While many travelers head to Vegas for the bright lights and excitement of the Strip, the mega-entertainment destination is also a popular launchpad for road trips that explore the iconic national parks in the desert Southwest.
Road trippers need to decide whether to pick up their rental car at McCarran Airport or downtown Vegas. Either way, be prepared for some of the highest rental car fees in the nation.
Wherever you're heading, be sure to leave time to swing by the Hoover Dam, which is only a 45-minute trip from downtown Vegas and an easy stop on your way to some of the other destinations on this list. You'll approach the dam when you're near the Nevada-Arizona border and can take in the views or enjoy a guided tour of the Dam and the power plant. It's free to walk or drive across Hoover Dam and the Colorado River Bridge, but there is a charge for parking, admission to the visitor center and tours.
Fabulous Road Trips from Las Vegas
The Grand Canyon
273 miles / 4 hrs. 15 mins.
If you're picking up a rental car on the Las Vegas strip or at McCarran airport, take highway 93 south from Las Vegas to Interstate 40 east to Arizona Highway 64 north. When you arrive at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, head to the visitor center at the Grand Canyon Village to get oriented. From the village, you can get on the Bright Angel Trail but be forewarned that it's about nine miles to the bottom of the canyon so the experience isn't for everyone.
Zion National Park
171 miles / 2 hrs. 45 mins
Hop on Interstate 15 North just west of the airport, and follow it all the way across the Utah border before taking exit 16 for Utah Highway 9, which will lead you to the southern entrance of the park. Stay on that road, or Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, for stunning views of the entire valley as you make your way east. Or, make your way to one of the shuttle stops for the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and enjoy a stres-free view of the park as you wind your way through canyons and cliffs. You'll find observation spots and entrances to hiking trails along either route. If you can stay a day or two, opt for popular (but strenuous) hikes like The Narrows, Angels' Landing, or Emerald Pools.
Death Valley National Park
157 miles / 2 hrs. 48 mins.
Despite its unfortunate moniker, Death Valley is worth a visit for its stunning Mojave Desert landscape and bragging rights of being at the lowest elevation in North America. Although Death Valley is in California, the closest major airport is in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, the fastest way to get there is also the least scenic. For a prettier drive, head west on NV-160 to Pahrump, then take NV-372 which heads south and turns into CA-178 at the state border. This scenic route goes into the Sierra Nevadas and turns north on CA-127 through Deadman Pass. From there, it's 25 mils to Death Valley Junction, where you can take CA-190 west 38 more miles to the national park. Be sure to gas up before heading into Death Valley, as you do not want to run out of fuel there.
Bryce Canyon National Park
260 miles / 4 hrs.
Despite its name, Bryce Canyon is not technically a canyon—but that doesn't make its towering red rock formations any less stunning. Head north on Interstate 15 as if you were going towards Zion, but stay on the interstate until you reach Utah State 20 highway, which takes you towards the park. You can enjoy most of the dramatic vistas in Bryce Canyon from your car, or explore one of the easy day hikes like Navajo Loop or the Queen's Garden Trail. If time allows, catch a sunset at Sunset Point for an unforgettable evening.
280 miles / 4 hrs. and 30 mins.
Take Interstate 15 away from the city again, and follow Utah state highway 9 and Arizona state highway 389 east along the Utah-Arizona border. Back on US Highway 89 you'll pass Lake Powell, another popular road trip destination from Vegas. You may want to book a tour in advance--Antelope Canyon is a popular tourist destination and they fill up quickly. For the best views of the light beams falling along the canyon walls, visit midday in summer, but be warned you won't be the only one looking for that perfect canyon photo. Visit from November to March to avoid the crowds.