Cowboys, Ghosts & Canyons: A Day trip from Las Vegas

Day Trip from Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon

When I think of Las Vegas, the neon lights of slot machines (pokies to us Aussies), giant casinos and over-the-top glitz and glamour come to mind. But if you’ve reached your tipping point, you might want to consider a day trip from Las Vegas.

You really don’t even have to drive very far to escape it all for something completely different. Nevada feels like a desert stretching for miles-on-end, broken up by mountain ranges running north-to-south. It all makes for beautiful (and hot) trails to hike, and mountains to climb. If you’re looking for a day trip from Las Vegas that doesn’t involve a tonne of driving and offers something a little different, you need to head to Red Rock Canyon and Bonnie Springs Ranch.

DAY TRIP FROM LAS VEGAS

I’m lucky enough to have an awesome local friend, Lisa,  who took me on a little sightseeing trip away from The Strip. It was worth every second of feeling like I was a tiny speck on a huge horizon that stretched forever. And to marvel at the mountains that towered above us.

We started off a little late in the day, due to excessive ice-hockey-related partying the night before. So we didn’t spend as much time exploring as we wanted to, but it was well worth the time that we were out on our day trip from Las Vegas.

BONNIE SPRINGS RANCH

If you’re into cowboys and western movies, then you need to visit Bonnie Springs Ranch. It’s also a great place to haul the kids out to – they’ll have a blast. There’s enough to do to keep them busy all day, or if you just want to visit the Old Town Ranch, spend a couple of hours.

A Bit of History

The indigenous peoples of the Great Basin, known  collectively as Paiute, were the first to take advantage of the area’s natural springs as a water source.

Bonnie Springs Ranch Shooting Gallery
Not a representation of the tent town. Just in case you were wondering.

But the Bonnie Springs Ranch was built in 1843 so that travellers and wagon trains could stop and replenish their water supplies as they  made their way across the country. It was basically a tent town, and the buildings that you see in “Old Nevada” today were not originally there.

To explain the town’s current name, you have to jump forward to 1952, when Bonnie McGaugh bought land in Red Rock Canyon, along with a small house and an old bar. She ran that bar (without electricity) for a while and opened the ranch properly in 1958.

She and her husband Al Levinson eventually added a stable, zoo, restaurant and a replica old mining town by bringing in old buildings from other towns.  

Visit Old Nevada

About half an hour’s drive from The Strip you’ll find Bonnie Springs Ranch Old Town. Park in the first parking lot to ride up to the town on the little steam train (weekends and holidays only) or drive straight up to the town and park just outside.
Red Rock Canyon Train
I’m not ashamed to say that we rode the train over to the Old Town. Just don’t sit directly behind the driver unless you like diesel fumes. Or maybe it’s two-stroke. Either way, the petrol smell can be a little overwhelming at the front.

The replica 1880s mining town is laid out just like an old western town in the movies. The main street stretches a long way with buildings like the Stamp Mill, schoolhouse, shooting gallery (just $1 for 20 shots!), Opera House, church, bank, jail and mine.

Day Trip from Las Vegas to Bonnie Springs Ranch
Also there’s a gallows in the middle of the town square. But more about that later.  Wander through the town at your own pace and drink in the beautiful Red Rock Canyon views.

Melodrama

Back in the 1800s, Melodramas were big business. It was kind of like a pantomime, but much more dramatic. Which seems impossible, but it’s not. Troupes of actors would travel the US putting on melodramas. They were a popular form of family entertainment, but a women who travelled to act at the time would ruin her reputation. So instead, men would play the women’s roles.
Bonnie Springs Bank Robbery
The Bonnie Springs bank robbery, complete with a bumbling assistant deputy.

I’m telling you all of this because Bonnie Springs Ranch Old Town has its own melodrama. Pack into the Opera House or the Saloon (depending on the day) and you’ll be treated to a little play complete with audience participation and lots of purposely-terrible jokes.

