This Underrated Nevada Gem Is A Cheap, Relaxed Alternative To Vegas' Crowds And Chaos

With private beaches, a fun water taxi, historic Route 66, and hotel rooms that cost less than a cocktail at some lounges in Las Vegas, the scrappy little riverfront town of Laughlin, Nevada, has a lot going for it as a weekend getaway. Comparing Laughlin to Vegas is a bit like comparing apples to kumquats; other than the fact that both have casinos, the two towns are more different than they are similar. If getting in a few outdoorsy adventures before sitting down for a hand or two of Texas Hold 'Em at the Riverside Casino's refreshingly non-smoking poker room is your idea of a great mini-vacation, then Laughlin is your kind of hidden gem. Plus, Lake Mohave is located just 15 minutes away, offering an idyllic body of water whose picturesque swimming coves put big sister, the far more popular Lake Mead, to shame.


A couple decades after the gangster Bugsy Siegel built the first casino hotel in Las Vegas, a far folksier fellow named Don Laughlin built his own casino around 100 miles south, on the Nevada side of the Colorado River. The town of Laughlin grew into a different kind of destination, popular with RVers because the casinos made roomy parking lots for them. You can still stay in your RV at most of the hotels — our pick would be the KOA attached to the Avi Hotel and Casino. With access to all the resort amenities, it might just be the greatest KOA you'll ever stay at.

Hotel stays for every budget in Laughlin

Laughlin's casinos face the brilliantly blue Colorado River, and a water taxi connects them — a welcome reprieve from the difficulties pedestrians face navigating the Las Vegas Strip. You won't find Vegas' fine dining, high end stage shows, or pool parties with the city's notorious dress codes, but if sun is on your agenda, Laughlin's outdoor amenities more than makes up for it. Harrah's Laughlin has two pools, one for families and one for adults, but you should walk right past them to the river, because this hotel is hiding a resort-like beach with thatched, palapa-style cabanas, a swim area that's well out of the Colorado River's sometimes-powerful current, and a bar where you can grab a nice cold margarita, before heading back inside to Guy Fieri's El Burro Borracho for some tacos.


You can't miss River Rick, the kitschy-cool neon cowboy that towers over the New Pioneer, which is our favorite budget pick among Laughlin casino hotels. More centrally located than Harrah's, the New Pioneer has freshly renovated rooms with crisp white linens and clean wood floors for jaw-droppingly low prices — we've seen rooms as low as $25 per night including all taxes (no sneaky resort fees here). With a pool, a private beach, and a restaurant, Bumbleberry Flats, that serves a great Southern pecan bananas Foster waffle, you can have a heavenly weekend getaway for not much more than a fancy dinner in Sin City.

Day trips from Laughlin

A favorite day trip from Laughlin is the 30-mile scenic drive up the original Route 66 to the historic desert town of Oatman. Here not-so-wild burros wander up and down Main Street, posing for selfies. The touristy shops have some surprisingly cute handicrafts — you might just go home with a crocheted cactus for your windowsill. Definitely have a burger at the Oatman Hotel, where Clark Gable and Carol Lombard honeymooned in 1939. The dining room follows a fun western tradition where customers have signed their names on dollar bills and taped them to the walls and ceiling, covering every spare inch. To make a full day of it, continue on to loop through historic Kingman, where Route 66 memorabilia abounds.


To visit a stunning collection of petroglyphs, you only need to drive 15 minutes outside of Laughlin. The hike into Grapevine Canyon is very short, and most of the best images are close to the parking area. "Just incredible! Words and pictures can't truly do justice to the beauty of this area," writes one Tripadvisor visitor. 

For a day at Lake Mohave, a different 15-minute drive will take you to Telephone Cove on the Arizona side, where you can picnic and lounge, and there are loaner life jackets so you won't have to worry about your little splish-splashers getting swept away.