Though COVID-19 has stalled many travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your current—and future—adventures.
When planning a trip to Las Vegas, most people don’t consider scuba diving around a boat wreck, hiking past waterfalls, or searching for endangered fish in spring-fed wetlands. But these water-based activities—and more—are widely available nearby at places like Lake Mead, Red Rock Canyon, and Death Valley. For water-filled fun beyond your hotel pool, head to the rivers, parks, and wildlife refuges surrounding Vegas and prepare to discover an unexpected side of the Neon Capital of the World.
Your stylish home base
Every great adventure needs a starting point, and you’ll find yours at the JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa. Located in Summerlin, this Mediterranean-style hotel is just minutes from The Strip—close to the action but removed enough from the bustle. Rooms and suites pamper guests with pillow-top bedding and marble bathrooms with jetted tubs, while dining options include American, Asian, and Italian restaurants, as well as a poolside grill, buffet, café, and deli. When not winning big at the onsite Rampart Casino, guests can play 18 holes on the championship golf course, indulge at the full-service Spa Aquae, or simply relax by the pool, which features cabanas, a waterfall, and a grotto.
Wake and lake
Fuel up for your first day of exploration at Bagel Café, just a four-minute drive east of the JW Marriott. The New York-inspired spot serves 20 different kinds of freshly baked bagels, plus egg sandwiches, potato pancakes, and a variety of delicious pastries. Once you’ve had your fill, head straight for Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The country’s first and largest national recreation area, it spans 1.5 million acres that include Lake Mead and Lake Mohave, vast bodies of water that offer a range of water activities in a picturesque setting.
With more than 290 square miles of waterway to navigate, the area is ideal for boating. Experience the thrill of the open water or anchor in a hidden cove, or go kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding across either lake, surrounded by colorful mountains. Boat and equipment rentals—as well as several guided tours—are available at the marinas. You can even attempt tubing, waterskiing, wakeboarding, or wake surfing with outfitters like Las Vegas Water Sports.
Famous for its striped bass, Lake Mead National Recreation Area also offers some of the country’s best sport fishing. Cast your line off Hemenway or Katherine Landing piers or go to Willow Beach, where rainbow trout are regularly released on Fridays. If you’d rather swim with the fish, know that Lake Mead is one of the top freshwater lakes in the world for scuba diving, with a range of depths and submerged sites for both novice and experienced divers. Discover irregular erosion forms at the Gypsum Reefs; fin around a sunken tow barge; or explore Cabinsite Point, the resting place of two separate boat wrecks. For a guided tour, go with Las Vegas Scuba or Scuba Training and Technology to the B-29 Superfortress, a protected cultural resource submerged in Overton Arm.
Those that prefer rivers to lakes will want to check out the Black Canyon National Water Trail, located within Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The 30-mile stretch of the Colorado River, running from the Hoover Dam to Eldorado Canyon, flows past beaches, caves, coves, hot springs, and vast wilderness. While paddling down the trail, you might spot desert bighorn sheep and other wildlife on the cliffs that line the river as well as historic structures associated with the construction of the Hoover Dam.
Back in Summerlin for the evening, grab dinner at Honey Salt, a favorite for its comfort food and homey decor. Dishes range from caramelized sea scallops and Scottish salmon to buttermilk fried chicken and charred filet mignon.
Several ways to water
The next day, start your morning at The Cracked Egg, a cozy diner with a menu of breakfast classics and updates like a ham-and-cheese French toast sandwich. Then make the 12-minute drive to Red Rock Canyon, Nevada’s very first National Conservation Area. Amid the desert cliffs, rock formations, and tributary canyons, it might not be obvious where the water is but just follow the trails. The 2.2-mile Ice Box Canyon is a challenging hike and along the way you’ll pass seasonal waterfalls flowing down from the mountains. There’s also the four-mile, more moderate White Rock–Willow Springs trail, which descends to a man-made water hole called a guzzler.
For something a bit less extreme, opt to visit Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs, also just a short drive from the JW Marriott. The 680-acre park is full of wildlife, lush vegetation, views of the Sheep and Spring Ranges, and sparkling lakes. Tucked inside the park is the historic Tule Springs Ranch, where you can learn about a traditional working ranch and the early Las Vegas lifestyle.
If you’re game to venture a little further from your hotel, you can take a tour with Hoover Dam Rafting Adventures around the impressive Hoover Dam. You’ll journey just far enough down the Colorado River to get a feel for the surreal setting, while enjoying rare views of the dam and new bypass bridge from the water. You can also expect to see concrete slabs, steps, and rails used to build the dam, as well as features like the Old Catwalk, the Gauging Station, and removed rock hillsides.
Whichever you choose, finish with dinner at Other Mama across from Desert Breeze park in Summerlin. Known for its raw bar and innovative cocktails, the low-key spot offers a menu of seafood like ceviche, spicy tuna tartare, and scallop carpaccio, plus sushi and a healthy sampling of other Japanese dishes.
Venture further afield
Today’s first stop is nearly two hours away, so head to The Goodwich before getting on the road. The Downtown Vegas spot has some of the best sandwiches in the city, including the “Ham&” with mostarda and the Fluff n’ Nut with house-made fluff and Nutella.
Once you’ve assembled the perfect picnic, start the 90-minute drive to Ash Meadows National Refuge. With 24,000 acres of spring-fed wetlands and alkaline desert, it’s the largest remaining oasis in the Mojave Desert and home to nearly 30 species of plants and animals that don’t exist anywhere else on earth. The water here is known as fossil water, because it comes from melted ice from the last Ice Age and has a bright blue hue, providing a stunning contrast against the harsh desert landscape. Take tons of pictures while imagining how mammoths once drank from these very springs, then check out Devils Hole—a water-filled, geothermal cave that’s more than 500 feet deep and the only natural habitat for the highly endangered Devils Hole pupfish.
Directly east of Ash Meadows is the more widely known Death Valley National Park, where most visitors come to experience the panorama of rugged canyons and mountains. You’re here, however, to seek out the springs and seeps—oases in the desert where groundwater reaches the land’s surface. Ranging from small, seasonal seeps that go dry in summer to perennial streams that flow all year long, these water sources support an abundance of plant and animal life, including bighorn sheep, mountain lions, birds, and some fish that have evolved to live only here. As wetland and riparian areas decrease, the importance of these pristine habitats in Death Valley increase, so if you find one, consider yourself lucky.
If you’re up for covering some serious distance, make the roughly 2.5-hour drive to Grand Canyon National Park. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, the park encompasses 277 miles of the Colorado River, offering incredible rafting opportunities. For something that can be done in a day trip, book the Horseshoe Bend Rafting Experience with Glen Canyon Rafting Hospitality, which includes a gentle float down 15 miles of river with stops at Glen Canyon Dam, Petroglyph Beach, Horseshoe Bend, and Lees Ferry. The outfitter also offers anywhere from 3.5- to 12-day rafting trips, during which groups experience the thrill of rapids while also learning about the history and geology of the Colorado River.
Close out your trip with dinner at La Strega, a beloved Italian spot where chef Gina Marinelli serves traditional fare from Lake Como and Sicily.
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