10 Best Things to Do in Nevada

What is Nevada Most Famous For?

    Nevada is a western US state with large flat lands, prickly pears, desert terrains, colourful boulders, and intriguing natural history. Filled with rich minerals, this region was once a coveted mining source in the Old West with many ghost towns and ruins. This state is North America’s oldest site of petroglyph arts, estimated to be over 15,000 years old.

    Of course, there’s the notorious Las Vegas, but then there’s also Nevada, a bizarre beauty in the middle of nowhere with strange rock formations, quirky landscapes, and perhaps a few low-key aliens. Nevada is also a popular stop for those embarking on the classic American road trip. So, if you happen to be driving through the Southwest, don’t miss out on these fun things to do and see in Nevada.

    1

    “Keep out” of Area 51

    Test sites you’re not allowed to see

    Area 51 is strategically crouched in the mountain range, 85 miles northwest of Las Vegas. This site is mostly known for its extraordinary claims of alien encounters. Learn about the S4 facility, an underground laboratory for the alleged testing of aliens, cloning and new viruses. To this day, the US government still maintains that Area 51 is nothing more than a weapons development facility by the US Air Force.

    Don’t expect to see a lot of things here. The area is barricaded with a razor wire fence and high security, and the GPS is also blocked. To save time, a tour guide is recommended. Go on Route 375 to see the Extraterrestrial Highway sign and stop by the UFO shrine. Also, the Little Ale’Inn is a bar that has their exhibition on the walls with images recounting alien stories.

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    2

    Walk along Truckee River

    Spend the night in Reno cabins

    The Truckee River runs 140 miles east to west, through the Reno city area, where you’ll find shops, restaurants and summer tubing activities. Enjoy a slow day and explore the Reno River Walk where the river runs through Bicentennial Park and downtown. Stop for coffee at the Nevada Museum of Art and see the collections from Aboriginal and Navajo settlers, as well as some contemporary Audubon exhibits.

    Also not to miss is the National Automobile Museum. It’s got more than 230 cars on display, with marvellous vintage cars on their permanent collection, such as the 1892 Philion carriage, the 1907 Thomas Flyer mobile, the sleek Phantom Corsair, and cars owned by James Dean and Elvis Presley.

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    3

    Take a boat trip on Lake Mead

    House boating on the calm waters of Lake Mead

    Lake Mead, about 35 miles from the Vegas strip, is a manmade oasis where the water build-up from Hoover Dam makes this 640-square-mile reservoir. To enjoy the lake, houseboats are the popular choice for mobile lodging, with rentals ranging from $4,000 to $8,000 per week on average, depending on the size and amenities. 

    Drift south toward the Black Canyon hot springs, a downstream area of the Hoover Dam with seeping springs that can reach up to 136°F between the boulder rocks. The nearby marinas are the Lake Mead National Recreation and the Boulder Dam Recreation areas that are popular for paddle boarding and wakeboarding. However, check in advance for swimming conditions, due to the occasional appearance of the blue-green algae.

    Location: Lake Mead, 601 Nevada Way, Boulder City, NV 89005, USA

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    4

    See the historic Hoover Dam

    Take a dam tour on the Colorado River

    One of America’s greatest infrastructures is the Hoover Dam, made with 87.5 million cubic feet of concrete and stands 726 feet tall.  Built during the Great Depression, it helped regulate the flow of the river between the dry summer and the rainy months, and farmers have enjoyed a significant bounty of outputs ever since the 1940s. This dam also contributed to the forming of Las Vegas, as visitors made this area a win-win destination for those who come to marvel at the Hoover Dam while trying out their fortune in Las Vegas.

    The dam is located 26 miles southwest of Las Vegas, but for a scenic drive, start at the Michael Callahan Memorial Bridge for amazing views from a high point. Also, the state border runs right here at the dam, so you can place one foot in Nevada and the other in Arizona, which will also put you in different time zones.

    Location: Hoover Dam Visitor’s Center, 81 Hoover Dam Access Rd, Boulder City, NV 89005, USA

    Phone: +1 702-494-2517

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    5

    Walk the Death Valley

    Outlandish salt flats and ever-changing mountain colours

    Death Valley is the inhabitable territory shared between California and Nevada. Drive through the sizzling mirage of salt flats, the Badwater Basin, at 252 feet below sea level, the lowest point in North America. This area is the second hottest place in the world, with the highest temperature recorded at 134°F.

