Maverick to Mad Max: A Desert Adventure From Las Vegas

Countless spectacular natural wonders await beyond the glitz of Las Vegas
Countless spectacular natural wonders await beyond the glitz of Las Vegas | © Ron Niebrugge / Alamy Stock Photo
Lucy Thackray

On this all-action experience you’ll upgrade your typical city break with a Top Gun flying experience and a dune buggy race through Nevada’s wilds.

First timer in Las Vegas? You probably have a few things to strike off your bucket list: a casino, a glitzy restaurant, the Bellagio Fountains, a big-scale show. But you should also leave a few days open to see the ravishing nature outside city limits: the flame-colored rock formations, the fizzing rapids, the pine-fringed lakes…

“My favorite thing is kayaking along the Black Canyon water trail on the Colorado River,” says Joyce Kehoe of Boulder City adventure shop and rental center, Desert Adventures. “This 12mi (19km) stretch of river, between the Hoover Dam and Willow Beach, is smooth and breathtakingly beautiful to paddle along. There’s amazing wildlife and desert landscapes within the canyon, as well as natural hot springs and caves to explore.”

So, why not add a couple of days to your Las Vegas city break so you can explore Nevada’s natural bounty – much of it within an hour’s drive – and throw yourself into the many exhilarating hiking, horseback-riding and water-based excursions that depart from Sin City’s center. Below, we combine an adrenaline junkie’s dream hotel with three bracing adventures, including a Top Gun-themed adventure over the Mojave Desert, where you can make like Maverick and Goose, and they’re all bookable right here on Culture Trip.

Sandstone Rock Formations can transport you to another world |
 The famous Hoover Dam is quite the spectacle |
 Driving through the Mojave Desert will make you feel like Mad Max himself |

Where to Stay: the Hotel

1. The LINQ

Resort, Hotel

Outdoor pool with in-pool oval daybeds surrounded by square daybeds and the colorful hotel building at the LINQ Hotel, Las Vegas
Courtesy of the LINQ Las Vegas / Expedia

Canyons, hikes and emerald pools are all well and good, but the adventures don’t stop once you’re back in the city. This central hotel on the Strip – the neon-lit, casino-trimmed place to be in Las Vegas – has a healthy dose of action right on site. Once you’ve checked in, you can hurl yourself straight into Vegas’s bigger-is-better attitude by taking to the hotel’s urban zipline or heady observation wheel – the aptly named High Roller. If you’re returning from hikes, bikes or rides out of town, though, the real draw is the Linq’s plush spa, with a eucalyptus-scented steam room and whirlpool to unwind in – not to mention oh-so outré, and very Vegas, treatments like pumpkin-spice facials. If you’re ending up in Vegas after an adventure-packed road trip, it’s all about the sun-drenched pool terrace here – book a double daybed, clear the calendar and keep those margaritas coming.

What to Do: the Experiences

2. Top Gun and Air Combat Experience


Love the movie Top Gun (1986)? This quirky flying experience lets you step into its world of all-American pilots and act as wingman to your guide. They’ll let you take over the controls and teach you to loop and spin in a series of flight tricks. Yep, this is true, thrill-seeking stuff, all with the backdrop of North America’s most arid wilderness, the Mojave Desert, stretching for miles around.

3. Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend


The rock formations and cave walls at Antelope Canyon – pebble-smooth and streaked with sunset shades of red – look hand-carved by a master sculptor. Run your hands along them on this full-day tour, which really digs into the natural splendor around Las Vegas. Crossing state lines from Nevada into Arizona, you’ll be driven in a comfy, air-conditioned SUV to two of the area’s most visually dazzling sites. Make sure phones are fully charged for impromptu canyonside photo shoots.

4. Vegas Mini Baja Chase Dune Buggy Adventure


The Mad Max vibes are undeniable on this boisterous buggy chase out in the Nevada desert. As evidenced by the tongue-in-cheek title of “Vegas’s Best Near-Death Experience” coined in a Rolling Stone write-up, only the brave need apply. Rev up your pared-bag buggy and set off on a 30-minute chase, bashing over sand dunes, bouncing wildly and veering sideways along the way.

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