Vegas is a lot like a zoo, filled to the brim with strutting exotic beauties, the supremely loud and sometimes ugly, and things that will just plain leave you scratching your head. Since we’ve spent all this time showing you what you actually can do with your kids in town, we thought we’d go a little further out and show you everything you’ll want to see in our backyard. There’s so much more to Las Vegas than the clang of slot machines and twinkling neon lights.
Trek the great outdoors
If you can peel yourself out of the casino long enough, we’ve got some of the country’s greatest natural wonders right outside our door. In just a quick car ride, you can hike, camp, ski and kayak (yes, in the desert). If your family is the type that likes to get outside and soak up a little Mother Nature, there are plenty of ways to do it without going all the way to the Grand Canyon or Death Valley (even though you could see those too).
If crawling across plateaus and squeezing through ancient passages in the Valley of Fire sounds like something the whole family would enjoy, Love Hikes is just the tour for you. Your kids will think you’re Indiana Jones reincarnated when they explore the rich copper rock, sandstone formations and Indian petroglyphs dating back 3,000 years.
For the John Wayne lover in all of us, there are great Wild West Horseback Adventures that let you channel your inner cowboy and show your kids what it was like to be out in the Wild Wild West. You’ll ride along the same dusty trails that were once ridden by the most infamous outlaws of the American West, explore a cowboy town and enjoy all the beauty the Moapa Valley has to offer.
For the more adventurous family, a quick half-hour hike is all it takes to get to the Flightlinez Bootleg Canyon launch pad near Boulder City. From the top of Red Mountain, you’ll get harnessed in and coast down four separate runs on zip lines perched high above the mountainous desert terrain.
Go really fast
Want to kick up some dirt? Of course you do! For those with a need for speed, Zero 1 Desert Adventures takes your family on a Polaris RZR XP1000 through some of the most scenic spots in Vegas. From twisty sand-washes to high-speed trails, you’ll experience all the unspoiled desert has to offer. With state-of-the-art helmets, you’ll be able to trash talk your kids while you leave them in the dust.
Join the ranks of celebrities like George Lucas, Ben Roethlisberger and Kyle Busch who have driven indoor race karts at Pole Position Raceway. With 18-horsepower and reaching speeds of up to 45 miles per hour, your quarter-mile spins on the European-style track are sure to get your heart racing.
Explore the animal kingdom
At the Springs Preserve, guests will encounter a myriad of wildlife that calls the desert home with an exhibit of live animals including Gila monsters, lizards, bats, snakes, leopard frogs, desert cottontail rabbits, desert tortoises, spiders, a gray fox and more. All the animals are native to the Mojave and many are bred on site. There’s also a seasonal butterfly exhibit that features hundreds of butterflies including Mourning Cloak, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, American Lady, Monarch and Queen.
The King of the Jungle was also King of the Strip (Shhh, don’t say that to an Elvis fan). About 40 lions live at the Lion Habitat Ranch, many of which are retired stars from the MGM Grand’s former exhibit. You’ll get an up-close-and-personal look at what it’s like to care for these beautiful beasts and their cubs as you watch trainers feed, bathe and even play with them. If you’re feeling extra gutsy, you can even book a “Trainer for a Day” package that lets you step inside the enclosures yourself.
On your way to the ranch, stop by the Aquarium at the Silverton. This 117,000-gallon reef aquarium has more than 4,000 exotic fish, stingrays and leopard sharks. They even have their own mermaids that swim with the fish and blow bubbles at the children outside the tank.
Sure, your hotel has a pool. Some of them will even have fun water features for the kids to frolic and splash around in. But they can’t hold a hose to the Wet ‘N’ Wild water-themed amusement park. With more than 25 slides and attractions on 33.5 acres, it delivers a fun and easy way to beat the heat. There’s something for everyone, from massive slides to a lazy river and kid-friendly aquatic zones. And it’s only 25 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip.
You’re probably not going to get soaked on this tour unless you’re doing something you shouldn’t. The Black Canyon River Adventure takes you to explore waterfalls and hot springs down the mighty Colorado. For 12 miles, you’ll glide along the river, passing through canyon walls that rise 2,000 feet above and seeing wildlife like desert big horn sheep, osprey and great blue heron.
Most people get to check out the Hoover Dam from above, but it’s pretty unique to get to see it from below. The Hoover Dam Top to Bottom tour shows you both. You’ll get an inside tour then head down the Colorado River on a raft and see the up-close views of the dam, the power plants and Black Canyon. The Hoover Dam was the first (and possibly last) government funded project to finish on time and under budget.
Transport back in time
Be thankful that you grew up in a time when technology didn’t interfere with your childhood. Now, you can take a walk down memory lane and show your kids what was so great about it at the Pinball Hall of Fame. With more than 200 retro pinball machines and arcade games to play, your kids can finally get a glimpse of what it was like when games didn’t come automatically loaded onto their digital devices. Just don’t forget your quarters!
Nevada State Museum is a glance into the history of Las Vegas before it was what you see today. Interactive learning lessons abound starting with prehistoric times, then a peek into the lives of Native Americans and early settlers, and even vintage gambling machines. Test your survival skills in an interactive settler’s game (à-la-Oregon Trail) that has a nearby covered wagon and makeshift campfire.
The time travel continues at the Clark County Museum, located in Henderson. While there’s an indoor exhibit showing a physical timeline of Nevada from ancient times to present, one of our favorite exhibits is outside. Heritage Street is a collection of five fully furnished houses ranging from the early 1900s to the 1950s that you can actually walk through. There is also a vintage wedding chapel that was relocated from the Strip, a “ghost town” with its own jail and old train cars to explore. It’s like being in an episode of the “Twilight Zone” – not that your kids would even know what that was either.