The state of Nevada offers everything from the most pristine natural wonder to the gaudiest man-made amusement. There are lakes surrounded by lush greenery and desert landscape whose beauty lies in their austerity. There are ghost towns and bowling alleys, as well as museums for neon signs, vintage automobiles, and pinball machines. After all, there’s more to the Silver State than casinos. Here are the 20 must-visit state-wide attractions.
Bellagio Hotel & Casino
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The Bellagio offers elegant rooms with incredible views | Courtesy of Bellagio / Hotels.com
More than just hotel rooms, gaming tables, and a few celebrity restaurants, the Bellagio offers a number of other attractions. There are the legendary fountains out front, with their music-synchronized performances and in the conservatory and botanical gardens, extravagant flora are displayed, containing tens of thousands of blossoms, a complement to the enormous, flower-like Dale Chihuly chandelier nearby. And, of course, the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art has hosted exhibits on everything from Andy Warhol’s art to Faberge eggs to Samurai armor and weapons.
Less a hotel than a jaw-dropping roadside attraction—though whether your mouth is agape in bemused wonder or sheer terror is up to you—the Clown Motel fully lives up to its name. Outside, a red-nosed clown grins down from the sign but the Clown Motel really goes to town in the lobby, which is crammed with a vast collection of clowns. Some folks dig the kitsch, others are, well, afraid of clowns.
The Fly Geyser is a not-quite-natural wonder. Located about two hours north of Reno in the Black Rock Desert, the brightly colored towers spew hot water for a fabulous photo op. The geyser was created when a geothermal power company drilled a test well on the site and didn’t properly cap it. All industrial accidents should be so fortuitous.Note: the Geyser is on private property, but can be seen from the road.
“Art where it seemingly shouldn’t be” is the motto of the Goldwell Open Air Museum. The museum is a set of massive sculptures located in the Mojave Desert outside of Rhyolite, Nevada, including 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.
The High Roller observation wheel is the anchor attraction of the LINQ, offering a one-of-a-kind view of the Las Vegas Strip. A trip around the wheel lasts 30 minutes and takes riders 500 feet in the air. For an extra special ride, guests can take part in yoga classes, unlimited happy hour, a wine and chocolate tasting, or even get married.
Over 700 feet high and containing over 4,000,000 cubic yards of concrete, the Hoover Dam is truly a wonder to behold. Once called the Boulder Dam, it was built to control flooding of the Colorado River and provide water and power for surrounding areas. Costing $165 million and taking five years to complete, the Hoover Dam was a new achievement in engineering at the time and still receives seven million visitors a year. The Hoover Dam has been designated a National Historical Landmark and one of America’s Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders.
The International Car Forest of the Last Church is a chunk of life-size surrealism in the middle of the Nevada desert. Over 40 cars were painted and then planted in the ground at odd angles, creating the effect of an automotive Stonehenge with an edge of 5 Pointz. The wide, blue skies and vividly adorned automobiles make for top-notch photo ops.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area consists of Lake Mead and Lake Mohave, both of which are open year-round. One of the most popular national parks, it offers visitors plenty of opportunities for boating, fishing, hiking, picnicking, or just taking in the glorious landscape. Visitors can canoe through Black Canyon, bird-watch for bald eagles in the Overton Arm, or take a dip in Lake Mohave.
Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park spreads across over 14,000 acres and contains four main areas: Sand Harbor, Spooner Backcountry, Cave Rock, and Van Sickle. Sand Harbor and Cave Rock are both spots for swimming, boating, and other water sports. Spooner Backcountry offers miles of trails to hike as well as camping, fishing, picnicking, wintertime skiing, and snowboarding. Van Sickle has a network of trails with rock outcroppings with views of the lake, including the famed Tahoe Rim Trail.
If the southern part of Nevada is known for casinos and the northern part is known for mountains, there’s a chunk in the middle known for aliens and those who look to the skies for them. Located near the mysterious Area 51, the Little A’Le’Inn has embraced the regional theme with little green men on everything and a gift shop full of alien-related paraphernalia. There’s a bar and restaurant, as well as a series of cabins and rooms for rent.
