Clinging to the southern edge of the fabled World Capital of Gambling, the city of Henderson has garnered a reputation as something of a more laid-back, suburban alternative to Sin City and the lights of the Vegas Strip. Its neighborhoods sit nestled between the rocky rises and towering hoodoos of the River Mountains and Sloan Canyon, beset by the Nevadan deserts. Officially the second largest city in the state, the town has something of a chilled undercurrent, with smiling locals who flit between American diners eating BBQ and the winding trails of the canyon-cut hills. However, this is Nevada, and casinos are never too far away – gaming is a big pull in Henderson too. Add to that the draws of the mighty Hoover Dam, the seemingly endless recreational possibilities of Lake Mead (America’s largest reservoir), a clutch of fine local breweries and whiskey houses, and some seriously beautiful natural parks, and it’s easy to see why more and more people are heading here from the neon-lit megalopolis to the north. Let’s explore the best things to do in Henderson:
1. See locomotives and historic homes at the Clark County Heritage Museum
A fine introduction to the people, cultures, history and heritage of southern Nevada as a whole, the Clark County Heritage Museum occupies 30 acres of land in the lower fringes of Henderson city. Well-kempt and manicured, the site includes a host of historic buildings, all dating from when the Roberts family first rooted down here in the early 1900s. Particular draws include the whitewashed Candlelight Wedding Chapel, which was entirely rebuilt on this spot after hosting countless ad hoc weddings on the Vegas Strip, and the traditional Beckley House of 1912. There are also the rusting shells of old locomotives to see (perfect for any travelers interested in tales of the American railroad), along with exhibitions chronicling the Indian peoples who once thrived between the desert lands of what is now Clark County.
2. Try your luck at the tables in the M Resort Casino
No visit to this little sister of the fabled Sin City could possibly be complete without at least a little flutter at the tables. Cue the M Resort Casino, which beckons with its curvaceous exterior of steel and glass from the south-eastern edges of Henderson. In the shadow of the rugged Sloan Canyon, this sprawling casino come hotel come wellness complex offers all the hedonism and recreation of Vegas. Expect one-armed bandits aplenty, clicking roulette wheels, more blackjack than you can shake a stack of poker chips at, and oodles of jackpot giveaways each week. And that’s only half the story. The M Resort also booms with enticing eateries and grills, an artisan bakery, cocktail bars and some seriously swish hotel suites!
3. Taste Nevadan whiskeys at the acclaimed Las Vegas Distillery
One of the most famed constituent parts of the so-called Las Vegas Booze District (a conglomeration of craft brewers and distillers and alcohol-related attractions), the Las Vegas Distillery takes charge of Sin City’s most iconic whiskeys. The offering goes from ryes to malts to intricate multi-grain straight whiskeys, from blended black labels to interesting oat brews, meaning there’s guaranteed to be a tipple for every type of whiskey drinker! Add to that a truly hearty and welcoming owner who’s indelibly passionate about his craft, along with a fascinating distillery tour that goes back all the way to the roots of Nevadan brewing at the hands of the region’s first Transylvanian immigrants, and it’s easy to see why this one’s so worth the visit!
4. Get close to one of nature’s beasts at the Lion Habitat Ranch
With its own 8.5 acre enclosure just a short walk from Henderson’s uber-popular M Resort Casino (not to mention a short drive from the booming hotels of the Vegas Strip itself), the Lion Habitat Ranch remains one of the most popular tourist draws in the city. Visitors enjoy the company of a whopping 40 lions in all (a number that’s ever-increasing thanks to the regular addition of new cubs), ranging from full-maned adults to cute and cuddly little ones. What’s more, the site offers the chance for patrons to learn all about lions and their habitats, giving fact-filled walkthroughs and guided tours. And if you’re lucky, you’ll catch one of the ranch’s famous grooming sessions or feeding times!
5. Dirty the walking boots at the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area
Henderson’s hiking destination extraordinaire has all the rugged ochre-hued rocks, toppling hoodoos, dusty ridges and Mars-like environs of Vegas’s iconic Red Rock Canyon, only this one comes much less trodden than its wild counterpart to the north! The eponymous gorge of Sloane Canyon itself is worth a special mention. It’s hailed by many as the veritable ‘Sistine Chapel’ of Nevada, famed for its thousands of petroglyph designs and rock carvings dating back millennia. This whole area is crisscrossed by mile upon mile of managed walking trail too, making it a great place to come and explore the scrublands and cacti-peppered backcountry on routes like the Dutchman Pass and Hidden Valley.
6. Spot desert birds and waders at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve
Sandwiched between the dusty Nevadan desert ridges and the shimmering high-rises of the Vegas Strip, Henderson’s finest birdwatching spot draws people from all over Sin City. It’s a great place to explore the natural side of the metropolis, offering opportunities to see a real medley of local wildlife. Regular sightings include slithering snakes, pond turtles, fluttering dragonflies, wading desert birds, migratory birds (thanks to the Pacific Migratory Flyway), American ducks, lizards and hummingbirds. There are countless viewing spots constructed over the waters for discreet bird spotting too, along with walking trails through the wetlands. Summertime is the hottest season to hit the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve, but also offers one of the biggest arrays of wildlife.
