I know it sounds sacrilegious to propose that you do something other than drink, do drugs, gamble, party, have sex, shoot guns, or otherwise participate in vice activities when visiting Las Vegas, but there really is a lot of amazing surrounding town.
This is a truly fabulous hike I used to love to take people on. It’s down past Boulder City, into a slot canyon and down to a set of natural hot spring pools and the Colorado River. You can also get a from-below view of the dam, if you’re there at the right time of day. Super awesome great way to send folks away with a piece of Vegas that few tourists ever bother to taste.
It is a bit of an aggressive adventure – quite a bit of rock tumbling – which might make it less than perfect for very little ones, but it’s incredible. I was able to do it (tho, admittedly, I did feel pushed to the edge of what’s possible for me), and I’m a big baby as hikes go.
The Dam Tour
The Hoover Dam Tour is worth doing, especially if you don’t know much about the dam (as I did not before I went on the tour). Very interesting, that thing.
Valley of Fire
If you’re looking for a more structured park adventure, I strongly recommend Valley of Fire – about an hour north of town – leaps and bounds over Red Rock. Don’t get me wrong – Red Rock is awesome, but I feel like VoF is much more beautiful, especially during sunset. Like, f’real. Also: petroglyphs! Lots of petroglyphs, like on the Mouse’s Tank trail!
If you do VoF, I strongly recommend staying past sunset: not only is sunset gorgeous, but you’re far enough out from the city that, once it gets dark, it gets DARK… which means stars. Lots and lots of stars. It takes a while for the real dark to happen, so I’d suggest bringing some food so that you have something to do after the sun sets before it actually gets dark. One time, I was out there with friends visiting from SF… while hanging out waiting for the dark, a family of bighorn sheep came bounding down out of the hills like 20 or 30 feet from us… hung out for a bit, scavenged, and then went back up into the hills. You couldn’t have paid for that experience.
Within town, there is the Las Vegas Springs Preserve… basically the Las Vegas Conservatory/Botannical Gardens/CentralPark: hiking trails, cactus garden… definitely cool. You do not have to pay to just go in and hike the gardens… you do have to pay for the exhibits, but I’ve never seen them, so I am unable to comment.
Ethel M’s Cactus Garden
The cactus garden at Ethel M’s chocolate factory is pretty fabulous. Ethel M was one of the aunties of the M&M&Mars kids, and it’s sort of the upscale line of M&M&Mars chocolates. There’s a very brief walkthrough of a put-up candy factory, complete with round ladies in white uniforms making chocolate covered apples (it’s not really where the bulk of the stuff is made anymore; it’s really all for show), and at the end they give you a “sample” of chocolate in the gift shop where you’re free to spend money on some arguably decent chocolate. But the real draw for me is the cactus garden outside. That ethel lady, boy howdy, was she thinking forward! She planted a wildly extensive cactus garden like ten thousand years ago or something… some of those fuckers are enormous! Love the shit out of her! The garden alone is worth the trip, I think.