There are also the requisite “main street gun fights” to contend with, and after the melodrama you can assemble in the town square to watch a bank robbery complete with dynamite and a trail at the gallows.
Bonnie Springs Old Town Gallows
These guys referred to me as “The Australian” the entire time. I was not arguing.

All of the above entertainment is only performed from Wednesday to Sunday though, so keep that in mind when you’re planning your visit.

The Zoo

I’ll be honest, the zoo seems a little out of place at Bonnie Springs Ranch. I don’t see how an old western town fits with a zoo, but I guess that’s why I don’t own a zoo. Or a ranch. We did have a great time wandering around and checking out all of the exotic animals.

Bonnie Springs Ranch Zoo Burro
Is this a Burro or a Donkey? What’s the difference? I don’t know.

A little less exotic were the chickens that roam free, which did make the place that little bit more authentic. There’s a covered section in the middle of the zoo where you can feed the animals as well. The great part about that is that you can interact with them, and they are not afraid of people by any means.

A chicken at Bonnie Springs Ranch Zoo

Lisa found that out when a deer started nibbling on her shirt and wouldn’t let go without a bit of assistance. It was pretty funny, but you do need to be aware of your belongings so the animals don’t accidentally eat something that they shouldn’t.

A Patagonian Cavy
The Patagonian Cavy is a strange-looking animal.

There are donkeys are deer, a lama, and the animal that intrigued me the most – the Patagonian Cavy. They look like a cross between a rabbit, a wallaby and… something else.

Ghosts

Of course you know that a place like this is going to have stories of hauntings. It’s not an old US town if it’s not haunted. Ask any of the staff and they’re happy to tell you about the ghostly spectres that are said to haunt the Opera House, Wax Museum and Schoolhouse.

Bonnie Springs Ranch Opera House
The supposedly haunted Opera House.

The apparitions are said to be the spirits of those who died while making the hazardous journey across the country on the Old Spanish Trail a few hundred years ago. A US TV show called Ghost Adventures, visited the town examine the claims. They claim to have heard a voice in the mine saying “let me just help you” and drums being beaten.

They also claim to have heard the footsteps of cowboy boots in the Saloon. The padlock on the Opera House has sprung open in the park supervisor’s hands before and unexplained shadows have appeared.

Do with this information what you will. I’m chuckling just writing this stuff.

Horse Riding

You can’t have a proper cowboy/girl adventure without riding a horse! I’m guessing that’s why Bonnie Springs Ranch has its own stables a little further down the road. We didn’t do this (I’ve never ridden a horse and suspect I would get thrown if I tried), but it looked like a lot of fun.

The ranch gives you the opportunity to take an early morning horse ride along a trail for an hour. Even though you don’t need to reserve a slot days in advance, you will need to sign up half an hour before the ride. And the horse rides are guided, so you don’t have to worry about being too inexperienced.

All The Details

Bonnie Springs Ranch operating hours differ according to the seasons. During the summer it is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10.30AM to 6PM. During the winter months it is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10.30AM to 5PM.

Entry to the Old Town is $10 for adults and $7 for children under 12.

If you want to make sure that you don’t miss any of the shows, they are as follows:

  • Melodrama – 11.30AM, 2PM, 4.30PM
  • Bank Robbery – 12PM, 2.30PM, 5PM
  • Posse Show (Saturday & Sunday only) – 1.30PM and 4PM

If your heart’s set on a horse riding tour, it’s $60 for each rider and there are a few stipulations:

  • Only those over 6-years-old are accepted.
  • Weight limit of 250lbs.
  • Only closed-toed shoes are allowed.

For more information call +1-702-875-4191 or email info@bonniesprings.com

RED ROCK CANYON NATIONAL CONSERVATION AREA

Funnily enough, just off Red Rock Canyon Road, is the entrance to the canyon’s Scenic Loop and the Visitor’s Centre. The canyon is in the Mojave Desert and you’ll know it. There are cacti and Joshua Trees dotted all over the landscape. But nothing is as awe-inspiring as the imposing sandstone mountains striped red.
Red Rock Canyon look out
There’s a look out that you can stop at before getting to the National Conservation Area.