7. Get some great Nevadan craft ales at Bad Beat Brewing
The folk at Henderson’s Bad Beat Brewing (another of the popular stop offs in the city’s so-called Booze District) are driven by the philosophy that quality beer beats beer in large quantities. It’s a mantra that’s given rise to tipples like their uber-hoppy and dry Ringer IPA, the caramel underwritten Ante Up Amber (complete with Vegas puns too), hefty, flavoursome Gutshot and a whole host of others. The menu offers tasting options for those who’d like to sample a cross-section of the Bad Beat output, not to mention a regularly changing selection of seasonal brews and in-house board games and the like. The spot also hosts frequent beer-related events and tasting sessions.
8. Splash around at the Cowabunga Bay Water Park
One of only two Cowabunga Bay theme parks in the US, this patchwork of splash pools and winding waterslides, tubing rivers and wave ponds is a real treat when the scorching heat of southern Nevada takes hold. Located on the northern fringes of Henderson city, visitors here can expect adrenaline-pumping rides like the Beach Blanket Banzai, with its twisting rubber dinghies, the Point Panic with its light shows and high speed bursts, and the Surf-A-Go-Go, where riders are ricocheted around chambers and tubes while riding a rubber ring. And for those who just want a spot of R&R, there are sun-splashed cabanas and quiet pools to enjoy to boot!
9. Kick-back on the banks of Lake Las Vegas
Something like a smaller, more natural version of the great backwaters of the Hoover Dam (and only a short jaunt from the Colorado River itself), Lake Las Vegas is Henderson’s premier waterside recreational community. It sprung up in the early 1990s, when a large earthen dyke was constructed over the channels of the Las Vegas Wash. Today, it’s home to oodles of luxury homes and hotels, like the opulent Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort, where manmade beaches mix with infinity pools right on the edge of the waters. Sailing is a prime attraction, with oodles of locals and travelers alike opting to take to the waters and drift with the desert winds. Summertime brings al fresco music gigs and food fests to the shores too.
10. Wonder at the geology at the Bowl of Fire
Occupying the north-eastern fringes of Lake Mead, past the much-visited recreational areas of Lake Las Vegas, the Bowl of Fire is Henderson’s answer to Sin City’s iconic Valley of Fire. Smaller and massively more off-the-beaten-track, this medley of arched sandstone formations, weathered creeks and crevices, gorges and grykes is home to just as many fascinating red rock wonders. It’s perfect for breaking up a day on the banks of Lake Mead with a spot of hiking too, with some marked and other unmarked trails weaving between the tinajas and towering hoodoos. Warning: this one can get uber-hot!
11. Visit the Hoover Dam
No trip to the southernmost districts of Nevada and Sin City could possibly be complete without making at least a short excursion out to see this colossal wonder of American engineering. It can be found just 30 minutes’ drive from the heart of Henderson itself, nestled on the state border with Colorado. Raised in the early years of the 1930s, the huge concrete structure is famed for creating the largest reservoir in the United States. Today, visitors head here by their millions. Some go for the breathtaking views on offer from the all-new Hoover Dam Bypass. Others head for the dam itself, where the Bureau of Reclamation now offers a fascinating and in-depth look at Hoover’s history and construction.
12. Get in the American dining spirit at Lucille’s Smokehouse BBQ
Done out like a classic American diner, with its red leather padded seating and chrome-lined bars, oodles of fan art depicting national blues greats and its very own range of flashing neon signs, Lucille’s Smokehouse BBQ is one of the best-loved and most acclaimed eateries in all of Henderson. The menu touts a medley of deep-fried shrimps and brisket-topped nachos, chili-packed Tex-Mex and pulled pork sandwiches, not to mention the more curious additions of fried okra and the signature Four Alarm Burger, stacked with smoked jalapenos and Lucille’s trademark BBQ sauce. Nice.
13. Go for a round at one of the city’s seven golf courses
Hailing in as one of the best-prepped cities for traveling golfers in all of America, Henderson is home to a whopping seven individual courses. These range from the pretty reaches of the Bob Baldock 18-holer at Black Mountain to the well-kempt greens and wavy fairways of the Desert Willow Golf Course – perhaps the most exclusive in the area. Other spots worth getting the clubs out for include the great Revere Golf Club, which strings its way along the edge of the rugged Nevadan mountains and draws moneyed crowds from the Las Vegas Strip, and the laid-back public course at WildHorse, complete with 18 holes and affordable green fees.
14. Hike or bike the River Mountain Loop Trail
Delving deep into the red-hued ridges and brown stone valleys of the rugged River Mountains that rise like a bulwark to encase both Henderson and Las Vegas in their envelope of desert rock, the various trails of the River Mountain Loop remain one of the most popular hiking and biking tracks in the city. For more than 35 miles they weave and turn around the sun-baked peaks, up to the charming mountain town of Boulder City and down to the banks of Lake Mead. They run along the old railroad routes that once connected the Hoover Dam to Vegas and beyond, and even offer up sightings of Nevada’s famous bighorn sheep. There are also a series of equestrian bridle trails leading off the route for travelers eager to get in the saddle!
15. Wallow in the desert oasis that is Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Last but certainly not least on our list of the top things to do and see in Henderson is the sprawling, popular and exceptionally beautiful Lake Mead. This colossal manmade reservoir has occupied the red rock valleys and canyons to the west of town since the Hoover Dam marked it off in the 1930s. Today, it’s popular amongst outdoorsy types, who flock to canoe between the coves and creeks, hike the high desert cliffs, camp down at one of the many sites, go boating on the waters, fly fishing on the shores – the list goes on. The 1966 addition of the Alan Bible Visitor Center has also brought an educational dimension, and travelers can now see exhibitions about the lake, its renewable energy production, flora and fauna.