The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, AKA the Mob Museum, is an interactive museum that examines criminal history from both sides of the law. Located downtown in the former Post Office and Courthouse, the museum tells the stories of various facets and groups in organized crime—Italian Mafia, Russian Mob, Japanese Yakuza, etc.—and how modern law enforcement combats them. Exhibits include rigged slot machines, a sound booth that plays real-life stories of La Cosa Nostra, and a piece of wall from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, while interactive CSI and mock shooting range activities let guests participate.
For lovers of cars, design, and history, the National Automobile Museum is a must-visit. The museum depicts the evolution of the automobile through the 200 cars on display, from a 1899 Winton Phaeton to a 1956 Ford Mustang. The collection includes classic cars, sports cars, and race cars. There are also famous vehicles, such as a gold-plated DeLorean and the 1949 Mercury Series 9CM, driven by James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.
Roll that ball! Hit those pins! The National Bowling Stadium in downtown Reno offers 78 lanes 24 hours a day, as well as a pro shop and an extension of the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame. Identified by the geodesic dome built into the exterior, the stadium was the location for the bowling showdown in the movie Kingpin.
The Neon Museum pays homage to Las Vegas history through the signs of motels, casinos, restaurants, and other businesses, from the vast marquee of the Stardust to the small, shirt-adorned disc of a dry cleaner’s. Some signs have been restored to their original electrified state, others lie dormant, but all are fascinating. The Neon Museum also offers “Brilliant!”—an additional program of signs reanimated with projection technology. Guided tours are the only way see the displays, so be sure to make a reservation in advance.
The Nevada Museum of Art boasts a permanent collection from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries with an emphasis on art and the environment. The museum also hosts a number of changing exhibits throughout the year; some are specific to the museum, often including Nevada artists. Others are traveling exhibitions—past shows have included works by Raphael and other old masters, contemporary photography by William Eggleston, and a site-specific installation by Andrea Borsuk.
Not many museums let visitors get their hands all over the exhibits, but that’s the entire point of the Pinball Hall of Fame. Open since 2006, the Pinball Hall of Fame pays tribute to the beloved arcade game with hundreds of machines to play, from clunky ’40s sports-based games to computerized modern ones inspired by TV shows. Whether your fond childhood memories are of playing Mata Hari or KISS or Mars Attacks!, or even Pac-Man, you can revisit them here.
The Red Rock Canyon National Park is beloved by hikers of both the local and tourist varieties. The 19 hiking trails and six climbing areas draw lovers of the outdoors seeking everything from a leisurely stroll to a rigorous climb. The only developed camping area is the Red Rock Canyon Campground, which is closed during the summer due to the heat. For scenery lovers, the 13-mile loop that cuts through Red Rock allows visitors and bikers to take in many of the park’s best views.
Nevada is home to a number of ghost towns, but Rhyolite may be the best-known and most picturesque. Settled in 1905, the gold rush town was a bustling community with its own symphony but, within seven years, it was abandoned. Ruins include a number of houses, as well as the bank and a railroad station. The town has been the setting for a number of films, including the 1965 western The Return and the 2005 science-fiction thriller The Island.
Valley of Fire State Park derives its name from red sandstone formations formed during the age of dinosaurs. The park offers the usual array of hiking trails, picnic areas, and camping sites, as well as rock climbing, but what sets it apart is the petrified wood, 3,000-year-old Indian petroglyphs, and other historical features.
The host of Ghost Adventures has opened his own museum, a home for the many oddities he has collected in his years of chasing the paranormal. Located in a historic home originally constructed in 1938, Zak Bagans’ Haunted Museum contains such objects as Dr. Kevorkian’s van, Bela Lugosi’s mirror, Ed Gein’s cauldron, and such creepy items as a human mummy and Nazi skull. Items are arranged in carefully set up atmospheric vignettes with lighting and sound to augment the spooky effect.