Las Vegas might be considered the Entertainment Capital of the World but that doesn’t mean that you’ll stay there forever—you have to leave at some point! Phoenix is around a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Vegas, and with seemingly endless sun and warm temperatures all year round, it’s got a lot more going for it than just being Arizona’s capital.
While you could make the drive from Vegas to Phoenix all in the same day, there are plenty of fun destinations along the way that make it a trip worth extending. From chocolate and art to alpacas and aliens, this road trip through the desert is one you’ll never forget.
Inspired by his mother, Ethel, Forrest Mars started Ethel M’s Chocolates in 1978 with a single goal: to produce freshly made, small-batch, gourmet chocolates. Today, the company continues to honor the integrity behind the original mission and only uses fresh ingredients (many of which are made on-site) to craft its handmade chocolates without taking any shortcuts with mass production.
Visit the factory and see for yourself why Ethel M’s Chocolates has been famous well outside of its local area. Located in Henderson, Nevada, just about a 20-minute drive from Vegas, the factory offers both self-guided and guided tours of its facility and botanical cacti garden, which houses over three acres of cacti. Self-guided tours are free, but you can’t leave without trying some of the chocolate! Liqueur chocolates, pecan brittle, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and assorted gift baskets are some of Ethel M’s best sellers. Visitors love Ethel M’s small-business vibe, gorgeous botanical garden, and, of course, the free samples.
Only about a 40-minute drive from Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam is definitely worth a stop on your way to Phoenix. Situated on the Colorado River in between Nevada and Arizona, the Hoover Dam is among the best-known man-made landmarks in the United States, and having been built during the Great Depression, the history behind the dam makes it even more interesting.
A National Historic Landmark, the Hoover Dam is open to the public every day from 5 am to 9 pm. It’s free to walk around the dam yourself, but you can pay extra for a guided tour that includes a look at the dam’s accompanying powerplant as well as some additional behind-the-scenes access. Whether you’re a history buff or just a traveling enthusiast, the Hoover Dam is probably on your list of places to visit in the U.S., and if you’re in Las Vegas, now’s the perfect time to see it. The architecture and engineering behind the dam—plus the surrounding views—make the Hoover Dam a sight to see on your drive to Phoenix.
Officially titled The Journey, this collection of murals proves that creativity knows no bounds. In 1966, artist Roy Purcell decided to take a hiatus from his graduate studies at Utah State University to work as a miner in Arizona. With the approval of local residents, Purcell painted a two-thousand-square-foot set of murals on granite cliff faces in the Cerbat Mountains, just outside of Chloride, Arizona.
The murals garnered national attention, and their appeal has withstood the test of time—The Journey remains a popular stop to make when driving through this portion of Arizona. Aside from the novelty of the unexpected medium, the remote location of the murals adds to the viewing experience, and the desert landscape accentuates the colors against their arid background. While hailed as a worthwhile destination, visitors are advised to exercise caution while making their way to the murals, as the road leading up to them is not paved.
If you’re looking for an offbeat detour on your way to Phoenix, you should definitely check out Alpacas of the Southwest, a full-service alpaca ranch that’s located just two minutes from Interstate-40. Family-owned and operated, Alpacas of the Southwest is open to visits Sundays, Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10 am to 4 pm.
For an $11-parking fee (which is used to feed and take care of the animals), you can tour the ranch, learn about the alpacas, feed them, and take photos with them! By nature, alpacas are very docile and social animals, and you’ll find that the alpacas on the ranch are accustomed to visitors and don’t mind standing still for pictures. Once you spend some quality time with the alpacas, make sure to take a look at the gift shop, which sells alpaca products like socks, sweaters, gloves, hats, and more. (Not only is alpaca wool extremely soft, but it’s also three times warmer than sheep wool!)
You’ve heard that the truth is out there—but you probably won’t find it at the Area 66 Museum. Nonetheless, this roadside attraction off of Route 66 is entertaining way to break up some of the driving from Las Vegas to Phoenix. Even if you just stop to take a quick photo in front of the geodesic sphere that holds the museum, the Area 66 Museum is a point of interest that’s about as bizarre as they come.
In addition to the museum, the golf-ball-shaped dome has a convenience store with some locally-loved beef jerky—plus alien and UFO memorabilia. The self-described “government black box” museum is fairly new, and the owners are working to expand its exhibits, which currently include a story about a UFO that crash-landed in the area and artifacts from the supposed event. This attraction is definitely one to keep an eye on because the folks at Area 66 are just getting started!
It’s not uncommon to come back from London with a souvenir or two, but in 1968, Robert P. McCulloch left England’s capital city with a lot more than a t-shirt or a keychain—he made a multimillion-dollar deal with the City of London to buy the London Bridge, which he believed would bring tourists to his newly-founded city in Arizona, Lake Havasu City.
The bridge, which was built in the 1830s, was disassembled and shipped to Arizona (all 10,276 granite blocks of it!). While the original exterior of the bridge—including the historic lampposts that were made by melting down Napoleon’s cannons after the British defeated him in the Battle of Waterloo—is still intact, the interior of the bridge was replaced with a steel framework to reduce its weight and strengthen its structure. Not only is the bridge itself an architectural masterpiece and a piece of living history, but its picturesque setting makes it even more suitable for countless photo ops! Most visitors might be initially drawn to the bridge for its fascinating backstory, but they’re more than happy to stay in the area for a little to eat at one of the surrounding restaurants.
The American West has a dynamic history that’s left its mark on the country in more ways than one. Become intimately acquainted with the West and its past when you plan a stop to the Desert Caballeros Museum in Wickenburg, Arizona, a multifaceted Smithsonian affiliate that encourages you to immerse yourself in art and historical collections with roots in the Western United States.
The Desert Caballeros Museum has ongoing and rotating exhibitions that focus on different aspects of Western heritage. From cowboys to mining camps, these largely interactive exhibitions will captivate you with their richness and detail. Art lovers, history fanatics, antiquers, and kids will all love the versatile range of topics found in this museum.
Before you finally make your way into Phoenix, admire the mountaintop views of the city by taking a slight detour through South Mountain Park and Preserve, about 20 minutes from Downtown Phoenix. The highest accessible point in South Mountain Park, Dobbins Lookout is a popular vantage point that offers visitors some of the best views of Phoenix.
You can hike or drive to Dobbins Point, and stop at other vistas on your way up to see the city from a variety of angles. The hike is two and a half miles each way on Hobert Trail and is generally considered to be a moderate-to-difficult level hike. If you opt to drive, you can follow Summit Road for five and a half miles of park scenery. At the lookout spot, you’ll find a stone ramada where you can seek some shelter from the sun and pose for a few photos.
Sometimes we’re so focused on where we’re going that we forget to enjoy the ride. If you’re driving from Las Vegas to Phoenix, why not turn your time in the car into a little road trip? These are just a few of the stops that are in between Vegas and Phoenix, but as you can see, you won’t be short on things to see and do. Make some time to venture off of the beaten path and do some exploring—and don’t forget to look out the window and take in those amazing desert views while on the way!