Those who assume that Nevada is synonymous with Las Vegas will be doing a disservice to the rest of the Silver State’s cities. While the exuberant, casino-studded Vegas is the largest city by population and takes the main stage, this Western state also offers an abundance of history, culture, arts, and outdoor wonders nearby all its cities.
Nevada has a unique history filled with railroads, vast desert landscapes, and rare resources like silver.
Las Vegas, NV
Las Vegas is the 25th most populated city in the U.S. and 1st in Nevada with 641,903 residents according to the 2020 census. Although it was founded by ranchers, farmers, and railroad workers in 1905, it wasn’t until 1931 that it began to experience a boom. Gambling was legalized in the city, and soon after, the first hotel-casino was built on today’s Vegas Strip.
Nearly everyone in the U.S. knows Vegas for its extravagant resorts and casinos, Spring Break-style clubs, and endless shows — but many look over what else this party city has to offer.
If you’re seeking an activity that isn’t gambling, you’ll be pleased to hear that the city is home to several museums — including the Mob Museum and the Neon Museum. Visitors can also ride a gondola through the Venice-style canals at the Venetian or hop on the High Roller Ferris Wheel for epic, birds-eye views of the area.
Wander down Fremont Street to see the most iconic neon signs “Sin City” has to offer. Catch a Cirque du Soleil show at the Mirage, or grab a ticket to a Broadway-style show at the Smith Center.
Outdoorsy folk who find themselves in need of a breather from The Strip can visit the beautiful Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just 20 minutes away. This landscape features dramatic red sandstone peaks, hiking trails, and Native American petroglyphs.
Located just outside of Las Vegas, the city of Henderson is home to 317,610 people as of 2020. It was established in 1942, originally as a center for employee housing for a governmental magnesium plant.
Those who find themselves fascinated by history can dive into the local past at Clark County Museum. This 30-acre area showcases eight historical buildings on Heritage Street, as well as a resurrected ghost town and heritage gallery.
In addition to its Vegas-like casinos and resorts, Henderson is home to a plethora of outdoor activities. Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve is part of a migratory flyway where visitors can see birds and wildlife in a marshy setting. Ethel M Botanical Cactus Garden is the largest of its type in the state; it boasts three acres of land containing over 300 different species. The Whitney Mesa Recreation Area features walking trails, basketball courts, and picnic areas.
Those seeking adventure will enjoy the pristine Sloan Canyon National Preservation Area. The canyon showcases a sacred petroglyph site with over 300 rock art panels.
Visitors can hike the 4 mile loop trail through Petroglyph Canyon to appreciate both natural wonders and historic art. Visitors must check in at the Sloan Canyon Visitor Contact Station before hiking on the Petroglyph Trail. A maximum of 20 people are allowed to be in the canyon at one time to preserve the wilderness of the area.
To cool down after all this adventure, splash around at Cowabunga Bay Water Park. Cowabunga is a water slide-filled destination that includes a wave pool, a kids cove, and restaurants.
Known as “The Biggest Little City In The World”, Reno had a population of 264,165 people as of 2020. It’s located about 20 miles from the Nevada/California border, and is graced by the flow of the Truckee River.
This lively city is popular for its nightlife, college town vibes, funky midtown district, and of course, the casino/resort/spa combos. Highlights in the resort scene include the Peppermill — a Tuscan-themed casino hotel — and the Atlantis, an upscale relaxation hotel.
Reno is home to many museums, including the National Automobile Museum, the Nevada Museum of Art, and the Fleischmann Planetarium. Cool off inside during the intense heat of the summer by exploring one of these exciting and educational venues.
Many find themselves relocating to or visiting the Biggest Little City due to its proximity to Lake Tahoe. Less than an hour away, one of the deepest lakes in the U.S. offers its crystal blue waters, sandy beaches, and surrounding scenic mountains. The mountains in the area host snow activities in the winter, including 15 ski resorts in the immediate area, and hiking and biking trails in the summer.
North Las Vegas, NV
This northern, adjacent suburb of Vegas was originally named Vegas Verde, but later had its name changed to North Las Vegas. As of 2020, around 262,000 people call this city home.
In addition to the obvious scattering of casinos and hotels in the area, this suburb is known for its abundance of beautiful parks. Both Aliante Nature Discovery Park and City View Park host water features, and trails wind through the scenic Craig Ranch Regional Park.
Enjoy time outside in a more community-oriented way at the Broadacres Marketplace. This is an outdoor flea market with numerous vendors (upwards of 1,000!), food, and live music. These vendors offer an incredibly eclectic mix of goods, from antiques to coconuts. With live music and bustling grounds, this weekend marketplace event is sure to be lively and entertaining.
Visitors and locals can visit the CSN Planetarium to escape the desert heat while still enjoying the natural beauty of the area.
This venue offers a hemispheric video screen that allows patrons to experience the desert night sky (plus a whole lot of exciting educational information!) from a seat in an intimate theater.
Just east of Reno, the city of Sparks hosts a population of around 108,445 according to the 2020 census. After trying out names like East Reno, Glendale, and Harriman, the townspeople finally landed on the name Sparks as a nod to their then-governor. The city was founded in 1905.
Sparks Marina Park includes a picturesque lake, walking paths, trees, and sandy beaches. This is the go-to spot for beach volleyball and picnics. Visitors may even witness windsurfers and sailors on the lake!
