The state of Nevada offers everything from pristine natural wonders to exciting human-made amusements. After all, there’s more to the Silver State than casinos, from stunning lakes and austere deserts to ghost towns and pinball museums. Here are the must-visit statewide attractions.
More of a jaw-dropping roadside attraction than merely a motel (though your jaw might drop in terror rather than wonder), the Clown Motel fully lives up to its name. Outside in the forecourt, a red-nosed clown grins down from the sign, but the motel really earns its name in the lobby, which is crammed with a vast collection of toy clowns. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on whether you like clowns), there aren’t many in the actual rooms, save for the odd painting here and there.
The Fly Geyser is not quite a natural wonder. About two hours north of Reno near the Black Rock Desert, the brightly colored towers spew hot water for a fabulous photo op. The geyser dates back to 1964 when a geothermal power company drilled a test well and didn’t cap it correctly. All industrial accidents should be so fortuitous. The geyser is on private property, but it’s visible from the road and you can book a tour with Friends of Black Rock High Rock.
Goldwell Open Air Museum
“Art where it seemingly shouldn’t be” is the motto of the Goldwell Open Air Museum. It displays a set of massive sculptures in the Mojave Desert outside of Rhyolite, Nevada, including Dr Hugo Heyrman’s Lego-like Lady Desert, the Venus of Nevada and Albert Szukalski’s ghostly Last Supper figures. Goldwell keeps art alive with events and artist residencies, and it also runs cultural events in and around the town of Beatty and the Bullfrog townsite.
The High Roller at the LINQ
The High Roller observation wheel, which opened in 2014, is the LINQ hotel’s anchor attraction and offers a one-of-a-kind view of the Las Vegas Strip. A trip around the wheel lasts 30 minutes and takes you 550ft (168m) in the air, offering uninterrupted panoramas of the city’s skyline. For an extra memorable ride, you can take part in yoga classes, unlimited happy hour or wine and chocolate tastings – you can even get married.
International Car Forest of the Last Church
This is a chunk of life-size surrealism in the Nevada desert. It features the wrecks of more than 40 cars, trucks and buses, brightly painted and planted in the ground at odd angles, creating the effect of an automotive Stonehenge with a graffiti edge. The wide, blue skies and vividly adorned automobiles make for top-notch photo ops.
Once called the Boulder Dam, the Hoover Dam is more than 700ft (213m) high and contains more than 4.5m cubic yards (3.4m cubic meters) of concrete. It was built between 1931 and 1936 to control flooding of the Colorado River and provide water and power for surrounding areas. This remarkable structure, which cost $49m to complete, was a new achievement in engineering at the time and has since been designated a National Historic Landmark and one of America’s Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Comprising Lake Mead and Lake Mohave, the Lake Mead National Recreation Area is open year-round. As one of the state’s most popular outdoor areas, it offers plenty of adventures, such as boating, fishing, hiking, picnicking or just taking in the glorious landscape. You can explore Black Canyon via a canoe, visit Overton Arm to look for bald eagles or swim in Lake Mohave. Other popular attractions include the tranquil Boulder Beach and the Historic Railroad Trail.
Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park comprises more than 14,000 acres (5,666ha) across four main areas: Sand Harbor, Spooner Backcountry, Cave Rock and Van Sickle. Sand Harbor and Cave Rock are great for swimming, boating and other water sports, while Spooner Backcountry has 50mi (80km) of multi-use paths as well as camping, fishing, picnicking, wintertime skiing and snowboarding. Van Sickle has even more trails, complete with rock outcroppings providing views of the lake, and connects to the famed Tahoe Rim Trail.
If Southern Nevada is known for casinos and the northern region for mountains, there’s a chunk in the middle known for aliens and those who look to the skies for them. The Little A’Le’Inn, near the mysterious Area 51, has embraced the regional theme with little green men on everything and a gift shop full of alien-related paraphernalia. It also has a friendly bar, a restaurant serving Alien burgers and a series of cabins and rooms for rent.
The Mob Museum
The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, better known as the Mob Museum, examines criminal history from both sides of the law. Inside the former US Post Office and Courthouse downtown, it tells the stories of organizations such as the Italian Mafia, Russian Mob and Japanese Yakuza, and how modern law enforcement combats them. Key exhibits include rigged slot machines, a look at illegal gambling and a piece of wall from the St Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Watch the Great Reno Balloon Races in Reno
Nevada’s second city is a seven-hour drive north of Las Vegas and is well worth a visit. Stroll under the famous arch – declaring Reno to be “the Biggest Little City in the World” – and check out the nearby casinos, or head to the Nevada Museum of Art. If you’re visiting in September, make sure you catch the Great Reno Balloon Races. This event adds a spectacular dash of colour to the sky as over 100 hot-air balloons gently rise above the city. It’s the world’s largest free hot-air ballooning event and has become a beloved part of the annual calendar with locals and tourists alike.
Nevada Museum of Art
With a permanent collection from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, the Nevada Museum of Art focuses on art and the environment. It hosts several exhibits throughout the year created specifically for the museum, along with traveling exhibitions. Shows have included works by Raphael and other old masters, Kehinde Wiley and Ugo Rondinone, whose site-specific installation is south of Las Vegas.
