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Southwest Driving Tours

Las Vegas is a great jumping-off point to begin your exploration of the beautiful Southwest of the USA. It is centrally located in the midst of some of the most spectacular geological features found anywhere in our country. Stunning attractions like the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Death Valley and Zion National Park are all within a day's drive of Las Vegas. In addition, you can see all the glitz and glamour of the most popular man-made tourist attraction in the USA, Las Vegas.

I have included some day trips to attractions that are close to Las Vegas. You can drive to these attractions in a few hours, spend some time seeing the sights and be back on the Strip the same evening. The overnight trips are to attractions a bit further from the city or ones that deserve more sightseeing time. Finally, I include a couple of extended driving tours that take you to multiple attractions in the Southwest and require several days on the road.

Southwest Map

Day Trips

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is just ten miles west of the Las Vegas Strip. This natural wilderness area provides a glimpse of the unspoiled desert landscape complete with joshua trees, wild horses, wild burros, massive mountain peaks plus outcroppings of the bright red sandstone from which it takes its name. You can drive there in a half-hour by taking Charleston Blvd. West from the Strip. It offers hiking, bicycling, rock climbing, horseback riding or just plain sightseeing.

Hoover Dam, also known as Boulder Dam, is situated 30 miles south of Las Vegas near the town of Boulder, Nevada. US route 93 passes over the top of the dam and is the only crossing point on the Colorado River for many miles. This 726-feet high marvel of engineering is set within the narrow precipitous defile of Black Canyon. There are parking facilities on both sides of the Dam with a visitor center on the western side. Tours, starting in the center, descend into the bowels of the earth to visit the giant generators and the control room.

Valley of Fire State Park is 35 miles north of Las Vegas. You can reach it in a 30-minute drive by following route 15 north for 30 miles then turning east on route 169. The fantastic desert landscape includes strange volcanic rock formations and eroded red sandstone features that look like they belong on another planet. It has been the location for the filming of many Hollywood movies.

Laughlin, Nevada is the other Las Vegas. This alternate resort town along the Colorado River 94 miles south of Las Vegas offers many of the same attractions on a smaller scale. It has a dozen gambling casinos complete with restaurants and fabulous shows. It has a large man-made lake offering boating and other water sports. Laughlin is much smaller than Las Vegas but its prices are usually more affordable. Lake Havasu City is 20 miles south of Laughlin and is the current location of the original London Bridge that was imported from England and reassembled on site.

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Route 66 © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Route 66, known as the mother road, originally extended from Chicago to Los Angeles.

Route 66, known as the mother road, originally extended from Chicago to Los Angeles. It has been completely replaced by modern interstate highways, but a few pieces of the old road remain preserved along the original route. The longest continuous stretches of old route 66 are located in Western Arizona and eastern California about 100 miles south of Las Vegas. Within a few hours drive from the strip, you can cruise along old route 66 and visit a few of the old towns that still embody the soul of the mother road. Take Route 93 south to Kingman then follow old 66 to Seligman and take interstate 40 to Williams.

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Death Valley has gained a reputation for being one of the hottest, driest and most inhospitable environments in the USA. Daytime temperatures often reach 130 degrees during the summer months. The austere landscape of this desert basin with its salt flats, sand dunes and multihued rock formations is rather beautiful. It is located 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas and can be reached via US route 95 in less than 3 hours.

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Southwest Map

Overnight Trips

Grand Canyon National Park is one of the greatest geological wonders in the world. The South Rim Visitor Center is only 250 miles from Las Vegas. You can drive to it in a half day, but there are many things to see, so you should devote at least one night to this trip. Take Route 93 south across Boulder Dam, to Kingman Arizona, then route 40 east to Williams. You can stop in Kingman, Seligman and Williams to catch some of the flavor of old route 66. North on routes 64 and 180 bring you to the village of Tusyan and the South Rim visitors center. Plan on at least four hours to see all of the scenery from your car along East Rim Drive and from the West Rim Loop shuttle bus. Try to catch the sunrise and sunset at the canyon, and if possible, take an aerial flyover via helicopter or airplane. There are several nice motels in Tusyan just ten minutes from the canyon. I stayed at the Red Feather Lodge and found it to be comfortable, clean and affordable.

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Grand Canyon Arizona © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
The Grand Canyon National Park is one of the greatest geological wonders in the world.

