Nevada Holiday Planning Guide
The neon streets of Las Vegas represent only one chapter in the story of Nevada, a sparsely populated state offering travelers a chance to discover the country's western frontier. Utterly unlike the more populated parts of the North American continent, Nevada's landscape includes huge deserts where you can easily leave modern civilization behind. For a taste of untamed Nevada, explore the network of paved and unpaved roads leading to some of the world's most rugged and desolate natural wonders. If trying to make a fortune is high on your Nevada itinerary, remember that in the first state to legalize gambling, a slot machine is never too far away. Even gas stations and small motels in the largely deserted rural areas offer some form of gambling to the passing traveler.
Places to Visit in NevadaLas Vegas
: "Entertainment Capital of the World," "Sin City," and the "City of Lights," this iconic party town has earned itself a wide range of nicknames since its founding in 1905. Whether you visit this neon fantasyland to gamble, catch a show, or even get hitched, you're bound to leave Las Vegas with more than a few interesting travel tales.Reno
: Gambling and outdoor adventure collide in Reno, a city for adrenaline junkies of all persuasions. Mega casinos boast a scenic mountain backdrop while the downtown area plays host to a wide range of nightlife destinations. Boulder City
: Boulder City was created in the 1930s to house workers during the building of the Hoover Dam. Today, this desert city boasts excellent golf courses and varied shopping destinations--but no casinos, as it is one of only two cities in Nevada to prohibit gambling. Henderson
: Nevada's second-largest city, Henderson's wide palm tree-lined boulevards feature shopping complexes, movie theaters, and casinos to rival those of nearby Vegas. Great Basin National Park
: Snow-capped mountains, fragrant sagebrush, and bizarre limestone formations emerge from the isolated high-altitude desert of Great Basin National Park, an ideal Nevada vacation destination for those who want to experience the untouched beauty of the state.
Things to Do in Nevada
Popular Nevada Tourist AttractionsBellagio Fountains
: The Bellagio Fountains put on a dazzling show of water, lights, and music every half an hour, making them one of the highlights of the Vegas strip.Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
: Rugged sandstone rocks tower up to 910 m (3,000 ft) in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, a popular hiking, climbing, and biking spot. Stratosphere Tower
: America's tallest freestanding observation tower, the Stratosphere Tower not only provides panoramic views of Las Vegas, but also boasts a luxurious dining room, two roller coasters, and a controlled free-fall attraction. Hoover Dam
: Straddling the border between Arizona and Nevada, Hoover Dam is one the nation's most famous Depression-era projects and an engineering marvel. The Strip
: An icon of Las Vegas, The Strip is renowned for the multitude of hotels, casinos, and famed Nevada tourist attractions, all squeezed into 7 km (4 mi) of road. At night, it dazzles with its lurid neon signs and electric atmosphere. National Automobile Museum - The Harrah Collection
: Showcasing automobiles from the late 19th century onwards, the National Automobile Museum's staggering collection includes a number of celebrity-owned and driven cars, including Elvis Presley's Cadillac, John F. Kennedy's Lincoln Continental, and the 1949 Mercury Series 9CM driven by James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause." Madame Tussauds Las Vegas
: A chance to rub elbows with the rich and fabulous, Madame Tussauds Las Vegas features lifelike models of world-famous musicians, actors, and sports stars, including a few Las Vegas legends. Eiffel Tower Experience at Paris Las Vegas
: A half-scale replica of the famous French structure, the Eiffel Tower Experience at Paris Las Vegas grants visitors 360-degree views of the Vegas strip. Its observation deck and French restaurant are accessible via a glass elevator. Valley of Fire State Park
: Named after its deep-red rock formations, Valley of Fire State Park is dotted with fascinating geological formations, some of which are marked with ancient petroglyphs. The Mob Museum
: The Mob Museum chronicles the history and grisly details of organized crime in the United States as well as the law enforcement initiatives that have helped to control it.