It’s the perfect way to round out a day trip from Las Vegas and I really wish we’d had more time to hike and explore.

13-Mile Scenic Drive

You’ll need a car to get to the National Conservation Area, and drive the 13-mile scenic loop around the area. Or you could walk in to the first stop on the loop, Calico I, and admire the view and go on a short hike.
Red Rock Canyon, Nevada
There are so many hikes and trails at Red Rock Canyon to explore that even if you lived in Nevada, it’d take a very long time to double up on them.
It’s important to note that the Scenic Drive is a one-way road, so even if you plan on a short stop at just the first outlook, you’re still going to have to drive all the way around the loop to exit the Conservation Area.
Red Rock Canyon, Nevada
But I would really recommend staying for as long as possible. We did the 1-mile Calico II hike, which is classed as ‘moderate’, and spent a good amount of time exploring as the sun began to set. There’s also the Grand Circle hike that starts in the same spot but it’s a ‘difficult’ one and clocks in at 10.6 miles long.
Red Rocks
We drove the rest of the Scenic Loop, stopping every now and then at pull-outs and lookouts along the way.

What to Bring

Remember that it is a desert though, so it’s a good idea to have some or all of the following:
  • Plenty of water
  • Snacks or a picnic
  • Sunscreen
  • Hats or bandanas
  • Comfortable walking shoes with good grip
  • Camera
  • A small backpack
  • Bandaids/a small first aid kit (just in case)

 All The Details

Entry to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is $15 for a car or truck, $10 for a motorcycle and $5 for pedestrians and cyclists.
The Visitor’s Centre is open from 8AM to 4.30PM, while the Scenic Drive is open at different times according to the seasons:
  • March: 6AM-7PM
  • April to September: 6AM-8PM
  • October: 6AM-7PM
  • November to February: 6AM-5PM

Got more questions? Call the General Information line: +1 (702) 515-5350.

Looking for a great day trip from #LasVegas? Try Bonnie Springs Ranch and #RedRockCanyon.

  

44 thoughts on “Cowboys, Ghosts & Canyons: A Day trip from Las Vegas

  1. This is a great post. I often see that Las Vegas is only known for the clubs and casinos. This was a nice post to explain the history and other activities around the city.

  2. Wow this sounds like a great day trip! I would love to see a melodrama, almost step inside a Western movie! Also your photos of the canyon are incredible. I cannot wait to visit the South West one day <3

  3. I would love to visit Las Vegas but I’d have to mix it up with day trips like this one. Bonnie Springs Ranch sounds like a really fun place. The melodrama aspect sounds really cool! When I visit Vegas I’ll have to check this out

  4. I went to Vegas a couple of years ago for a conference and I didn’t get the hype. And I knew there were so many day tirp options to the canyon that I could have done but just simply didn’t have the time. Such fun activities you did…. bank robbery sounds hilarious:)

  5. What a wonderful post! I visited Grand Canyon from Las Vegas and I was thrilled to see such beautiful natural creations.
    Our tour drove through Route 66 and covered some parts of Old Nevada, but your post is making me want to go back to visit the ranch and go horsebacking
    Thanks so much for sharing this

  6. Stunning views of the canyon! Old Nevada would be a fascinating place to visit . To compare and contrast it to The Strip.

    SSG xxx

  7. Red Rock Canyon looks so nice and that burro (Spanish for donkey) is too cute. When we went to Las Vegas, we took side trips to see Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon.

  8. How wonderful it is to go beyond the strip! I had enough foresight to go on a day trip to Hoover Dam and saw so much of the country-side. I liked being a tourist not just seeing the glitz!

    Thank you so much for linking up for #lifethisweek 20/52. Next week’s optional prompt is My Biggest Fear. 21/52. #LifeThisWeek. Denyse

  9. Ahh what a great day trip! I’m really surprised that you don’t have to go far to get out into nature. I’ve never been to Vegas but I guess I always thought it was such a big city it would be difficult to get out into the wild.