    For a safe and efficient trip, a 4x4 wheel drive is highly recommended, along with plenty of drinking water. Stop by the Devil’s Golf Course, Dante’s View and the Mesquite Flat sand dunes to see the rugged and gnarly landscapes, unlike any other desert region. The Artists’ Palette is a 9-mile scenic drive on a colourful mountain range of pink, aqua and purple deposits from the mineral oxidation. For your own safety and comfort, avoid visiting Death Valley during summer time (May–September).

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    6

    Stargazing in Tonopah

    Camp under the clearest skies

    Tonopah has the darkest night skies in North America, and is known as the best place for stargazing in the country. However, this area is not in the middle of nowhere. Aside from being a fun RV destination, Tonopah is a small and sleepy town with stores, affordable motels and cafes near the Tonopah Mining Park.

    You can also visit the nearby ghost towns of Manhattan and Belmont that thrived in the mining days, as well as the Tonopah Cemetery which is right next to the eccentric Clown Motel. As for stargazing, the most recommended spot is the Clair Blackburn Memorial Stargazing Park where you can also picnic while setting up your telescope. Again, this area is in a school community, so no need to drive out to stranded areas to get the perfect night view.  

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    photo by Famartin (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    7

    Enjoy a slow day on Lake Tahoe

    Turquoise waters and cabin dwelling

    Known for its crystal blue water, Lake Tahoe looks like an ocean in the middle of the land, but with fresh water. In fact, the purity of the water is at 99.994%, compared to the required drinking water at 99.998%. As one of the oldest lakes in the world, this 194-square-mile beauty has been around for 2 million years and is shared by Nevada and California. To drive around the lake, non-stop, would take about 3 hours.

    From skiing to swimming, Lake Tahoe can be enjoyed year round, with summer activities from March to September. Sand Harbor or Incline Village, is a popular spot for the sandy shores and amazingly clear water. For affordable lodging, great lake views and fewer people, drive south towards Lakeridge, Zephyr Cove, and the Stateline area.  

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    8

    Walk through the Valley of Fire

    Wild rock formations and petroglyphs

    In Nevada’s Mojave Desert is the Valley of Fire, named for the eroded sandstone formations that look like fire when reflecting the twilight sun. This place was used as the backdrop for many Hollywood movies from Star Trek to Transformers. It takes about 5 hours for the whole walk, alternating with the mandatory driving to get to the popular spots. Highlights include the Pink Canyon, the Fire Wave, the Mouse’s Tank, the Rainbow Vista, and the petrified forests with tree logs aged at 150 million years since the Jurassic period. The oldest petroglyphs in North America are right here in Nevada, and you can see them throughout the area. Decipher the petroglyphs at the Atlatl Rock and see the symbols for the weather, the counting system, and the river map.

    Also, the night sky here is ideal for viewing the Milky Way. However, while summer days can reach over 100°F, be mindful of the extreme temperature changes between day and night, particularly from May to October.

    Location: Valley of Fire State Park, 29450 Valley of Fire Hwy, Overton, NV 89040, USA

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    9

    See the circus and oddities of Las Vegas

    Sin City has loads of mind-bending shows

    Known for its grandiose style and stature, Las Vegas is a great way to end your Nevada trip, with its line-up of spectacular shows from all over the world. Aside from casinos, this bustling city also offers family-friendly entertainment with some long-standing runs like Penn and Teller, and David Copperfield magic shows. 

    Other popular, long-running shows are the Cirque de Soleil troupe, with rotating themes such as “O,” a surreal performance with water acrobatics and cool costumes, and “Love” by the Beatles with special effects and aerial acrobatics. Another crowd favourite is the Blue Man Group with its paint splatters, interactive audience, and messy finales, while the Zombie Burlesque is a quirky, Vegas-centric burlesque show made for the older crowd.

    Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

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    photo by Jun Seita (CC BY 2.0) modified

    10

    Burning Man Festival

    A safe space for self-expression

    Held every August, the Burning Man event is a 1-week pop-up art festival that has welcomed as many as 70,000 people into the dusty grounds of Black Rock City, right above the town of Gerlach, northwest of Nevada. To clear the misconception, Burning Man is not a concert, but a playground for self-expression and an open-air art gallery that encourages people to contribute to art installations. 

    On the last day, the crowd gathers around its main art piece, a gigantic statue of a man, and celebrate by burning it down. Surprisingly, the crowd is not your average bunch of hippies. They’re made up of a very diverse background, from doctors, teachers, retirees, and people of all ages. Note that there’s no Wi-Fi. Participants should live in the moment, take their trash with them when they leave, and bring necessary supplies for other attendees as gifts, as there are no goods or merchandise for sale.

    Location: Black Rock Desert, Nevada, USA

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    Joy Sanyapongse | Contributing Writer

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