For most tourists, Nevada is equivalent to Las Vegas. If you travel to the western US once in your life, the famous gambling city may be the only thing you will see of Nevada. That’s a shame, because the state has much more to offer. Many other beautiful places are also worth exploring. Spectacular landscapes in Red Rock Canyon and the Valley of Fire State Park, the underground Lehman Caves or a desolate road trip along Lonely Highway 50: there is a lot to experience. The state is too vast to devote an entire holiday to it, but in combination with the neighboring states of Utah and Arizona, exploring a bit of Nevada is highly recommended.
- Beautiful places and sights in Nevada (USA): what to see and do?
- Red Rock Canyon
- Great Basin National Park
- Lonely Highway 50
- Cathedral Gorge State Park
- Virginia City
- Valley of Fire State Park
- Hoover Dam and Lake Mead
- Lake Tahoe and Pyramid Lake
Beautiful places and sights in Nevada (USA): what to see and do?
Nevada is vast and sparsely populated. It is also the driest state in the US. Three-quarters of the population lives in Las Vegas. This might make you think that there is little to see except Las Vegas, but nothing could be further from the truth. The state has many sights and beautiful places to offer.
Old towns where the spirit of the Wild West still haunts, beautiful nature with deep blue lakes and spectacular landscapes: that is also Nevada.
Whoever says Nevada also says Las Vegas. The metropolis in the desert is Nevada’s most important city and one big paradise for gambling and entertainment enthusiasts. One mega resort and hotel with associated casino rose here next to the other.
There is enough to do in Las Vegas to keep you entertained for two or three days. The large hotels offer numerous opportunities for relaxation from enormous swimming pools to rollercoasters, small zoos, entertainment and much more. There are spectacular shows in the afternoon and especially in the evening. Of course, taking a chance should not be missed.
Red Rock Canyon / Source: Drachiele, Pixabay
Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock Canyon is located sixteen kilometers (ten miles) from downtown Las Vegas. So you can easily visit it during your stay in the gambling city.
It is a breathtaking place with an impressive landscape of low hills, steep ravines and rocks. In short, a huge contrast to the artificial neon lights and glitter of Vegas.
A thirteen mile long road (the scenic drive) branches off from Highway 159 and runs through the canyon. Along the way you will find numerous stops and picnic areas to enjoy the beautiful view. Walking is also possible. Short but beautiful trails start along the scenic drive along the steep canyons.
For more information about the fauna and flora of Red Rock Canyon, stop at the visitor center at the beginning of the scenic drive. With a bit of luck you can spot bighorn sheep in the park. It is estimated that there are still about a hundred specimens living in the canyon.
Great Basin National Park
This national park is somewhat remote in a remote corner of Nevada near the border with Utah. As a result, there are fewer visitors and fewer crowds compared to other national parks in the southwestern US. You feel more immersed in nature here. The only place in the area with a gas station, simple restaurant and (little) accommodation is Baker.
Tourists mainly come to Great Basin to visit the Lehman Caves or hike around Wheeler Peak.
You can buy tickets for the Lehman Caves at the visitor center. These beautiful subterranean caves can only be seen during a guided tour with a park ranger. The temperature in the cave is a cool ten degrees Celsius. So bringing a sweater is a good idea.
This mountain of almost four thousand meters rises majestically from the desert. A narrow and winding scenic drive, only accessible in high season, leads to the top. Hiking trails depart from here to beautiful mountain lakes, ice fields and ancient forests. You can also hike to the top of the mountain along an 8.2-mile round-trip trail. However, this is an exhausting walk with a tough climb and therefore not for inexperienced hikers.
Highway 50 / Source: Jay Galvin, Flickr (CC BY-2.0)
Lonely Highway 50
If you’re going from Utah back to California through Nevada, consider a short road trip along Highway 50. This road crosses the state from west to east. The nickname the loneliest road in America did not come out of nowhere. The road seems to go on forever through a deserted desert landscape, with only the sound of the wind and only the occasional truck or oncoming vehicle. There are only a handful of small towns along the way. Interesting stops from west to east are:
Ely is one of the largest towns along Highway 50. It has a beautiful historic downtown to walk around or even spend the night. As befits a city of some size in Nevada, there are of course also a few casinos where you can take a gamble.
An old nineteenth-century mining town along Highway 50 with a few cafes and hotels along the main street: that’s how you can describe Eureka. The historic courthouse and opera house are interesting to view.
Austin is not much more than a short main street with some old buildings from the nineteenth century. You can stop there for a coffee or a snack between the long drive. The International Cafe & Saloon on Main Street is one of Nevada’s oldest buildings. You can enjoy a delicious breakfast at the Toiyabe Cafe.
If you only stop at one place along Highway 50, do it in Cold Springs. The beautiful views alone are worth it. So the message is to stretch your legs. A mile-and-a-half walk to the ruins of the 1860 Pony Express Station is also interesting to soak up the atmosphere of the Old West.
