Las Vegas for Kids: 10 Family Friendly Destinations
Cowboy trail rides
The rugged land of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (pictured) makes for a great afternoon hike and an even better horseback ride. That's where this outfitter comes in. On half- and full-day guided rides, cowboys lead visitors up and into the Spring Mountains with the hopes of spotting jackrabbits, mule deer, desert bighorn sheep, Joshua trees and more. Some hikes include lunches; one revolves around a barbecue cookout after a sunset ride through Red Rock Canyon.
DISCOVERY Children's Museum
This spring will bring new digs and a new name for the Lied Discovery Children's Museum. The new facility, which will operate under the name Discovery Children's Museum and move to the Donald W. Reynolds Discovery Center in Symphony Park downtown, will feature nine themed exhibition halls, as well as a multi-level exhibit with stations designed to inspire visitors-both children and adults-to learn through play.
Consider this attraction the afterlife for old neon signs. The facility, which displays more than 150 signs that date back to the 1930s, opened to the public in late October on the site of the old La Concha Motel downtown. The collection includes the original signs from the Stardust, the Horseshoe and other properties; to get up-close, visitors must take a one-hour guided tour led by a volunteer. While these tours aren't for very young children-the desert sun can be scorching and metal on some of the signs is pretty sharp-the stroll is both educational and informative.
Las Vegas Springs Preserve
The "Springs Preserve," as local residents call it, is really three family-friendly museums in one. The newest addition, the Nevada State Museum, reopened in October 2011 after being closed for five years due to lack of funding and now spotlights an exhibit about Vegas fashion in the 1960s and 1970s. The other two venues are the Origen Museum, which presents a history of the Las Vegas Valley (including its Living Collections of animals such as Gila monsters, desert cottontails and Botta's pocket gophers), and the Desert Living Center, which teaches visitors about sustainability in a harsh environment. The facility also boasts 3.5 miles of hiking trails, all of which are flat enough to make them easy options for young hikers with little legs.
Las Vegas Mini Gran Prix
Go-Kart racing is serious business for the family of NASCAR driver Taylor Barton, whose father owns this rollicking facility in North Las Vegas. Four tracks offer different experiences for kids of all ages, including one course designed especially for kids between 38 and 54 inches tall and another where adults only compete against the clock. Elsewhere on-site, there are a series of carnival rides for toddlers, a café and a video arcade with air hockey, Skee ball and Pop-A-Shot.
Rides of fun
Most kids love amusement park rides, and Las Vegas has no shortage of opportunities for the little ones to get down and dirty. No. 1 on the list: The Adventuredome, which, with roller coasters and 3-D videos, undeniably puts the "circus" into Circus Circus. At the north end of the Strip, the Stratosphere, the tallest structure in Vegas, offers spectacular views of the desert and four rides that dangle participants over the edge. The Big Shot, arguably the most intense of these rides, whisks thrill-seekers up 160 feet at 45 mph-the equivalent of four Gs of force-then drops them back down again, all at a height of more than 100 stories.
Hoover Dam/Lake Mead
Most families in Vegas "see" the Hoover Dam and the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on a road-trip or bus tour from the Strip. Instead, take the time to get to know the area more intimately. Take a guided tour inside the dam. Rent a houseboat and spend a day or two on the lake. For a different experience, rent bikes in Boulder City and follow the first third of the 36-mile River Mountains Loop Trail bike path to a spur trail that passes through five old railroad tunnels and ends at a parking garage for the dam. (Be warned: The return trip is almost entirely uphill.)
Wild animals are considered amenities at a number of Strip hotels in Las Vegas. At Mandalay Bay, for instance, the Shark Reef gives families a chance to gaze upon more than 2,000 creatures, including the rare golden crocodile. Other popular animal attractions around town include Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, which is home to baby tigers, panthers and bottlenose dolphins, and the Wildlife Habitat at the Flamingo, which is home to three dozen Chilean flamingoes.
You and your family haven't arrived in Vegas until you've witnessed the Fountains of Bellagio in all of their balletic glory. The show runs regularly between 3 p.m. and midnight on weekdays and noon and midnight on weekends; the best place to watch with kids is from the sidewalk just east of the resort. Next door, inside the Crystals at CityCenter mall, two other water-based attractions have proven to be hits with young kids: Glacia, a placid water feature with protruding columns of ice, and Halo, a family of clear cylinders with vortices of swirling water inside.
Las Vegas is at the forefront of a race to build some pretty awesome family-friendly Ferris wheels. First up, at the end of the year: the High Roller, which will measure 550 feet and become the largest observation wheel in the world. The attraction also will be the centerpiece of a new entertainment complex (dubbed Project Linq Las Vegas) at the center of the Las Vegas Strip across from Caesars Palace. The second Vegas wheel, a 500-footer named SkyVue, will sit at the south end of the Strip, across from Mandalay Bay, and is slated to open in early 2014.