A friend of mine once said, “If you love your days action-packed and your nights star-studded, fly into Las Vegas – and leave.” She was right. I’m a big fan of the excitement of the Strip, but sometimes I need a getaway that’s really a getaway, too.
When it comes to escaping, Vegas may not be the first place that comes to mind, but just outside the city are an array of National Parks and Monuments easily visited as a day trip. While the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead are often popular choices, here are a few of my other personal favorites that aren’t always top-of-mind when it comes to tourism lists:
Red Rock Canyon Distance from McCarren International Airport (LAS) to park entrance: 30 minutes
The closest option on my list is Red Rock Canyon – perfect for a quick trip to get you back to the city in time for dinner. Red Rock features a great 13-mile driving loop with plenty of picturesque stops perfect for landscape photos, selfies, or just leaving your phone in the car to admire the natural beauty. There are 26 trails to explore for hikers and plenty of places to park.
Quick Tip: If you’re a cyclist, the scenic loop also makes for an incredible bike trail. Note that the first four miles of the trail are uphill, so it’s definitely a workout, but it’s an incredibly beautiful one.
Distance from McCarren International Airport (LAS) to park entrance: 3 hours
Known for its exceptional hikes, Zion tops my list for hard-to-beat desert views. You can find trails through riverbeds, slot canyons, switchbacks, and cascade-fed pools based on your hiking interest and abilities. Whether you’re an avid hiker or a family just looking for something scenic, you can find it at Zion. One of the park’s most popular spots, The Narrows, can even be seen from paved, wheelchair-accessible trails. (Although to hike through the Narrows, you will need to get your feet wet by wading through the Virgin River.)
Quick Tip: During most of the year, the park is only accessible by the free park shuttle bus, so get to the shuttle parking lot early for your ride into the park.
Bryce Canyon National Park to Cedar Breaks Visitor Center: 3-3 ½ hours
Head to Cedar Breaks for a quieter escape to a park with dramatic rock formations, a wide variety of hiking trails, an alpine pond, and some of the oldest bristlecone pines in the world. The park's highlight is its naturally formed geologic amphitheater that plunges 2,000 feet and its stunning views along painted cliffs. (Oh, and if you want to turn your day trip into an overnight, Cedar Breaks is one of only a few dark sky parks in the world, so the astral viewing is incredible.)
Quick Tip: At 10,000 feet, the park is often covered in snow between October and June, so Scenic Drive/Utah Highway 148 is often closed until late May or early June. Plan accordingly and check the park’s website for the latest updates.
Distance from McCarren International Airport (LAS) to park entrance: 4 hours
While, admittedly, the driving distance of this one makes it a better fit for true road warriors, it’s worth it. The park’s main highlight is its unique rock formations called “hoodoos.” These irregular rock columns exist on every content, but Bryce Canyon has the largest concentration anywhere on Earth. In addition, gentle hikes and meandering footpaths make this park easily accessible for walkers and hikers of all abilities.
Quick Tip: Mornings and evenings can be very cool even in the summer months, so be sure to check the forecast and pack/dress accordingly.
If you’re looking for a non-traditional escape, I can’t recommend a day trip from Vegas enough. Plus, with plenty of nonstop flight options from Sun Country, it’s an easy and affordable way to cross another National Park (or two!) off your bucket list. Get To Going.