The Venetian, the Bellagio, Planet Hollywood, Caesar's Palace. The glitter and glitz of the Las Vegas strip can keep visitors entertained for days on end, but for those vacationers who want to add an easy side trip and experience the great outdoors, Willow Beach might be just the ticket.

Willow Beach is part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and it's run by the National Park Service. It's located just an hour's drive southeast of Las Vegas, so it makes for a very convenient day trip. In fact, tourists can swim or paddle board at Willow Beach at mid-day and be back on the Las Vegas strip in time for dinner and a show.

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The National Park Service believes that Native Americans camped at what is now Willow Beach as far back as 250 BC. From artifacts uncovered at the beach, which fronts the Colorado River, it seems likely that the area was a prehistoric trading center. In more recent years, Willow Beach has been a popular fishing camp. The beach is actually in Arizona, just across the Nevada border.

The Willow Beach riverfront has some sandy and rocky beaches, and there are picnic tables and grills available. Kayak or paddle in either direction to find hidden coves, waterfalls, and hot springs.

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Willow Beach Is Just An Hour's Drive From The Strip

There are a few ways to get to Willow Beach from Las Vegas, and the simplest among them is to drive or hire a taxi. Situated 15 miles south of Hoover Dam and 55 miles from Las Vegas, Willow Beach is accessible by a combination of public bus and taxi, but the combined cost of both modes of transportation is almost as much as taking a taxi the whole way.

Public transit will get travelers only as far as Boulder City, and then a taxi must be engaged. The bus fare is low, just $6, to get roughly halfway there, but the taxi portion for the remainder of the trip will run up to $170. A taxi from downtown Las Vegas all the way to Willow Beach will cost around $200 and will take much less time.

For those visitors who arrive in Las Vegas by plane, the price of a rental car for the day should be compared to the taxi expense. And with a rental car, visitors have more flexibility for coming and going at will.

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Heading out from Las Vegas, travel south on I-515 and merge onto US-93 South. Continue to Boulder City, then turn left onto the US-93 Truck Route. After about 14 miles, turn right onto Willow Beach Road.

Kayak, Canoe, And Paddle Board From Willow Beach

Willow Beach has more than 200 miles of coastline and sits between Lake Mead and Lake Mohave, making it an ideal place to jump in and take a swim in calm waters. It also has a much-used launch site for paddleboards, kayaks, and canoes.

The hustle and bustle of Willow Beach mostly happens at the Willow Beach Marina and Campground, which rents motorized and non-motorized vessels and has a restaurant, the Black Canyon Grill. Open daily in summer and on weekends the remainder of the year, it serves breakfast and lunch, offering such items as burritos, sandwiches, burgers, and salads.

Visitors who opt to rent a kayak or canoe can explore Willow Beach and its environs, which include the very popular Emerald Cove, the Arizona Hot Spring, and the geologically interesting Liberty Bell Arch, a giant piece of rock that looks, well, just like a liberty bell.

Along with the marina, a few other outlets rent kayaks and canoes and offer guided tours for the uninitiated. Desert Adventures, for instance, offers kayak and canoe rentals priced from $60 per day, and guided tours, including one called the Colorado River Canoe Trip, from the Willow Beach launch. It's a full-day tour, with lunch and a hiking expedition, and costs $199 per person.

Another company, River Dogz, offers similar excursions and will provide roundtrip shuttle transportation from many Las Vegas hotels for tourists who don't want to rent a car. It's half-day Emerald Cove Kayak Tour costs $147 per person and is good for beginner kayakers since the guide shares paddling techniques with first-timers.

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One way to make the most of a day trip to Willow Beach is to combine it with a sightseeing stop at Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, particularly for those who have rented a car in Las Vegas and driven to the area. The cost to enter the Lake Mead recreational area, which includes Willow Beach, is $25 per vehicle, so visitors will get the best bang for their buck by seeing as much of the area as possible in one day.

A morning kayak tour, lunch at the Black Canyon Grill, and a short drive to see Hoover Dam and Lake Mead in the afternoon seem the perfect nature-based outing from the hectic Las Vegas strip.