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.
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
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.
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.
All of the above entertainment is only performed from Wednesday to Sunday though, so keep that in mind when you’re planning your visit.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 [email protected].
RED ROCK CANYON 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
What to Bring
- Plenty of water
- Snacks or a picnic
- Hats or bandanas
- Comfortable walking shoes with good grip
- A small backpack
- Bandaids/a small first aid kit (just in case)
All The Details
- 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.