While Las Vegas is located in a valley in the middle of a desert, it is not just sand. Scenic drives include the majestic mountains that surround the valley, brilliant colors of the sandstone and the amazing plants and the bodies of water that add to the beauty of Southern Nevada. With gas prices down and smart cars on the rise, it is time to take a drive that is not just a destination but a journey to that place. Forget smelling the roses, there is splendid scenery to post on social media. With these road trips, enjoy the desert that includes the highs and lows of the road along with iconic landmarks and history of the Southwest that is a big part of the United States.

Tecopa, California

Tecopa, California is 82 miles west of Las Vegas, which encompasses the peacefulness of the desert, clear skies and landmarks along the way. Driving Blue Diamond Road (Highway 160) north to Pahrump, Nevada, one can enjoy the Spring Mountains and wild animals including coyotes, raccoons, bobcats, feral horses and bighorn sheep. Once in Pahrump, turn on Old Spanish Trail for the 35 mile trip with rolling desert landscapes, the Kingston Mountain Range and a naturally cut canyon. China Ranch Date Farm is located along the way and still farms and sells dates. The Amargosa River and the landmark of the old red Dutch windmill can be seen as one enters Tecopa.

Red Rock Canyon Loop
(702) 515-5350

One of the most magnificent areas outside of Las Vegas for hikers, runners and a scenic drive is Red Rock Canyon. Located 25 miles west of Las Vegas, Charleston Boulevard (State Highway 159) is the quickest route to Red Rock Canyon and its scenic drive within the national park. The 13-mile loop, which is only one way (with the exit opening south to SR 159), encompasses the view of the mountains, the rock formations, wildlife and the plateaus that drop to the cut out valleys. Driving at sunrise or sunset adds to the experience with the brilliant colors and clear skies as the driver and passengers take in the overwhelming expanse of the landscape.

Zion National Park
(435) 772-3256

Zion National Park is 163 miles north of Las Vegas and trip to the park is just as breathtaking as the destination itself. Traveling north on Interstate 15, once leaving the cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, puts travelers in a vast desert. Once past the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the vastness of the desert landscape stretches for miles surrounded by mountains. Turn east on State Route 9 which has been designated as the Zion Park Scenic Byway. The drive includes Coral Canyon, with the cities of Hurricane and Washington located along the highway. Nature views include two ridges, the lower level Purgatory Flats and the reservoir Quail Lake. After passing the small town of La Verkin, Utah, the entrance to Zion National Park is located to the right.

Related: Best Scenic Drives Within 60 Miles Of Las Vegas

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead is a man-made lake 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas, popular for outdoor recreation and part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. While there is a direct route, scenic paved streets along Lakeshore and Northshore roads is the perfect way to enjoy the lake and its surrounding views by car. The desert mountains, sandstone and rock formations provide colors of reds, browns and grays. Also in view are canyons and desert basins. Picnic areas are located along both roads to dine ala carte and capture priceless photos.

Boulder City, Nevada

Boulder City, Nevada is a small town 25 miles southeast of Las Vegas outside of Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Hoover Dam. It is also part of a very scenic drive including its center of town, park, railroad and Veterans cemetery. From Interstate 515/US Route 93/US Route 95, the road into Boulder City showcases the Nevada State Railroad Museum with trains still running along SR 93, taking passengers from the 21st century on a trip into the 19th century. Once in the town, bronze statutes its roots from 1930s, making for an amazing view along with architecture and mature landscaping. Turning left on Lakeshore Drive (State Route 166) to Lake Mead, beautiful green parks and majestic homes can be seen. At the top of the hill, one can totally encompass the total view of the Lake Mead Marina.

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Debbie Hall is practically a Las Vegas native (37 years and counting) and loves experiencing everything in Southern Nevada from the Las Vegas Strip to the surrounding mountains and Lake Mead. She also teaches at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and loves sharing her knowledge. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.