There’s more to Nevada than gambling and the bright lights of the Las Vegas strip — not that there’s anything wrong with that!
Bordered by Oregon, Idaho, California, Arizona, and Utah, Nevada offers a unique mix of desert, mountain, forest, and urban landscapes and plenty of open space to explore.
Our photographer’s guide will point you to some beautiful outdoor landscapes that you might be surprised to find in the Silver State. Check out our guide to 8 of the best spots for highly Instagrammable photoshoots in Nevada.
VALLEY OF FIRE STATE PARK
Located only about 50 miles from the bright neon lights of casinos on the Vegas strip, Valley of Fire State Park feels like a whole different world from the up-all-night action of Las Vegas.
In fact, the landscape has been used as a backdrop for Sci-fi movies like Total Recall and Star Trek Generations because of its otherworldly red rock formations.
The easiest way to enjoy this park is to drive through on the main road, called Mouse’s Tank Road. In the potentially searing heat of the summer and early autumn months, you barely have to leave the air-conditioned comfort of your rental vehicle to take in the views along this scenic drive.
In the cooler temperatures of late fall and winter, don’t miss the 1.5-mile hike to The Fire Wave, one of the best photo opportunities in the park. Here you’ll spot ribbons of pink, white and red sandstone swirling under your feet.
If you’re lucky, you might also spot bighorn sheep clambering over the red rocks throughout the park.
Take the 41-mile Spring Mountains Scenic Drive outside of Las Vegas to experience the dramatically dynamic scenery. The road winds from the heat of the desert floor up to ancient pine forests, and peaks at an elevation of 8,500 feet.
Mount Charleston is the highest mountain in the Spring Mountains, at 11,916 feet. Along with the elevation change, you’ll also experience a drastic temperature change as you climb (usually around 20 degrees cooler), which can be a welcome relief in the warmer months.
Check out the Raintree, an ancient bristlecone pine by hiking a 2.7-mile section of the North Loop Trail. This tree is estimated to be 3,000 years old, and the largest tree in the Spring Mountains.
This hike also offers panoramic views of Kyle Canyon and Las Vegas below, so photographers are sure to find scenic spots to shoot.
THE NEON MUSEUM, LAS VEGAS
When driving through Nevada, it can be hard to resist a stop in the infamous city of Las Vegas, the Neon Capital of the World. Once you get your fill of slot machines and showgirls, immerse yourself in the nostalgia of Old Las Vegas among the “boneyard” of vintage neon signs of casinos past at The Neon Museum.
The outdoor gallery of oversized classic neon signage makes a fun retro backdrop for portrait photography. In fact, the museum offers special “Photo Walks” or “Portrait Hours,” allowing photographers to bring their choice of tripods and camera equipment that aren’t allowed with regular admission.
The museum also limits the number of groups allowed for photography tours at any given time, so this can help you avoid crowds wandering into your shot. Book one of these unique experiences online through the Neon Museum’s site to ensure that you get the perfect shot on your visit.
And if you’re really in the Vegas spirit and you got hitched by Elvis, this is a perfect spot for wedding/elopement photos!
The regular price is $50, with a discounted $35 tickets available for military, veterans, seniors, students, and NV residents.
RED ROCK CANYON NATIONAL CONSERVATION AREA
Only 15 miles to the west of Las Vegas is the accurately-named Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada’s first designated National Conservation Area.
Close proximity to Las Vegas and a 13-mile one-way loop road through the canyon make this a popular and easy stop on any road trip through Nevada. The Scenic Drive Loop makes getting to the best viewpoints and trailheads in the park very accessible.
The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area gets its name from the deep red rocks of the Calico Hills. Get up close to them for some stunning photographs of the red rocks contrasted against clear blue skies and the surrounding desert landscape via the trail from Calico I or Calico II parking areas.
Fiery red rock formations and sandstone peaks call to landscape photographers, as well as campers and rock climbers.
Red Rock Canyon is one of the best areas in the world for rock climbing. Bouldering fans will know the famous “Plumber’s Crack” Boulder — a tall boulder split cleanly to form a deep crack that beckons climbers to squeeze up through to the top. Even if you don’t want to try your hand at the climb, this rock formation makes for a good photo opp. Get there by parking at the Kraft Mountain parking lot and taking the Kraft Loop trail.
If you want to get out in the rocks for some climbing adventures along with some stunning photography, Red Rock offers hundreds of established climbing routes of varying difficulty for every level of climber.
Keep in mind that this is the Mojave Desert, and temperatures can swing from extreme daytime highs to very cold and even snowy conditions in the winter. Permits may be required for backcountry hiking and overnight parking.