  10. So refreshing to see a post about Las Vegas that has nothing to do with The Strip. I have yet to visit Las Vegas but when I do, I definitely want to visit Red Rock Canyon!

  11. Glad I came across your post since we’re going to Vegas in June. I would like to check the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Maybe we will just do the scenic drive since it’s going to be hot for a hike.

  12. I agree the casinos in Vegas can get old, so a day trip is a great idea. I love Red Rock Canyon, I remember doing some hiking there. I also want to go to that Neon Museum. Hoover Dam also makes an interesting day trip. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

  13. Glad you got to see some of Nevada outside of Las Vegas, the rest of the state is very different. Have only visited a couple of times but would love to explore the state further. The melodramas sound like fun!

  14. Cool, I have never heard of this place before. I have to pin this, I will actually be closer to here soon and I this sounds like a neat Summer day activity.

  15. I love the west! Just about to head to Wyoming and Montana, but might be swinging by the south later in the year. Added this to my list.

  16. I loved Red Rock Canyon!! Such a wonderful place to hike. The red rocks, with all its patterns, are amazing. I would love to go back. I didn’t know about Bonnie Springs Ranch. Next time I’m in the area…..thanks for sharing!

  17. How cool! I feel like it’s things like this that makes the US different. This also looks like an amazing place to enjoy the sunset. Thanks for sharing!

  18. I’d love to do that! We are hoping to go back to USA later this year so really glad we found this. And we did discuss LV so maybe we will have to go a little further?

  19. This sounds like such a fun day!!! I was literally looking at Red Rock Canyon the other day and wondering if it’s worth it (I’m probably going to Vegas later this year but doing lots of national parks) so it’s funny this should come up! That ranch looks like so much fun too, I think I might have to add that to the never-ending itinerary haha. (P.S. thanks for all the useful info about each place!)

  20. This is great! We had a lot of fun in Vegas, but aren’t big fans of the typical Strip experience. We want to go back, and we’re going to keep your recommendations in our back pocket. It sounds like the perfect day trip. Thanks for sharing of #TheWeeklyPostcard!

  21. Wow this looks like such a fun day trip from Las Vegas! I love anything with cowboys and watching one of them old pantomines would be funny to watch! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

  22. What a great post, I don’t know a much about trips from Las Vegas. So this guide is very handy. I’ve just heard a bit about Red Rock Canyon, but your tip goes much deeper. Pin for later.#TheWeeklyPostcard

  23. I find it interesting that they brought in old buildings to create “Old Nevada.” Also, like you the zoo seems odd, but I like the Patagonian Cavy since I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

  24. I haven’t been to Las Vegas yet but this day trip sounds like so much fun, Katherine! I would love to learn more and explore Old Nevada. Is Las Vegas a good road trip destination?

  25. Looks like such a cool day trip from Las Vegas! I’ve never heard of Bonnie Springs Ranch, love the atmosphere of western movies though! Hope I´d knew about this place before, back when I visited Vegas! Saved for the future trips #TheWeeklyPostcard

  26. Hi there, this looks like such a wonderful place to take a family!! We are an Australian family of 7 traveling the world, and I just know that my kids would love every minute of a cool old western town with plays and ghost stories, this is definitely going on the ‘must see’ list, thank you! #FarawayFiles

  27. We would of loved to of seen more of the area around Las Vegas when we visited. The landscape is amazing and so different to where we live in Australia. This sounds like a great day trip and I’m noting it down for future reference for when we return. Thank you! #FarawayFiles

  28. This looks just like something from the Wild West. I hadn’t imagined you could find this kind of place so close to Vegas. I like the idea of combining a trip to the ranch with a drive around to see that incredible landscape. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

  29. Your photos are spectacular! I had heard there were some pretty great day trips from Vegas, and wished we would have had time to do this one. I think my little one would have loved the town, and I know my older one would love the exploring and hiking. We might have had our fill or red rocks last summer on our two week road trip through the Southwest, but if I decide I need more, I know where to go! Thanks for sharing on #farawayfiles

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