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The Ultimate 6-9 Hour Las Vegas Layover Guide – by an Airline Pilot

As an airline pilot, I frequently find myself with short layovers in all sorts of cool places. Recently, I was able to make the most out of a short day in the fascinating city of Las Vegas.

To me, there’s so much more to Vegas than casinos and gambling. There might be money to lose, but there are memories to make – especially when it comes to exploring.

Somewhere between 6 to 9 hours is just the right amount of time to explore some of the amazing nature you’d be surprised to see so close to this desert utopia.

Check out these other Ultimate Airport Layover Guides: ATL | JFK | SEA | SFO | LAS | AMS | CDG | LHR | and more

Should I rent a car to explore Las Vegas?

Renting a car is the best way to enjoy a short layover in Las Vegas. Here I am in Mount Charleston.
Can you guess which option I went for?

It depends on how long of a layover you have and just where you intend to explore.

If you have closer to 9 hours and only plan to head downtown, the bus is a cheap and convenient way to get right to the strip. Anything shorter and I’d considering taking an uber/lyft downtown. They tend to run about $15-20 each way from the airport.

Those with aspirations to explore the magnificent surrounding nature will find renting a car most convenient. There’s a massive rental car center which is just a short free bus ride from the airport – or just 12 minutes from the strip.

Pro Tip: Rates are high and lines are long. It pays to become a member of a rental car company, such as a Hertz Gold member, to skip the line and go straight to your car – while saving money.


San Francisco: The Ultimate Layover Guide & Top 5 Things to Do

Seattle, Washington: 10 BEST Things On a Short Layover

Las Vegas: The Incredible Nature of the Wild West

As an airline pilot, I couldn’t help but maximize my Las Vegas layover by driving out to the nearby Red Rock Canyon national park.
I enjoyed this magnificent view from the incredible Red Rock Canyon Loop just outside of Vegas.

Though it might surprise you, Vegas is sitting in one of the most incredible valleys in all the United States.

There’s the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead on one side, Red Rock Canyon and Mt Washington on the other. Go just a touch further and there are the world famous National Parks of Arches, Zion, and Bryce Canyon. All within arms reach!

So the gamble I’d take on a short Vegas layover would be getting out and trying to see as much as I can!

Lake Mead & the Hoover Dam

Lake Mead is the perfect choice for a quick getaway in Las Vegas. Short layovers included.
A Vegas favorite, Lake Mead offers so much to do within an incredibly short distance from town. Photo (CC BY2.0): GillyBerlin

At only 40 minutes from the heart of downtown, Lake Mead makes an amazing place to spend a short layover. There are a ton of activities for any length of time, including:

  • Hiking (1+ hour)
  • Kayaking/canoeing, motorboating and jetskiing (2+ hours)
  • Horseback riding (2+ hours)
  • Hunting, fishing, and even scuba diving (3+ hours)
  • Or just enjoying the gorgeous roads around the lake (1+ hour)

The Hoover Dam, known for TikTok videos of balls enjoying the principles of Bernouilli (i.e. appearing to hover off the dam while falling hundreds of feet) is only a touch further!

Including time to/from the airport and renting a car, you can easily fit one of the above activities in a 6 to 9 hour layover and still have enough time to make it back.

Red Rock Canyon and short hikes

After flying into Las Vegas, I rented a car and drove straight to the Red Rock Canyon scenic drive for an awesome short layover.
Even if you don’t have time for the hike, the gorgeous Red Rock scenic drive loop is 100% worth it.

At only 25 minutes from the airport, the Red Rock Canyon is staggeringly beautiful. It’s hard to believe it’s so close to town.

There’s a ”scenic drive” road – part of a National Park (annual passes available for $85, day passes for $15-25) – with a ton of great hikes of all lengths.

Some of the best shorter hikes include the Calico Hills, which you’ll see as soon as you enter the drive. The Calico area features amazing canyon hikes in the heart of the red rock areas, with spectacular views all around.

The Ice Box canyon is also a great hike. You can see the canyon from miles away; it’s very enticing. I couldn’t help myself but hike it last time I was in Vegas. Do note that it’s about an hour each way without much shade for the most part.

Thanks to its proximity to the city, you can spend more time hiking, exploring, or enjoying the Red Rock Canyon national park than other parks in Vegas- including Mt. Washington, which I’ll talk about next.

Mount Washington and surrounding canyon roads

It only takes an hour to drive from Las Vegas to Mt. Charleston - definitely worth it for a longer layover!
The hiking trails surrounding Cathedral Rocks are immensely popular. I mean look at that scenery. This is next to Las Vegas!! Ken Lund

Do you enjoy amazing drives on curvy roads with epic views? I sure do.

One of my favorite drives of all time is from Las Vegas to Mt. Washington. At just about an hour each way, I’d reserve it only for those longer layovers (8+ hours). It’s a hike, but it’s worth it.

The drive itself is epic, and there are a lot of epic hikes you can start from the top. A shorter and more accessible hike for those short on time is Cathedral Rocks, which you can see basically as soon as you get to Mt. Washington.

A huge benefit is the cooler weather you’ll encounter at the top of the mountain.

Make sure to stop for lunch at the Retreat on Mt. Charleston. If you have even more time, there are a couple great restaurants at the top of Lee Canyon – about 30 minutes further of a drive.

If you have an extra hour on the way back, there is a fabulous pit stop at the Desert View Spot for epic views and history on/about the Las Vegas valley. It has views on the millions of years of formations and even glimpses at downtown! Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Pro Tip: Consider renting a convertible to have an epic time on the sweeping, curvy canyon roads up and down!

Less Nature; More Gambling

Heading to the Las Vegas strip makes sense on a shorter layover in Vegas.
Of course, the Las Vegas strip is only 15-30 minutes away from the airport by bus or car!

For those who want to see Vegas, well for what Vegas is known for, don’t worry; I haven’t forgotten about you either.

The world-famous Las Vegas Strip, known for its extravagance and Elvis Presley impersonators, is only a 30 minute bus ride (or 15-20 minute uber) from the airport – and of course offers way more to do than you could ever accomplish in 6 to 9 hours.

It’s still worth it though, even if you have less time.

Some of the must sees include:

  • Bellagio Fountain and Mall
  • MGM Grand Pools
  • The Great Pyramid, Eiffel Tower, and roller coaster in the heart of downtown
  • The Strip
  • Pinball Hall of Fame
  • Gold & Silver Pawn Shop (where Pawn Stars is filmed)

There are slot machines right at the gate for those who can’t get enough! Just don’t miss your flight.

Luggage Storage in Las Vegas

The Las Vegas airport unfortunately doesn’t have official luggage storage. If you really need it, Bounce is a great alternative.

One huge advantage to renting a car is the ease of leaving your luggage in the trunk.

For those looking to store your bags somewhere before going out and exploring, many hotels and casinos do offer a concierge service.

Otherwise, Bounce is a great tool to search for official luggage storage companies in Vegas.

Keep Exploring the World

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