LAKE TAHOE NEVADA STATE PARK
Beautiful, blue Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, surrounded by the Sierra Nevadas and straddling the border between California and Nevada. Located around 6,225 feet and encircled by snow-capped peaks that offer some of the best skiing in the country, this is a truly beautiful and picturesque place to explore and photograph.
On the Nevada side of the lake, Sand Harbor State Park is a lovely spot to spend the day. Boulders rise out of the clear aqua waters, and pine-lined trails run along the slightly elevated shoreline, making for some stunning photo opportunities. In the summer, rent a paddleboard or kayak and paddle around in the almost tropical-colored waters that are icy cold at any time of year.
The surrounding mountain peaks will be white with snow year-round, making a stunning backdrop for photography. During ski season, be sure to plan for some time on the slopes at one of the 15 ski resorts in the Tahoe area. Views of the deep blue lake from the ski lifts and slopes rival the world-class skiing and snowboarding.
GREAT BASIN NATIONAL PARK
Visit Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada near the border with Utah to experience deep caves, high peaks, ancient bristlecone pines, and glaciers.
The 77,100 acres of the park stretch through varying landscapes from 6,825 feet all the way up to 13,060 feet at the top of Wheeler Peak. Much of the landscape was carved by glaciers, some of which are still visible in the park.
Check out the Lehman Rock Glacier and Lehman Cirque via the Glacier Trail or Summit Trail.
This National Park is also home to some of the best conditions for night sky photography in the country due to its low humidity and minimal light pollution. In fact, an annual Great Basin Astronomy Festival is celebrated here each September, offering night sky photography workshops and presentations for stargazing and photography enthusiasts.
Pick a clear night and try your hand at capturing the magical Milky Way over snowy Wheeler Peak.
Another unique photo op is capturing the stalactites and stalagmites of the ancient Lehman caves, estimated to have formed between 2-5 million years ago. Keep your eye out for the 10 different species of bats that inhabit the caves.
Golden yellow leaves on ghostly white aspens can also be spotted around the park in the Fall – try Lehman Creek trail to hike through and photograph some beautiful aspen groves.
BLACK ROCK DESERT
The Black Rock Desert may have been made famous by the creative crowd gathering at the annual Burning Man festival held on the playa of Black Rock City, but this unique desert’s history also includes wagon trails used by early pioneers of the West.
The Black Rock Desert-High Canyon Emigrant Trail National Conservation Area encompasses 800,000 acres and 120 miles of emigrant trails. The landscape remains unchanged from when it was first mapped by pioneers in 1843, blazing the trail for the Gold Rush of 1849 — when 10,000 covered wagons passed through the area on their way to seek their fortunes mining for gold in California.
This is a very rugged and remote area with no services, paved roads, or safe water sources, so be sure to plan accordingly. The playa of the Black Rock Desert (a vast flat dry lake bed) is a great spot for boondocking or dispersed camping, as long as you come with plenty of food and water supplies, and a suitable four-wheel drive vehicle.
This is also a unique spot for photos, as the cracked white earth stretches on toward distant peaks. The glow of sunset on the playa creates beautiful lighting for photos.
You might be surprised to learn that Nevada is home to the most natural hot springs in the U.S. Many of them are located near the playa, and require off-road driving to get to.
Black Rock Hot Springs is a surprising oasis in the desert that can be found by following the pioneer’s landmark of a pointed black rock on the horizon across the playa. This spring is surrounded by reeds and has a small dock that makes it a good spot for photography.
Other hot springs may be dangerous and too hot to touch, so be careful if you come across one that you haven’t researched ahead of time.
This uninhabited area was also used as a Naval Air gunnery during World War II, so keep an eye out for unexploded ordnance! That is a whole lot of surprises packed into one unique pitstop.
South of the Black Rock Desert and northeast of Reno, Pyramid Lake — with its desert surroundings and unusual rock formations lining the shore — is a striking landscape for photographers to capture.
Pyramid Lake is named for one of its unique porous rock formations — called tufas — which is in the shape of a pyramid. The tufas and the lake hold significance for the local Paiute Tribe which manages the land.
In addition to capturing this unique landscape through the camera’s lens, you might want to try your hand at fishing, paddle boarding, or mountain biking during your visit to Pyramid Lake. The lake is home to some unique fish species and is the only habitat in the world for the Cui-ui fish which has been around for nearly 2 million years.
Keep Your Camera Ready
Pack your tripod and your lenses: It’s time to hit the road for this ultimate photographer’s road trip in Nevada through mountains, desert and canyons.
And once you have explored and photographed the neon lights and rugged terrain of Nevada, why not continue the southwest adventure and drive on into neighboring Arizona, where you can capture America’s largest cactus, mystical red rocks, and of course the unforgettable Grand Canyon?