How To Have An Epic Las Vegas Road Trip
"Vegas, Baby, Vegas!" That is your battle cry as you head across the desert, or across the country. Like the iconic characters in "Swingers," that battle cry may fade as the hours and miles rack up and you realize Vegas is a little further from everything than you thought. Don't let your battle cry fade to a whimper. Instead, do some planning, and whether you're heading into Vegas or taking a day-long road trip to see the sites away from the Strip, you'll have the kind of epic road trip worthy of its own movie.
Los Angeles to Las Vegas
If you're driving to Vegas with any regularity, you're probably coming up the I15 from Los Angeles and Southern California. Getting to the bright lights and custom pools Las Vegas starts out feeling like a hop and a skip before turning into a nightmarish slog across the Mojave Desert. Prevent your drive from turning into something out of "Fear and Loathing" by planning some cool stops. Once you hit the high desert, it's time to break up the trip. In Victorville, pop off the beaten path to the National Trails Highway which hooks back up with the interstate in Barstow. You'll drive through the town of Oro Grande, home to Elmer's Bottle Tree Ranch. The ranch is a one-of-a-kind art installation perfect for a rest stop and pictures for your social media. Once you're back on the road, head to Baker, California. Baker bills itself as the Gateway to Death Valley, but stop by their giant thermometer during the summer, and you'll know you're way closer than the gate. More importantly, it's time to stop at The Mad Greek Cafe for a bite to eat and some Greek culture. Order one of their world-famous shakes and a gyro, or get a tray of baklava for the road. Finally, when you hit that Nevada state line and Las Vegas is within sight, stop one more time at the Seven Magic Mountains. They are bright and colorful stacks of rocks, 30 feet high, along the desert floor. The man-made hoodoos, created by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, were supposed to be removed years ago but have proven so popular that their permit is renewed regularly, but you never know when they may disappear so don't miss them while you have a chance.
Las Vegas to Nevada State Route 159
If you're already in Vegas and looking for an epic road trip off the beaten path, head west to State Route 159. This loop road hooks into Blue Diamond Road in the south and Charleston Blvd. in the north. Start at either end for a picturesque drive you wouldn't expect. The route winds along the foot of the Spring Mountains, and you can stop at multiple points to take quick hikes back into box canyons with their own microclimates. Stop at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park to tour the home owned by actress Vera Krupp and eccentric Howard Hughes. Drive the secondary loop through Red Rock National Recreation Area and Calico Basin where you can hike and rock climb on the Navajo Sandstone Formation, the same sandstone that runs through Zion National Park all the way to Canyonlands National Park. If you decide to get out of the car and walk around, remember you're still in the desert so plan accordingly with sunscreen and plenty of water.
Las Vegas to Mount Charleston
If the point of your road trip is to get out of the heat, head up US 95 to Mount Charleston. The highest peak in the Spring Mountain range, Mount Charleston is the perfect way to cool off in the summer or enjoy snow you can leave behind in the winter. When you first head out on the 95 from the 215, you'll pass Tule Springs and Floyd Lamb Park off to your right. It's always worth it to make a stop at this series of natural lakes to take in the scenery and enjoy the wildlife. From Tule Springs, the lodge at Mount Charleston is only about a half-hour drive, or stop halfway up at The Retreat on Charleston Peak. Both offer dining options and beautiful views. There are plenty of hiking trails too. In winter you can ski over at Lee Canyon. In summer, bring a picnic. The lodge is known for its Christmas tree decorating, round dining room fireplace and live music.
Las Vegas may be isolated, but if you're willing to drive a little bit and get off the beaten path you'll find there are dozens of ways to turn your boring drive into an epic adventure. From the lake to the mountains, gold fields and ghost towns to massive art installations, there's a little something to pique each person's interests. When you think outside the slot machine, you're ready to make memories better than any movie.