Las Vegas | Adventure Travel Guide
Sin City may not be the first name on your lips when it comes to adventure, but that's about to change
Las Vegas probably isn’t the first place you think of when you picture getting away for an adventure vacation. However, to overlook Sin City is to forget that it’s surrounded by some of the most staggering natural landscape anywhere on the planet. And, of course, when you’re done adventuring, you can always party.
Getting to Las Vegas is really easy. Norwegian offer a direct winter service from London Gatwick to Las Vegas international Airport (or McCarran International Airport, if you absolutely insist). From there, the famous Las Vegas Strip is a 10 minute taxi ride away.
The lights. The casinos. The shows. The constant music pumped out through hidden speakers on the street. It’s true, Las Vegas may not immediately strike you as a hotspot of adventure but, like all the best things in life, this is a city that rewards a little exploration.
The dessert and mountains that surround Las Vegas offer up some genuinely amazing mountain bike trails. Roughly a 30 minute drive east of the Las Vegas strip is Red Rock National Park, which is home to, among others, Calico Basin, Blue Diamond and the theatrically named Cowboy Trails. All offer good riding for intermediate riders, although both beginners and experts will find enough to keep them interested as well.
East of Vegas is the world famous Bootleg Canyon bike park, which offers some 35 miles of singletrack suitable for everybody, be they complete beginners or the very best in the world.
The terrain around Las Vegas also affords some truly spectacular trail running and hiking opportunities. Sloan Canyon is a 30 minute drive South of Las Vegas, and is home to eight volcanoes that are, mercifully, now all extinct.
The views are amazing, if completely alien looking. It’s positively Martian at times. If you’re lucky, you’ll come across some petroglyphs - ancient rock carvings - en route, which act as a good excuse to take a well earned breather.
Also, given Las Vegas is famously built in the desert, you may be surprised to find out that a two hour drive can have you skiing and snowboarding. Over the county line in southern Utah (via Arizona, if you’re being pedantic) is Brian Head ski resort. It’s a relatively small, family resort, especially when compared to the likes of Park City further north in Utah, but Brian Head still enjoys that special snow that Utah is famous for.
Depending on when in the season you go, a lift pass is just $39 a day in the week, for which you can enjoy both mountains that make up the Brian Head resort.
Of course, it would be remiss to talk about Las Vegas without mentioning the strip itself. While not in the most natural setting, there are plenty of ways to spike your adrenaline (legally) on the strip itself.
At the north end of the strip is the Stratosphere hotel which, at 350 metres high, is the tallest viewing platform in the entire US, affording you spectacular views of Vegas and those awe inspiring landscapes beyond. When you’re up there, you can choose to up the ante going on one of the three thrill rides they have at the top (the Insanity ride was enough to make one of our fellow passengers continually repeat the word “Fuck!" in sheer terror throughout the experience).
Even gnarlier is the Sky Jump, the world’s highest commercial decelerator. In short, you jump off the top of the Stratosphere with your fall being slowed at the last possible moment by the cord attached to you.
Of course, all of these attractions come at a price. However, we found the Las Vegas Explorer Pass was a good way of seeing many of the town’s top attractions for a discount price. You just download the pass to your phone (or buy a paper ticket, should you like to keep things vintage), and purchase one of the packages on offer. This lets you visit between three and seven Las Vegas attractions, depending on what package you opt for.
Where to Stay:
If you’re basing yourself on the Las Vegas strip, then the famous Mirage is a spectacular hotel to stay in. One of the most famous and much loved hotels in the city, it has all the grand opulence and extravagance you’d expect from such an institution, yet remains attainable for most budgets.
It’s location smack bang in the middle of the strip makes it ideally located for all the fun on Vegas, but also easy to get away from when adventure calls.
We found that opting for the 'Run The House' deal on the Mirage hotel website - where no specific room is guaranteed, rather one is allocated upon arrival, and then being extra nice and endearingly excitable when checking in can (emphasis on the “can", not “will") land you a much more salubrious room than you paid for.
If your budget is more geared towards all out adventure than the grandeur of the Mirage, then literally over the road is the Casino Royale hotel. Again, the location is perfect, whatever you’re in Las Vegas for, but some of the glitz has been stripped back, making a stay more economical when the purse strings are a little tighter.
Where to Eat:
You won’t be short of options for places to eat in Las Vegas. In fact, the trouble is choosing where to go. However, if you want to go where those in the know eat, head off the strip to downtown Las Vegas.
Set in the old John E. Carson motel is Carson’s Kitchen. Easy to miss if you’re not looking out for it, this is a modern restaurant that walks the line between being achingly cool, and pleasingly casual.
The decor is industrial, but, let’s be honest, you go for the food, which is excellent and pretty reasonably priced, certainly compared to what’s available on the strip.
If you’re looking for something that’s going to fuel your adventures but still taste good, look for one of the four SkinnyFats restaurants around Vegas. SkinnyFats are masters of making indulgent, tasty food while also serving up healthy alternatives.
It’s the perfect balance, whether you’re looking to get some energy for that six hour hike, or you’re looking to tone down the hangover after a six hour session.
Where to Drink:
Just of Freemont Street in downtown Las Vegas is Corduroy. Despite sharing a name with your dad’s favourite slacks, it’s actually a super cool, rock ‘n’ roll themed bar that kind of looks sleazy, but in a very hip way. The looks is loungey, the music’s good, the vibe is hipster, and - most importantly - the beer’s cold and the cocktails strong. Ideal.
If you want to keep things a bit more casual, Golden Spike in downtown Las Vegas is a good spot. With a large outdoor terrace complete with oversized bar games, and a relaxed ‘living room’ themed indoor area that’s a co-working space by day and a super cool bar by night, it’s easy to see why Golden Spike is a must for both locals, and tourists in the know. The fact it looks a bit like Don Draper’s ideal hang out is, of course, a bonus.
What the Locals Say:
“Las Vegas is surrounded on all side by some of the largest, and most ancient landmarks in the entire United States. If you want to mix partying with a more natural high, there really is nowhere like it in the world."
Ed Carter - Photographer, Life-long Las Vegas resident and hiker
Thank you to Norwegian, who fly a winter service direct from London Gatwick to Las Vegas using brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, with a choice of Premium or economy cabins.
Economy fares start from £199.90 one way, £349 return, and Premium fares start from £499.90 one way, £1049 return, which includes lounge access at Gatwick, and more than a metre of legroom. For more information see the Norwegian website.
For more information about the Las vegas Explorer Pass, visit their website.