We all know that Las Vegas is known for its bright lights, incredible cuisine and endless entertainment that goes on nonstop during the city’s 24-hour operation. It’s a city that truly never sleeps.
What some might not realize is that there are many, less flashy things to do off the Strip. Within an hour drive of Sin City is enough natural beauty and wonder to keep you entertained for much less than any Vegas show. We wanted to highlight our favorite things to do on a budget, both on and off Las Vegas Boulevard.
Red Rock Canyon is one of our favorite places to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and connect with nature. You can hike, bird, rock climb or just even a picnic next to beautiful red rock boulders.
If you aren’t able to get out and hike, there is a breathtaking 13-mile scenic drive with many pull offs for taking brilliant photographs.
Note: there is a daily entrance fee of $7 per vehicle, but since it is BLM operated, all annual/lifetime national parks passes are accepted to cover the admission fee.www.redrockcanyonlv.org
Another beautiful display of red rock boulders can be found northeast of downtown Las Vegas at Valley of Fire State Park. A great first stop is the visitor center which has rocks outside for the kids to climb on, rangers inside to gather information on site seeing and hikes, and even a little gift shop to grab a snack or souvenir.
There is very little water throughout the park so make sure you fill up here and bring plenty with you. One of the most unique campgrounds I have seen can be found within the park and is best suited for small rigs and tents.
There are not many places where you will find yourself sleeping underneath boulders like you will here. Note: there is a daily fee of $10 per vehicle. Nevada residents enjoy a $2 discount. parks.nv.gov/parks/valley-of-fire-state-park
The sheer size of Hoover Dam is something you just need to see in person. There are a few different ways to experience the dam, so there is something to fit everyone’s needs and budget.
If you are looking for free, then make sure to stop at the pedestrian bridge plaza to find free parking and access (both stairs and a handicap/stroller accessible ramp) to the pedestrian bridge which will give you a magnificent view of the Hoover Dam with educational panels along the way.
Don’t miss the plaque on the ground showing the Nevada/Arizona state border line.
If you are willing to pay a bit, then there are tours offered to actually go in the dam. You can pay to park or continue on to the Arizona side for free parking and about a half-mile walk to the dam. www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam
Lake Mead National Recreation Area was made possible because of the Hoover Dam. Without the Hoover Dam Lake Mead wouldn’t have been formed and wouldn’t be the beautiful recreation place that it is today.
There are old mining tunnels that you can hike to, boat tours you can take and beautiful areas to picnic, swim, camp and relax. Like most national park areas, there is something for everyone!
A stop at the visitor center is highly recommended for information on the area, ranger talks, themed videos and, of course, a great place to pick up a souvenir. Daily admission is charged, but those with an annual national parks pass are admitted for free. www.nps.gov/lake/index.htm
Horses for Heroes is an amazing organization about 30 minutes north of the city that strives to make horseback riding affordable for everyone, especially our military, police, fire, teachers and other public servants. It started as their way to say “thank you” to the local heroes.
The organization’s $5 Fridays are a great day to take an inexpensive horseback ride, pet the farm animals and mingle with the staff. Our kids even got to walk a miniature pony. Check the website for the latest events and camps. www.horses4heroes.org/tag/las-vegas
Off the strip about six miles is Sam’s Town Casino and Hotel which is home to the Mystic Falls park. This inside park comes alive at 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 p.m. The hotel provides free parking for this free laser and water show that will keep your family entertained from start to finish. samstownlv.com/entertain/mystic-falls
The fountains of Bellagio are a musical work of art that will capture your soul and leave you wanting to dance on the streets. The exact schedule can be found online, but whichever show you catch, you will thoroughly enjoy it.
I highly suggest timing it so you can see a “performance” during daylight as well as under the night lights of Las Vegas. www.bellagio.com
Make sure that you don’t miss the stunning architecture and forum shops at Caesar’s Palace Casino and Hotel. Throughout the day you can view the Fall of Atlantis animatronic show and the 50,000 gallon aquarium. www.caesars.com
Located inside Showcase Mall, the four story M&M store is one of our favorites. There is a giant wall were M&M’s are separated so you can choose your favorite colors and varieties to purchase. As you travel up the escalator you will find souvenirs and one of the M&M NASCAR race cars. You can also enjoy a free 3D movie, “How Red lost his M.” www.mmsworld.com/locations.aspx
The volcano at the Mirage Hotel and Casino is quite the site to see and goes off twice nightly during the week at 8 and 9 p.m., and three times on the weekend at 8, 9 and 10 p.m. You can catch it right from the strip. www.mirage.com/en/amenities/volcano.html
Circus Circus Casino is a highlight for kids of all ages. Not only is there an amusement park and fullsize midway with arcade games (fee), but there are free circus acts daily starting at 11 a.m. Check the website for the acts of the day and make sure to get there about 15 minutes early to ensure a seat in the “grandstands.” www.circuscircus.com
Stop by and listen to one of the international talents inside the Venetian hotel during the “streetmosphere.” It’s best to check the website for up to date times and locations. But, whenever you stop during day hours you’ll be sure to see a talented performer. www.venetian.com/shopping/grand-canal-shoppes/streetmosphere.html
The Wildlife Habitat At Flamingo is open daily from 8 a.m. to dusk and offers free viewing of the pelican feeding twice a day. This wildlife refuge is a tranquil break from the busyness of the strip and perfect for visitors of all ages. www.caesars.com/flamingo-las-vegas/things-to-do/wildlife-habitat
Imagine a group of restaurants, boutiques and entertainment areas all built around old shipping containers. That is exactly what you will find at Downtown Container Park near the Fremont Street Experience.
Besides the free playground and large grassy area with life sized Legos, you will find free concerts and a 40-foot, fire breathing praying mantis to greet you at the entrance. Try to time it right to be there at dusk and you will be to participate in the drum circle to wake up the praying mantis for the night. Note: Container Park is restricted to people 21 and older after 9 p.m. downtowncontainerpark.com
The Fremont Street Experience is just that, an experience! I will caution those visiting with children to visit this at your own risk. The amazing light show show on the 1,500 feet long and 90 feet wide Viva vision dome which covers the street is family friendly, but the surrounding sites might not be.
It goes without saying that the later you show up, the most risque the crowd will be. The first show of the day is just after dusk and shows are playing on the big screen every hour until about midnight.
There is also free, live music and plenty of people watching to keep you busy for hours! If you’re truly adventurous, you might consider taking the zip line from one end of Fremont Street to the other. vegasexperience.com/viva-vision-light-show
It wasn’t until my visit to Ethel M Chocolate factory and free self guided tour that I realized the “M” stood for Mars! That explained the connection to the M&M shop right next store in their Henderson location. Make sure to get your free Ethel M sample from the tasting room and bring home a tasty treat.
On the grounds of the factory is a beautiful cactus garden which is also free to walk through. Don’t miss cacti varieties from all over the southwest. www.ethelm.com
Attached to Bass Pro Shops is the Silverton Casino which is home to a 117,000-gallon, 360-degree viewing aquarium that is home to stingrays and thousands of tropical fish. Make sure to visit during the sting ray feeding times and live mermaid show. It’s a one of a kind show to say the least. The times for these shows can be found at their website. silvertoncasino.com/amenities/aquarium
All these activities should keep you busy for awhile during your stay in Las Vegas and hopefully help to keep some money in your pockets.