Planning a Nevada Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Nevada with Kids
A region of thrills, entertainment, and great expanses of nature, Nevada makes an excellent destination for a family vacation. Though children are excluded from some of the darker pleasures of the Las Vegas
strip, they'll love the city's roller coasters, unusual museums, and multitude of candy stores. What's more, Red Rock Canyon is just a short drive away for when you all need a break from the bustle and bright lights. Reno
offers similar child-friendly delights but in a calmer atmosphere, with less oppressive summer temperatures, and easy access to beautiful Lake Tahoe
. If you want your kids to learn more about the state's history on your trip, include Virginia City
in your Nevada itinerary. This Victorian-era town is chock-full of historical and engaging attractions, including Old West saloons, horse-drawn carriage rides, and a steam railroad. Active families that want to immerse themselves in the great outdoors should consider Boulder City
as a base for their Nevada holiday, which both offer close proximity to the water sports, picnic grounds, and playgrounds of Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Things to Do in Nevada with Kids
Exploring the Wild West heritage on your tour of Nevada is not only an educational lesson in history, but lots of fun for kids. You can choose from a wide range of attractions in this state that wears its cowboy and pioneer past so proudly, but Bonnie Springs Old Nevada
provides a particularly engaging insight. Its 1880s replica town plays host to live performances, impromptu "gunfights," and a whole host of photo opportunities. For more interactive learning experiences, swing by Discovery Children's Museum
and The Discovery
, which both feature hands-on activities for young and active minds. If you've got critter-crazy kids, don't miss the opportunity to see the toothy predators of Shark Reef Aquarium
or the adorable bears at Animal Ark
on your Nevada trip.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Nevada
As is the case with much of this huge country, you're best off renting a car to travel between towns and to access more out-of-the-way Nevada attractions. However, drives can be very long and involve great expanses of desert that kids may find unexciting. It's a good idea to bring lots of snacks, games, and audiobooks along for the ride to help keep youngsters occupied.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Nevada
Cuisine of Nevada
In 2013, humorous news website Deadspin compiled a Great American Menu, listing each state's official or most famous food. Sadly for Nevada, they received an empty plate. Truth be told, there are very few dishes associated with this westerly state and few regional foods to sample on your Nevada trip. Most eateries in small towns serve up typical American fare, such as hamburgers and steaks, while Las Vegas'
plethora of restaurants offer nearly every cuisine under the sun. If undecided about where to dine in Vegas, simply head to one of Sin City's famous world buffets, where you can have your lasagna with a side of sushi. That said, if there were one food that could define Las Vegas, it would have to be the shrimp cocktail. Made famous by the Golden Gate Hotel, this appetizer can be ordered in most restaurants.
Although Nevada as a state doesn't have a distinct cuisine, a number of its communities do. The sizeable Hispanic population has had a profound influence on the restaurant scene, giving rise to a number of Latin-themed eateries. These vary in authenticity, with many altering dishes to better suit American tastes. If your Nevada itinerary takes you to the north, you may come across some Basque restaurants. Basque people settled here during the state's Gold Rush, and although their population has decreased significantly, the culinary delights remain. Chateaubriand, a Basque steak delicacy, can be found on menus in both Basque and non-Basque restaurants. It's a must for those who like their steak rare, involving a somewhat costly cooking method where a thick steak is cooked between two thinner steaks that are later discarded.
Shopping in Nevada
Las Vegas famously caters to its visitors' every whim, and its shops are no exception. Whether you want to spend some serious cash in a mega mall or barter over sage-scented candles, you're in luck. For luxury shopping, few destinations can compete with Crystals and Bellagio Hotel and Casino
shopping malls; however, if you're on a budget, head for one of the Las Vegas Premium Outlets. Both North Premium
and South Premium
outlets sell designer goods at significantly discounted prices. For a quirkier shopping experience, make a trip to Downtown Container Park
, where trendy boutiques and bustling restaurants can be found in upcycled shipping containers. The famous Attic vintage emporium, opened in 1989, represents one of the city's wackiest shops.
Although nowhere else in Nevada can compete with Vegas in terms of sheer number or variety of shops, there's still plenty of fun retail experiences to be had. If you're visiting Elko
on your Nevada tour, make sure to swing by J.M. Capriola Co. for a taste of the Wild West. This leather goods store has been outfitting cowboys for 85 years and welcomes visitors from around the globe. Outdoor equipment shop Cabela's in Verdi
is a store like no other, with taxidermy on display, a local fish aquarium, and an indoor archery area. For a special Nevada holiday souvenir, browse Virgina City's
Thunder Eagle Native Art store for pottery, jewelry, and art.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Nevada
History of Nevada
Before Europeans descended on the land now known as Nevada, the area was inhabited by Native American tribes, including the Paiute, Shoshone, and Washoe. Although many of these indigenous peoples were killed and their customs destroyed, 32 American Indian reservations and colonies exist in the state today. Nevada State Museum
includes an interesting exhibition about Nevada's Native heritage, with authentic artifacts from the tribes.
In 1776, Francisco Garcés, a missionary from Spain, became the first European to explore the region. The Spanish Empire subsequently annexed the land, making it part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, and named it Nevada (snowy) after the snow that covered the mountains in the winter. However, shortly after, New Spain gained independence from the empire and Nevada became a territory of Mexico in 1821.
The defeat of Mexico in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) saw Nevada's incorporation into America as part of Utah Territory. Mormon missionaries arrived and built a square adobe fort northeast of downtown Las Vegas, the first permanent structure erected in the valley. Visit Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort
on your Nevada vacation to see remnants of the building and learn about the history of the site.
It remained a sparsely populated area until 1859, when silver was discovered at Comstock Lode
, causing people to flock here in hopes of making their fortune. Ponderosa Mine Tour
provides a fascinating insight into Nevada's important metal mining history, with antique equipment and underground mine workings on display. The resulting population boom provided the impetus to create Nevada Territory out of western Utah Territory in 1861. Three years later, at the height of the American Civil War, Nevada became the 36th state to join the Union.