Sand Mountain Recreation Area
Twenty-five miles before Fallon, this recreation area is located along Highway 50. It is known for its singing dunes. The low humming sound of the sand is most audible on dry and hot evenings.
The Topgun fighter school of the US Navy is located in Fallon. F16 fighter pilots are trained here. For the rest there is not much to see. There is a small museum on Main Street and you can stop there for a coffee or a quick bite.
Cathedral Gorge State Park
This small park, unknown to the general public, is one of those forgotten gems of Nevada. Not many tourists take the time for a stop. You can find the park fifteen miles north of Caliente.
The Cathedral Gorge is a particularly beautiful canyon. The best viewpoint, Miller Point Overlook, offers spectacular views of the site. There are also many easy hiking trails leading to narrower canyons. The longest trail, a four-mile loop hike, allows you to reach the more distant parts of the park.
Reno is known as little Vegas and ‘the biggest little city in the world’ and there is something to that. This city also relies mainly on casinos, but on a smaller scale and with less glitz and glamor than big brother Las Vegas.
Most casinos are located along Virginia Street and are open twenty-four hours a day. Just like in Vegas, they usually have their own theme. There is also a Circus Circus hotel here with free circus acts. Other interesting casinos are Eldorado, Silver Legacy, Harrahs, Peppermill and Atlantis.
Would you like to experience the atmosphere of the old west? Then Virginia City is for you. Located twenty-five miles south of Reno, the town is a string of old Victorian homes, wooden sidewalks and historic saloons.
Especially on C Street you will find some nice places such as the Crystal Bar and the Bucket of Blood Saloon. The Gold Hill Hotel & Saloon on Main Street is also worth a visit.
Valley of Fire State Park / Source: Dbmcnicol, Pixabay
Valley of Fire State Park
Just fifty-five miles northeast of Las Vegas you’ll find Valley of Fire State Park. It’s the perfect stop for those driving from Las Vegas to Utah and the Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. This picturesque place is a gem of desert landscapes with numerous beautiful red rock formations. In summer it can be very hot here. Visiting the park in spring or autumn is therefore best.
An eleven-mile winding road runs through the park. Along the way you will pass interesting stops such as Rainbow Vista and the Fire Canyon. Silica Dome, where Captain Kirk met his end in the film Star Trek: Generations, is also a beautiful place.
Four well-maintained trails run through the park. An easy trail is the eight-hundred-meter Petroglyph Canyon Trail. This loop-shaped walk takes you past beautiful prehistoric rock paintings.
Hoover Dam and Lake Mead
The Hoover Dam is one of the largest dams in the world. It is no less than 379 meters high. The dam was built to dam the Colorado River and provides electricity for the entire region. Construction started in 1931 and everything was finished in 1935.
Lake Mead is an artificial lake, created after the construction of the Hoover Dam. The canyons dug by the Colorado filled with water. Lake Mead is immense: it is no less than 177 kilometers long and 63,900 hectares in size, good for 35.2 million m³ of water. The other side of the coin was that historic ruins of Indian villages from 500 BC have disappeared forever under the water. Today, Lake Mead is a recreational area where you can swim, hike, fish, kayak and more. There is also a beautiful scenic drive along the banks of the lake, with viewpoints and hiking trails.
Lake Tahoe and Pyramid Lake
Besides Lake Mead, Nevada has more beautiful lakes.
Lake Tahoe is actually half in California and half in Nevada. It is a beautiful lake with beautiful blue and clear water, large rocks and beaches. It is a cool place in summer and a ski resort in winter. A panoramic route runs around the lake, taking you through one magical spot or landscape after another.
Driving around the lake from the town of South Lake Tahoe on the border of California and Nevada is fun, but the seventy-two miles of shoreline progress slowly and you will want to stop regularly at beautiful places and viewpoints along the way. Therefore, plan at least a full day. Two days is better if you also want to take a few short walks along the way.
Just south of South Lake Tahoe, you can take the Heavenly Aerial Tramway and Heavenly Gondola cable cars to the top of Monument Peak (more than three thousand meters), where you can enjoy a beautiful view of the lake among the surrounding mountains. At the summit you’ll also find the Tahoe Vista Trail, a two-and-a-half-mile hiking trail with even more spectacular views.
Emerald Bay and the Inspiration View Point further along the shores of the lake are also not to be missed. You always have a view of a beautiful landscape.
Pyramid Lake / Source: USFWS Pacific Southwest Region, Flickr (CC BY-2.0) Pyramid Lake
About twenty-five miles north of Reno lies Pyramid Lake, perhaps one of the most beautiful lakes in the entire US. The beautiful blue water contrasts with the surrounding harsh desert landscape. Along the coast you will find beautiful beaches and rock formations. One of the most spectacular formations is the Great Stone Mother. This rock resembles a seated Indian woman with a basket at her side.
Pyramid Lake played an important role in the history of the Paiute Indian tribe. At the visitor center you can learn more about this intriguing and mythical place.
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