Zion National Park is located in southwestern Utah approximately 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas. It contains over 150,000 acres of mountain wilderness and canyonlands including the spectacular multihued Zion Canyon. Sheer walls of red sandstone and white limestone rise 1500 feet on either side of this narrow canyon that eventually constricts to just a few meters wide at the narrows. The National Park Service runs free shuttle busses from the visitor's center in Springdale on a 14 mile loop through Zion Canyon. The village of Springdale, located at the South Entrance, has a large assortment of motels, campgrounds, restaurants and tourist shops. You will find scenic drives, camping, mountain biking, horseback riding and numerous hiking trails. Follow Route 15 north out of Las Vegas to St. George, Utah, then go east on Route 9 to the Springdale and the South Entrance to Zion. You can find hotel accommodations in Springdale or thirty minutes away in a more urban setting at St. George.

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Death Valley National Monument is 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas just across the California border. This 100 miles long desert valley earned its name from its forbidding landscape and its intense climate. Daytime temperatures often reach 130 degrees F (50 C) during the summer. There is an austere beauty to its wind-sculptured sand dunes, its colorful mineral enriched mountains and its gleaming white salt flats. The best time to visit Death Valley is during the winter months or early spring and late autumn. I would avoid this attraction during June, July or August. You can drive there in a few hours by following route 95 north out of Las Vegas. The Park Service offers accommodations in Furnace Creek and at Stovepipe Wells or you can choose a motel in Beatty, Nevada just outside of the valley.

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Death Valley California © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Death Valley National Monument is 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas just across the California border.

Sedona, located 30 miles south of Flagstaff, Arizona is about a two-hour drive from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and a half-day drive from Las Vegas. This beautiful valley lined with green meadows and forests is surrounded by massive red rock formations towering hundreds of feet above. It resembles the Grand Canyon on a smaller scale and with a full compliment of tourist amenities. Sedona is famous for its cosmic vortexes that promote spiritual replenishment and for its sunsets that set the red rocks ablaze. You can hike, bike, drive, golf or just relax in Sedona. There are plenty of accommodations, restaurants and shops.

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Southwest Map

Extended Driving Tours

Grand Canyon - Sedona - Route 66
Follow US Route 93 South across Boulder Dam to Kingman. Take route 40 east to Williams or follow the old route 66 if you have the time. Stop in Kingman, Seligman and Williams to catch some of the flavor of old route 66. (This is a nice all-day excursion) Take route 64 and 180 north from Kingman to the village of Tusyan and the South Rim Visitor Center of the Grand Canyon. Plan on staying a night or two in Tusyan. Follow 180 South to Flagstaff then 89A to Sedona. Spend a few days hiking, biking, golfing, enjoying the scenery or absorbing the cosmic energy. Retrace 40 west and 93 north to Las Vegas. This is a good three to five-day excursion that allows you to sample some of the great scenic beauty of the southwest.

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Sedona Arizona © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Sedona is famous for its cosmic vortexes that promote spiritual replenishment and for its sunsets that set the red rocks ablaze.

Grand Canyon - Monument Valley - Zion
This tour is similar to the one immediately above, but with a few added spectacular attractions. From the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, follow route 64 east into the Painted Desert, then route 89 north and route 160 east to Kayenta. This isolated desert community offers a nice assortment of eating and lodging establishments. Route 163 north takes you to Monument Valley. The guided tours offered by local Navajo residents are worth the expense. Backtrack to Kayenta, then west on 160 to route 93. Follow that to Page Arizona and the Glen Canyon Dam. Stop to see Antelope Canyon just before the town. Follow route 89 west through Kanab, Utah and into Zion National Park. There are a lot of accommodations and Restaurants in Springfield at the south entry. If you have the time, Bryce Canyon is just a few hours north of Zion. From there it is just a short drive to St. George and south on route 15 to Las Vegas. Stop at the Valley of Fire State Park for a few hours. This route is nice for a four to six day excursion.

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Monument Valley Utah © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Route 163 north takes you to Monument Valley.

Los Angeles- Hollywood
Los Angeles is 275 miles from Las Vegas. In a half day or less of driving, you can be on the beaches in Southern California or ogling the movie stars in Beverly Hills. Interstate Route 15 is a major traffic artery that crosses the desert to Barstow, California and goes directly into metropolitan Los Angeles. Spend at least two nights in the city. Visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame, see the Beverly Hills homes of the movie stars, stop at Venice Beach to see the bikini clad babes on roller blades and the body builders at Muscle Beach. Go to Anaheim to see the Crystal Cathedral and the original Disney Land. If you have the time, drive a few hours south to San Diego for a visit to its world famous zoo or cross the Mexican border to the ribald border town of Tiajuana.

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California Tour
Check out our California Driving Tour that includes many of the greatest attractions in that state. The route is easily accessible from Las Vegas.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Photo Description: View of the surrounding red-rock mountains from the Sedona Airport vantage point.