Southern Nevada is a jackpot for winter fun, both indoors and out.

Las Vegas is well known for all things indoors—casinos, restaurants, shows and nightclubs. Sin City and its surroundings sometimes get shortchanged when it comes to being viewed as an outdoor recreation destination. Venturing off The Strip, you’ll find hiking, boating and outdoor attractions just minutes away. Southern Nevada is the perfect place for a winter escape allowing you to soak up the sun, fresh air and warmer temperatures.

Salt Lake City to St. George

Hop on Interstate 15 south and stay on it for 300 miles until you arrive in St. George around four hours later. That drive should have you feeling pretty hungry as you pull up to The Painted Pony (2 W. St. George Blvd., 435-634-1700) for dinner. Find something on the extensive wine list to pair with dishes such as bacon-wrapped duck with apple stuffing or prosciutto-wrapped free-range chicken with artichoke risotto. Just make sure to save room for frozen lemon soufflé served with strawberry rhubarb sauce and orange shortbread.

Bedding down in Cedar City
After dinner, check in at Seven Wives Inn (217 N. 100 West, 435-628-3737) for the evening. An ancestor of the innkeepers in fact had seven wives, and this colorful history lives on. The inn features 13 rooms and suites, all with their own private bath, located in two Victorian homes in the historic, downtown area of St. George. Your stay includes breakfast made with eggs from backyard chickens and homegrown fruits.

St. George to Boulder City

Get an early jump on the day by stopping for coffee at Perks! (1515 W. Sunset Blvd., 435-628-8413), voted Southern Utah’s Best Coffee. Try the North Pole Mocha (hot, iced or blended) with a Huevos Rancheros Wrap featuring roasted green chilies.

Once you leave St. George, it’s less than a two-hour drive south on I-15 to Las Vegas. So why not arrange an outdoor adventure in advance or upon arrival in Las Vegas? One option is Pink Jeep Tours (1-888-900-4480). Picking up from most hotels on The Strip, the tour company offers excursions to Valley of Fire, Hoover Dam, Red Rock Canyon and Grand Canyon (see “Over the Top,” p. 17) in luxurious all-terrain, 10-seat vehicles.

Another option is to head straight over to Hoover Dam by turning off I-15 onto US-93 and making a 12-mile drive through Henderson and Boulder City.

On the way, you may want to stop in for brunch in Boulder City at World Famous Coffee Cup (512 Nevada Highway, 702-294-0517). If you’re more in a breakfast mood, this place is known for its pork chili verde omelet. If you’re leaning to lunch, try the open-faced meatloaf sandwich served with mashed potatoes and smothered in gravy.

Hoover Dam
Check in at the Hoover Dam Lodge Hotel & Casino (18000 Highway 93, Boulder City, 800-245-6380), and enjoy the mountain and lake views from your room before heading out for an afternoon of activities.

One option is to tour Hoover Dam itself at the visitor center or do a 30-minute guided powerplant tour or one-hour guided Hoover Dam tour. Tickets may only be purchased at the site—not online—and are sold on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Also, just below the Hoover Dam parking garage (next to Hoover Dam Lodge) is the Historic Railroad Trail. The 3.7-mile trail runs through a series of tunnels approximately 300 feet long and 25 feet in diameter. Designated as a National Historic Trail in 2015, the tunnels were once part of a railroad line used to carry construction supplies during the building of Hoover Dam.

Downtown Boulder City
After relaxing at your accommodations, head into the historic downtown area of Boulder City to The Dillinger (1224 Arizona St., 702-293-4001) where you are requested to “Come Hungry. Come Thirsty.” Open the door handles made of shotguns to enjoy an ever-rotating list of craft beers on tap. This bar doesn’t have an official closing time and offers a special late-night menu on weekends. No matter what time you arrive or leave, the signature menu item is the namesake burger, The Dillinger—a large bacon-cheeseburger topped with a layer of beef brisket.

Boulder City to Lake Mead

The Bighorn Cafe, located at Hoover Dam Lodge, opens at 7 a.m. with traditional breakfast items. Also stop by the General Store on property to grab some items to take out on Lake Mead for lunch.

