas Test Kitchen.
Fremont East has lots of public art to ogle — think colorful, one-of-a-kind murals — and the 18-block Las Vegas Arts District (aka “18b”) always delivers, too, with dozens of museums and one happy Snowball: a goofy, 10-foot-tall cat sculpture ready for the camera. If you have older kids, sign up for the hour-long guided tour of the Neon Boneyard at the Neon Museum to grab selfies with some of the legendary lit-up signs from casino resorts of yesteryear.
To the southeast, Lake Las Vegas is a legit oasis. Hit up Lake Las Vegas Water Sports to rent kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, e-foils, flyboards, and more. There’s also a floating aqua park that’s a cross between a bouncy house and an obstacle course, only on water. On the way, pay a visit to the city of Henderson (Nevada’s second largest), where you can rent bikes and ride part of the River Mountains Loop Trail, which runs for 34 miles in all.
To the southwest, Goodsprings is one of the most easily accessible ghost towns in southern Nevada. And even though a historic bar doesn’t sound like a family attraction, going to Goodsprings and not visiting the century-old Pioneer Saloon would be a big miss. With a Food Network-worthy restaurant inside and cornhole on the back patio, it’s absolutely kid-friendly (so long as the minors are accompanied by an adult). Families with older kids should check out a historic walking tour or off-road ATV tour — two-hour and half-day 4×4 jaunts zip around the ghost town and out into the nearby landscape. (Plus, there are always self-guided ghost hunts to be had any and every day!)
One last-but-not-least option: the Pinball Hall of Fame. While this destination is on Las Vegas Boulevard just north of the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, technically it’s not on the Strip (which begins at Russell Road). The museum is home to more than 150 pinball machines and 50+ classic video games. For a good time, all you need is a pocketful of quarters.
Hoover Dam, about 45 minutes southeast of Las Vegas, was the world’s tallest concrete structure when it was completed in 1936, and it’s still a feat of modern engineering that’s likely to blow your (and your kids’) minds. On the basic powerplant tour, you’ll wind through construction tunnels and visit a platform looking down on water gushing through a 30-foot-wide penstock pipe. The upgraded guided tour, meanwhile, does all that and takes you through inspection tunnels at the center of the dam.
As far as views go, the top of the dam offers can’t-miss vistas of the Colorado River rushing out below. The experience is even better when you realize you have one foot in Nevada and one foot in Arizona.
Beyond civil engineering marvels, there’s art in the middle of the Mojave Desert, too. Seven Magic Mountains, an installation by Ugo Rondinone that sits southwest of Las Vegas, is spectacular in its simplicity: seven towers of giant rocks, each stone painted a different neon color of the rainbow. Taken as a whole, they look kinda like stacks of giant Nerds candies, dramatically juxtaposed against the more monochromatic landscape. After mugging for photos, walk behind the towers and spy for jackrabbits amid the brush.
Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, northwest of Las Vegas, remains one of the only places in the Las Vegas Valley where you can regularly see snow — even in the heat of summer. The big attraction here is Mt. Charleston, the tallest peak in Clark County at 11,916 feet. Because of the elevation and the way the mountain bowl is protected from the sun, it’s usually 15-20 degrees cooler up here than it is on the Strip, making outdoor adventures possible even when everyone in Vegas runs for the A/C.
Beatty, Nevada, home to the headwaters of the Amargosa River, makes for a fun and kitschy way to spend a day. The city bills itself as the “Gateway to Death Valley,” but it’s also become famous for the friendly burros that hang around town. From here, it’s a 10-minute drive to the Rhyolite Ghost Town, where crumbling buildings along a once-bustling main drag offer an eerie look into the area’s mining past. Definitely check out those nifty public art sculptures on the outskirts of “town,” aka the Goldwell Open Air Museum.
Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, northwest of Vegas, might as well be the Galapagos Islands of the Mojave. Even though the refuge sits in the hottest and driest corner of the country, it’s home to a remarkable concentration of species endemic to North America. In just under 24,000 acres, you can scout for 26 species found nowhere else on Earth, including different species of desert pupfish and zebra-tailed lizards. Kids tend to love looking for bighorn sheep and coyotes — many visits turn into living-creature scavenger hunts. (Just remember to show a healthy respect for any wildlife you’re lucky enough to encounter, and observe from a distance.)
The area around Mesquite, an hour or so northeast of Vegas, packs in family-friendly attractions like Camel Safari, an accredited zoo where kids (and grown-ups, of course) can pet and ride camels. Fifteen minutes up the road, the Virgin Valley Heritage Museum tells deep stories of local history — among other exhibits, it houses the first slot machine found in this part of the state.
While in Mesquite, make sure to check out CasaBlanca Resort & Casino, whose pool rivals any on the Vegas Strip, with a design that calls to mind a tropical oasis. And while this might not excite the kids, the virgin Pina Coladas here are half the price of what they’d be in a Strip-side resort. By our math, that’s double the fun.