In 1909, strict anti-gambling laws were introduced nationwide, putting a stop to the unregulated gambling that had been rife among Nevada's mining towns. Declines in mining output coupled with the stagnation of the Great Depression inspired Nevada's legislators to legalize gambling in 1931. The state soon gained a reputation for enjoying libertarian laws, giving a major boost to tourism in Nevada. Visit Reno's Nevada Gambling Museum for a glimpse into this aspect of the state's history through a colorful assortment of gambling memorabilia.
The nuclear proliferation of the Cold War gave birth to the Nevada Test Site, founded in 1951 just 105 km (65 mi) northwest of Las Vegas. Over 1,000 nuclear detonations were conducted here until the site's last atmospheric detonation in 1962 and final underground detonation in 1992. Include The National Atomic Testing Museum
on your Nevada itinerary to learn more about the tests conducted here through photos, videos, and artifacts.
The tourism industry remains Nevada's largest employer, with gambling accounting for 34 percent of state revenue. Mining still contributes significantly to the economy and Nevada boasts the title of fourth-largest producer of gold in the world.
Landscape of Nevada
Quintessentially Wild West, the captivating landscape may just be the highlight of your trip to Nevada. Although mountains play a major rule in the state's topography--it's sandwiched between two of America's great ranges and boasts some of its own mighty peaks--it is the desert that has come to define Nevada. The majority of the state is occupied by the nation's largest desert, the Great Basin Desert, and the southern third sits within the Mojave Desert, making water politics a huge deal in this dry region. Lake Mead, America's largest reservoir, serves as a lifeline for residents of Nevada, Arizona, and California, as well as the crops that grow in their agricultural regions. Punctuating the great expanses of desert is a host of weird, wonderful geological formations, including the countless red swirls of Valley of Fire State Park and sandstone formations of Red Rock Canyon.
Despite America's seventh-largest state's predominantly arid ecology, pockets of Nevada remain surprisingly fertile and verdant. Mountain ranges run north to south, harboring areas of lush forest high above the iconic desert plains. Lake Tahoe, America's largest alpine lake, is surrounded by brilliant green trees. The east of the state receives more summer moisture than the west and thus is able to support more foliage, including great swathes of sagebrush.
Holidays & Festivals in Nevada
Including one of the state's holidays or festivals in your Nevada itinerary is a fun way to learn about local culture and experience the food and music scene. Nevada Day, held on the last Friday of October, provides insight into the state's history and what makes this region special. Residents enjoy a day off of work, and a large party in Carson City
commemorates Nevada's frontier legacy and entry into the Union in 1864. Elko's
Basque Festival celebrates Nevada's Basque heritage through music, dance, sports, and barbecue events held on the first weekend of July. If your Nevada vacation falls during Cinco de Mayo (May 5), make your way to Reno to participate in the state's largest Hispanic heritage celebration.
There's always a party going on in Vegas, but few rival April's Viva Las Vegas celebration. The four-day event--which claims to be the biggest rockabilly party in the world--features musical performances, a swimsuit contest, jiving and burlesque classes, and heaps of food. Plus, its car show is considered to be one of the finest in the world. For a different kind of Americana celebration, head to the Clark County Fair and Rodeo, also held in April.
Nevada's most famous festival is arguably Burning Man. Each year around late August or early September, thousands of attendees head to the Black Rock Desert to create a temporary city dedicated to art, communal living, and radical self-expression. Art fans who aren't sure they could hack a week in the desert should opt for a trip to Nevada Museum of Art
instead, which displays a number of pieces from the event.
Nevada Travel Tips
Climate of Nevada
Made up mostly of desert and semiarid areas, Nevada holds the title for driest state in the United States, receiving very little rainfall and rarely experiencing any humidity. However, temperatures can vary considerably depending on the time of year you visit and whether you're in the north or south of the state.
Winters in northern Nevada are long and surprisingly cold, while in the sunny south they're mild and short, with December often the coolest month. In the summer, the weather can become uncomfortably warm in southern cities such as Las Vegas, where temperatures reach a scorching 34 C (93 F) on an average July day. In the more northerly city of Reno, visitors can expect more comfortable daytime temperatures ranging around the mid to high 20s C (upper 70s to lower 80s F). For many destinations, the milder seasons of spring and fall make for more pleasant sightseeing in Nevada.
Transportation in Nevada
Like much of America, public transportation is lacking in Nevada and car is definitely king. However, if you're planning on spending your Nevada vacation exclusively along Las Vegas' Strip, then you're better off leaving your wheels at home. The reasonably priced Las Vegas Deuce runs the length of the thoroughfare 24 hours a day, while the highly efficient (and more expensive) monorail connects a number of the city's major hotels, restaurants, shopping destinations, and tourist attractions. You can also get around on foot or by taxi, although the latter can be pricey.
Greyhound, America's largest long-distance bus provider, has service lines between Las Vegas and Reno, but the journey can be long and uncomfortable. To get the most exploration out of your Nevada trip, you'll need to rent or bring a car. Outside of Sin City, driving can be a real joy, with wide open roads and spectacular scenery. Route 50, which crosses through the center of the state, was named the "Loneliest Road in America" by Life magazine. Crossing desert valleys and very few signs of civilization, cruising along Route 50 is a truly western experience.