The Neon Museum
The Neon Museum pays homage to Las Vegas history through the signs of motels, casinos, restaurants and other businesses. From the Stardust’s vast marquee to the small, shirt-adorned disc of a dry cleaner’s, some signs have been restored to their original electrified state, while others lie dormant. However, all are fascinating. The Neon Museum also offers Brilliant! – an additional program of signs reanimated with projection technology. General-admission and guided-tour tickets are available online and sell out quickly.
National Automobile Museum: the Harrah Collection
For lovers of cars, design and history, Reno’s National Automobile Museum is a must-visit. It depicts the evolution of the automobile through the 200 cars on display – from an 1899 Winton Phaeton to a 1965 Ford Mustang. The collection includes classic, sports and race cars, as well as several famous vehicles, such as a gold-plated DeLorean and the 1949 Mercury Series 9CM driven by James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955).
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area offers 23 hiking trails and six climbing areas of varying levels of difficulty, making it an absolute must for outdoor adventurers. It has some of Nevada’s most dramatic and untamed landscapes, and the only developed camping area is the Red Rock Canyon Campground, which is closed during the summer due to the heat. A 13mi (21km) loop that cuts through Red Rock allows drivers, walkers and bikers to take in some of the park’s best views.
Nevada is home to several ghost towns, but Rhyolite may be the best known and most picturesque. Settled in 1905, this gold-rush town was a bustling community with an opera house, but by 1920, Rhyolite was no more. Today’s visitable ruins include some forlorn houses, as well as the former bank and railroad station. The town has been the setting for several films, including the 1965 western The Reward and the 2005 science-fiction thriller The Island.
National Bowling Stadium
Roll that ball! Hit those pins! The National Bowling Stadium in downtown Reno, which opened in 1995 and is unofficially known as the “Taj Mahal of Tenpins,” offers 78 lanes, a pro shop and an extension of the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame. The stadium was the location for the bowling showdown in the movie Kingpin (1996) and is easily identifiable by the enormous geodesic dome on its exterior.
Pinball Hall of Fame
Not many museums allow you to put your hands all over the exhibits, but that’s what the Pinball Hall of Fame – the world’s largest collection of pinball machines – does. The museum pays tribute to the beloved arcade game, with hundreds of machines to play – from clunky, ’40s sports-based games to modern computerized models inspired by TV shows. Whether you have fond childhood memories playing Mata Hari, KISS, Mars Attacks! or even Pac-Man, you can revisit them here.
Valley of Fire State Park
The Valley of Fire State Park gets its name from its red Aztec sandstone formations developed during the Jurassic period. The park offers the usual array of hiking trails, picnic areas and camping sites, as well as some superb rock climbing. However, what really sets it apart from Nevada’s other protected areas is its ancient petrified woods and 3,000-year-old American Indian petroglyphs (rock drawings). Head to the Visitor Center, found near the Arch Rock Campground, for details of all activities and weather updates.
Zak Bagans’ the Haunted Museum
The host of Ghost Adventures has opened a museum to house the many oddities he has collected during his years of chasing the paranormal. Zak Bagans’ the Haunted Museum lies inside a historic home from 1938 and contains objects such as Dr Kevorkian’s van, Bela Lugosi’s mirror, Ed Gein’s cauldron and creepy items such as a human mummy and Nazi skull. Pieces are carefully arranged in vignettes, the spooky effect of which is augmented with lighting and sound.
National Atomic Testing Museum
For an insight into the darker aspect of Las Vegas’s past, visit the National Atomic Testing Museum. With more than 3,500 artefacts, 16,000 photos and 6,000 documents, the permanent collection examines the history of the National Nevada Security Site, a facility used for nuclear testing throughout the 1950s and ’60s. Star exhibits include a nuclear reactor used in the development of the first air-to-air missile and some historic Geiger counters.
Great Basin National Park
Near the Utah border, the Great Basin National Park features dense forests of almost 5,000-year-old bristlecone pines and the haunting Lehman Caves – a single cavern that cuts a quarter-mile into a hill of limestone and marble. Serious hikers can reach the summit of Wheeler Peak, the park’s highest point at 13,063ft (3,982m), via a well-maintained trail that starts towards the end of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive.
Glimpse a top-secret military facility
As a top-secret military research and testing center in the middle of the desert, near Groom Lake, Area 51 is the much-loved protagonist of countless conspiracy theories. The United States Air Force acquired it in the mid-1950s, primarily for the testing of Lockheed U-2 spy planes, but speculation has since run wild about its “true” purpose. You can get a great perspective on Area 51 from the top of Tikaboo Peak, 26mi (42km) away – which is as close as you’re allowed to get.
Lost City Museum
An hour’s drive northeast of Las Vegas is where you’ll find the Lost City Museum, offering an intriguing insight into the region’s history, as far back as 8000BCE. It was built in the 1930s to preserve archaeological remains of Native American sites known as the Pueblo Grande de Nevada, most of which were flooded during the creation of nearby Lake Mead. As well as a Native American pit house and the reconstructed pueblo, the museum comprises three galleries, a screening room and a gift shop.
Bellagio Hotel and Casino
The Bellagio is more than just hotel rooms, gaming tables and a few celebrity restaurants; it offers many other attractions. There are the legendary fountains out front, with their music-synchronized performances, and in the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, extravagant flora is on display, with tens of thousands of blossoms, which complement the enormous, flower-like Dale Chihuly chandelier nearby. For art lovers, the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art hosts various exhibits, which in the past included works by Andy Warhol, Fabergé eggs and Samurai armor and weapons.
Additional reporting by Mark Nayler.