History buffs and Sparks enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to the Sparks Heritage Museum & Cultural Center. This site features permanent exhibits that highlight the history of the city, as well as rotating galleries showcasing culture, heritage, and arts. Museum visitors can cross the street to explore an outdoor train exhibit and the historic Glendale Schoolhouse.
Sparks is also home to the state’s only water park, Wild Island Family Adventure. The park has been around since 1989 and has grown to include go karts, mini golf, and laser tag, in addition to numerous slides and pools.
Carson City, NV
Nevada’s state capital is an independent city; it does not reside in any of the state’s counties. After the discovery of nearby gold and silver, Carson City began to experience a thriving economy. As of 2020, the population of this city has grown to 58,639.
Situated just east of the epic Lake Tahoe, the capital city is marked with scenic nature areas. Hike or bike the 13+ mile Ash Canyon to Kings Canyon Trail, which features a 25-foot waterfall. Prolong your time outdoors by visiting one of the three golf courses, relaxing in the Carson Hot Springs Resort, or walking the Kit Carson Trail through the city’s historic district.
Visitors can let their minds wander at the plethora of museums that grace Carson. Explore the natural and cultural history of the state at the Nevada State Museum. Learn about the local locomotive history at the Nevada State Railroad Museum.
Those more drawn to the arts can spend their time entranced by the local art at the Brewery Arts Center. The downtown area features several murals, as well as Charlie B’s Gallery and the Vasefinder Museum.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the realignment of a well-traveled railroad and the subsequent diversion of the Truckee River into the Truckee Canal gave way to the town of Fernley. This land, used for ranching and agriculture, is now home to 22,8895 residents as of 2020. It is a slightly-disconnected member of the Reno-Sparks metropolitan area.
Despite its remoteness, Fernley visitors and dwellers are sure to find entertainment if they are willing to look. The small town is home to three casinos and several hotels. The Fernley 95A Speedway offers adrenaline-inducing entertainment with live car races. Contrary to what its name may imply, the Loneliest Road in America is surprisingly scenic and slices right through the small town.
Endless entertainment fills the area for those looking to explore the outdoors. A short distance away, adventurers can examine the Fort Churchill ruins, explore the Lahontan State Recreation Area, and hike to the Patua Hot Springs.
Way out in the high desert of northeastern Nevada, there are 20,564 residents that call Elko home as of 2020. Spotted with hotels, motels, and casinos, this town sees many traveling ranchers and miners.
With such a slim population, it may be difficult to believe that this Western town is home to four museums. History and culture lovers can visit one or all of:
- The Cowboy Gear and Arts Museum
- The Western Folklife Center
- The Northeastern Nevada Museum
- The California Trail Interpretive Center
The lucky folks who visit at the right time will have the opportunity to attend the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering held every year at the Western Folklife Center. Despite its surrounding endless miles of sagebrush and dust, a short drive into Lamoille Canyon will offer some of the most dramatic, stunning views that many have ever seen.
The Ruby Mountains in this area provide breathtaking scenery full of hidden alpine lakes, lush forested areas, and striking granite peaks. Hiking trails, pristine landscape, and wildlife viewing ensure that everyone leaves overwhelmed by the Rubies’ beauty.
Just over an hour from Vegas on the Nevada/Arizona border lies the quaint town of Mesquite. With 20,471 citizens according to the 2020 census, this charming community is home to several vacation-worthy golf courses, as well as upscale casino hotels and spas.
The people here pay homage to their heritage and culture with the Virgin Valley Heritage Museum, the Mesquite Fine Arts Center, and the Donkey History Museum.
Countless parks speckle this area and offer a variety of entertainment. Hafen Lane Park provides a tennis court and pond. Library Park is an excellent option for anyone in the area with open grass, picnic tables, and the Mesquite Library next door. Hunter Sports Park is connected to a trail system and offers three lighted softball fields.
Mesquite is locally known as a gateway town to adventure. Within a short drive, wonders such as the Valley of Fire, Gold Butte National Monument, and Cathedral Gorge provide picturesque landscapes.
Boulder City, NV
As of 2020, 14,885 residents are lucky enough to call Boulder City home and bask in its abundance of outdoor activities. This small town about half an hour from Las Vegas is the true home of the massive, historic Hoover Dam, accessible with a quick 15-minute drive.
Get outside and stay outside with a plethora of hiking and walking trails, parks, and unique landscapes. Hike through five historic train tunnels on the Historic Railroad Hiking Trail, or bike through the stunning Bootleg Canyon.
Hemenway Park offers views of Lake Mead and seasonal bighorn sheep sightings. Stroll through the Nature Discovery Trail and Rock Garden to see giant desert animal statues, or head out to the El Dorado Dry Lake Bed for unique views and photo ops!
To escape the heat, head indoors to explore the eclectic mix of museums that grace the area. History buffs will lose themselves at the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum, while train enthusiasts can scratch the itch at the Nevada State Railroad Museum. For something more artsy and unique, wander through the galleries at Tom Devlin’s Monster Museum!
Even with quickly-dwindling city sizes, Nevada boasts a seemingly endless array of entertainment. Although around 40 million people visit The Strip each year, there are clearly countless other attractions that deserve to receive at least a similar amount of attention.
From Elko’s National Cowboy Poetry event to Reno’s proximity to epic skiing, the state’s visitors and locals will be hard-pressed to find themselves in a bout of boredom. Dramatic landscapes, a rich railroad history, and the country’s biggest dam make visiting Nevada a traveler’s dream.