Lake Mead Marina and Las Vegas Boat Harbor are both a seven-mile, 20-minute drive from Hoover Dam. Once there, check out all of the rental options available from Boating Lake Mead (490 Horsepower Cove Road, 702-293-1191). No matter which watercraft you choose—sport, jet or pontoon boats, or wave runners and paddle boards—head out to explore the many coves and settle into a quiet inlet for a relaxing day on the water.

Lake Mead to Las Vegas

Since Las Vegas is minutes away, there’s no way you’re not spending at least one night of this getaway weekend basking in the glow of neon lights.

Experience the outdoor version of Vegas and get a history lesson with a visit to the Neon Museum (770 N. Las Vegas Blvd., 702-387-6366). Known as the “Boneyard,” this spot features more than 200 neon signs that once illumined the Nevada desert sky and now enjoy their final resting place here. Guests can only visit as part of a tour booked in advance. Daytime tours let you see the full details of the signs by sunlight, but night-time tours show off 11 signs that still light up along with other signs showcased by flood lights.

Las Vegas is a constantly evolving city, and one of its most interesting developments in the last couple of years has been the rise of the Fremont East entertainment district in the downtown area. A neighborhood jampacked with bars, clubs, restaurants and stores, its few blocks give the feel of walking around a large city such as New York or San Francisco.

To immerse yourself into the Fremont East and overall downtown experience, check in at Downtown Grand (206 N. 3rd St., 702-953-4343). Everything associated with the hotel—the pool, parking and several restaurants—is spread out over a city block and street. It’s a much more intimate, laid-back Vegas getaway compared to staying at a mega-hotel/casino on The Strip.

Enjoy the taste of Downtown Vegas at Oscar’s Steakhouse (1 S. Main, 702-386-7227), named after and owned by Oscar Goodman, former mayor of Las Vegas, and before that, a mob attorney. It’s a steakhouse, so the cuts obviously take precedence (served Oscar-style, of course), but make sure to get Johnny Quinn’s crab cakes as an appetizer, which are much more crab than cake. The gin martini on the menu is one the mayor himself likes to drink. And be forewarned, it’s more gin than martini.

You don’t have to leave downtown for an “outdoor adventure” in Las Vegas. Slotzilla  is a giant slot machine more than 10 stories tall that serves as a launching pad for a zoomline and zipline. The zoomline lets riders fly superhero-style at speeds of up to 40 mph for nearly 2,000 feet under the lights of the Fremont Street Experience pedestrian canopy. The zipline travels a shorter distance at a lower level with riders sitting up straight. Since this is Vegas, the rides are offered until just before 2 a.m., so stay up late and hit some of the many spots in Fremont East. Then top it off with a midnight ride on Slotzilla.

Las Vegas to Salt Lake City
Any respectable Vegas stay demands that you sleep in on Sunday morning. When you finally roll out of bed and get ready to go, walk a couple of blocks over to Evel Pie (508 Fremont St., 702-840-6460) to celebrate two American classics—pizza and Evel Knievel. It would be worth visiting just for the motorcycle daredevil’s memorabilia, the pinball machine, the beer list and even the giant sign that reads, “Live Hard, Ride Fast, Eat Pizza.” However, this restaurant is more than a gimmick. The New York-style pizza is actually quite good and served up by the slice. Choose your toppings from among “Cheesy Rider,” “The Barry White Pie” or “Evel Knievel’s Super Kick Ass Combination” (let’s just say it’s got a bunch of stuff on it).
Once you get your daredevil and pizza fix, it’s time to hop back on the I-15 and make the six-hour-drive home.

Winter getaways in Las Vegas are bright with daytime sunshine and nighttime neon. The average winter high temps linger in the 50s and 60s (it only gets below freezing an average of eight nights a year). Las Vegas is that perfect escape from Utah’s winter cold and smoggy inversions, not only for indoor games of chance but for outdoor escapades.

Kathleen Curry & Geoff Griffin host the Travel Brigade Radio Show podcast.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *