Check Out Las Vegas Off the Strip

A funny thing happened on the way to the 21st century … Las Vegas grew up.

Sure, it’s always been the ultimate adult playpen of sin, gin and win. But those heady pursuits now have competition, and not just from Food Network stars, James Beard award winners and the recipients of Michelin stars.

You remember all those mountains you saw winging in that ribbon of blue just to the east, right? Well, it turns out, that what happens in Vegas is a whole lot of recreation. So remember to check out Las Vegas off the strip!

Golfer’s Paradise

According to the National Golf Association, Vegas is the alpha dog of golf pricing in the nation. Fear not, good golf can be had in Sin City—or just beyond it—without assistance from a Congressional bailout. For a howling good time, Vegas’ if-you-only-get-one-round-to-play, play-here course is found 20 miles northwest of Glitter Gulch at Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort.

The only problem during your Las Vegas vacation is deciding which 18 of the 54 holes to play. Of Paiute’s three Pete Dye-designed courses, Wolf gets the most attention as it’s the most raucous of the litter. Sun Mountain serves up a kinder, gentler Dye where strategy, and not just brawn, or blind luck, helps carry the day. Snow Mountain is the beguiling pup, playful with loads of risk-reward and big paws that hint at its strength. With peak season rack rates under two bills, this best-in-Vegas facility is a high-value play, as well.

Golf in Las VegasNot all is lost when it comes to true public golf as city-owned facilities in Boulder City and Las Vegas serve up quality in spades. Boulder Creek Golf Club is a 27-hole Mark Rathert design set on what seems to be a pancake-flat expanse of Mojave Desert that comes at players with a staff bag full of rises and falls, doglegs and the type of two-shot strategy design options—a more challenging angle that leads to a more benign approach and vice versa – expected of big name designers like Bob Cupp and Tom Doak. And it’s all available at a relative pittance ($60-$150). The city of Las Vegas steps in with Durango Hills Golf Club, a par-58 gem of not-just-pitching-wedge par 3s and a juicy reachable par 4 that gives every player a chance for eagle and the attendant glory. Not a lot of visitors make it over to this course, and more need to do so and not just because the cost is two bucks per hole.

Can’t decide between mountain, valley or desert championship golf courses? Play all three at Silverstone Golf Club, located within a short drive of the Las Vegas Strip. The three unique 9-hole course layouts – Mountain, Valley and Desert – for a total of 27 championship holes, offer one of the most diverse and unforgettable Vegas golf experiences imaginable. Vegas Golfer Magazine thinks so too. Silverstone won several Fairway Awards, including Best Clubhouse, Best Par 5, Best ProShop and Best 19th Hole. The Bob Cupp-designed course is also known for being suited to golfers at all skill levels. With weekday rates starting at $85 and weekend fees starting at $100, it is also quite affordable.

Desert Activities

Pink Jeep ToursFollowing a day of red numbers head to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area,. Red rock tours showcase a tumble of sandstone and mountain cloaked in contrasting ribbons of alabaster and crimson and purple that dominates the western horizon of the Las Vegas Valley. “Red Rock” as the locals call it, and not to be confused with the nearby casino-hotel of the same name, is two parks in one. At its core is an interpretive center, picnic facilities, monoliths suitable for climbing, a scenic drive favored by on-road cyclists as well as motorists, and 30-or-so miles of hiking trails; mountain biking is allowed on trails and roads in the southerly portion of the conservation area. Beyond the part of the reserve that’s readily visible and accessible exists nearly 200,000 acres of wild backcountry canyons and peaks. The three-mile-long Pine Creek Canyon Trail is a great introduction to the complexity of life in the arid southwest, and it’s very suitable for families whose little ones like to hike.

Most of the route is through flat open desert, with raptors gliding overhead likely searching for the lizards and jackrabbits that bolt with every hiker’s footfalls. If you prefer not to hoof it on the canyon trails, an adrenaline-filled jeep tour is the next best thing. Pink Jeep Tours is a popular tour company offering expert tours of the best sites in the canyon. In business for more than 45 years, Pink Jeep Tours holds an off-road permit for excellent access to remote sites in the canyon area. The tours—conducted in state-of-the-art, luxury all-terrain vehicles—take you on a 6,500-foot climb up rocky off-road terrain, past Native American pictographs and the amazing desert landscape. Their Tour Trekker jeeps feature reclining leather captain seats (for 6-10 people), DVD players, superb climate control, and giant, tinted windows offering panoramic views of the land.

Hoover Dam Jet SkiFor all the talk of legalized gambling, the Mob, Howard Hughes and then Steve Wynn, the transition of Vegas from then to now came as a result of one event: the construction of Hoover Dam. The decision to plug the untamed Colorado River was driven by a variety of factors and benefits including the creation of Lake Mead. It ambles away northerly and northeasterly of the dam, ultimately extending its reach into the Grand Canyon as it stretches out to become the largest reservoir in the nation. As boaters have learned at Lake Powell and elsewhere, however, dropping water levels often lead to new beaches and new discoveries. Houseboating, water skiing and wakeboarding, fishing, jet skiing, parasailing; any lake this massive in a desert is a recipe for activity. Las Vegas Boat Harbor is a popular place to rent a boat or personal watercraft. Their fleet includes powerboats, deck boats, patio boats, and Wave Runners.® A family-owned business since 1957, the popular boat rental facility also boasts two restaurants – Harbor House Café and the Boat House – and two floating stores. Sit-down meals, picnic lunch prep and supplies like beverages, sunscreen, and ice are all available.

This is Vegas? Who would’ve known?