This fall, we traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to attend the 50th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. It’s a long drive to the fiesta from Las Vegas, and stopping to see things along the way makes for a pleasant trip and a chance to experience many sights you might otherwise miss. Take the time to get off the highway and look around. You will be richly rewarded with beautiful memories.
Here are my favorite stops on the way to Albuquerque from Las Vegas, Nevada, and back again:
1. Las Vegas, Nevada
For New Experiences
Staying for two nights or more in Las Vegas provides a wealth of new things to see and do.
Las Vegas is constantly changing. Of course, there are shows, gaming, and excellent food choices; but there are also other exciting things to do that involve getting out and looking around. On our trip, we decided to drive to Hoover Dam, seek out one of the best happy hour experiences, and wander through the upgraded Fremont Street experience.
See The Hoover Dam From 1,000 Feet Up
Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge plaza provides a parking area where you can choose to walk up the stairs to get to the top or take an easy set of switch-back ramps to get to the bridge spanning the Colorado River. Venturing out on the pedestrian walkway provides a great look at the dam and Lake Mead behind it. Nowhere else can you get a view like this.
Enjoy The Chart House Happy Hour
The Chart House in the Golden Nugget Casino has a popular happy hour menu. We thoroughly enjoyed it. Their offerings were reasonably priced and delicious. Their claim to fame is the enormous aquarium behind the bar; we’re told that a giant moray eel lives in the tank.
Pro Tip: Happy hour is from 4 to p.m., Monday to Friday. They do not take reservations, and seating is limited — plan to arrive early to avoid waiting for a table.
The Fremont Street Experience
A stroll through the Fremont Street Experience to see the hourly show on the ceiling is worth a visit. The display has been upgraded, and the graphics are amazing. Everyone in your group will enjoy the show and remember it for a long time. It is located right outside the Golden Nugget Casino. Well worth it!
Pro Tip: There have been reports of pickpockets working the crowd, so keep an eye on the show and your wallet.
2. Williams, Arizona
Get On Board The Grand Canyon Railway!
Just off Interstate 40 is the small town of Williams, Arizona. Old Route 66 runs right through the city. Nicely preserved, the area has good restaurants and shops to explore. A rail station left over from the gold mining days also operates to take people the 60 miles to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Ride The Grand Canyon Railway
Buy a ticket on the Grand Canyon Railway for a comfortable, easy trip to see the Grand Canyon. You’ll be treated to a show before boarding the train. Once on board, you will enjoy snacks, food, and beverages. There are several ticket prices to choose from. Select your tickets and ride in style to the Grand Canyon. Leave your car or RV in Williams! No crowds to deal with and plenty of time to explore the national park.
On certain days of the month, an old steam engine (assisted by more modern engines) leads the train to the Grand Canyon. The train is well-maintained, and the guides in each car provide commentary and assistance throughout the journey. The two-hour ride (each way) is fun and relaxing. On the return trip, the train might be robbed by the characters from the morning show. Ours was! The sheriff did his best to catch them, but they got away.
Explore The South Rim Of The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is a majestic sight not to be missed. The train from Williams stops at the South Rim of the national park, leaving the North Rim for you to explore on a future visit.
Pro Tip: Add a bus tour to your reservation when booking the train. The bus tour takes you to the best sights around the South Rim area. Perfect for maximizing your time and taking photos. Reserve the bus tour with or without lunch included.
3. Winslow, Arizona
The Place To Take It Easy
Winslow, Arizona, is famous for the Eagles’ hit Take It Easy. They have capitalized on that and built a small area with a statue to mark their claim to fame. Old Route 66 runs right through town.
Winslow is just off Highway 40. It’s a fun stop to make for a meal or to buy souvenirs. There is a museum and historic buildings. We enjoyed lunch at the Olde Town Grill. We were told by the owner Kelly that the restaurant is inside the original Winslow Post Office building. Local cowboys commemorate the Pony Express. Do not miss a chance to visit Winslow and Route 66 when traveling Highway 40, east or west.
4. Petrified Forest National Park
Just off Highway 40 is Petrified Forest National Park. The great thing about the park is you can choose to stop for photos, hike on trails, or drive through the park. The observation points along the way are excellent — plenty of parking and large areas for RVs. We drove the road from the north entrance to the south entrance, where the large petrified logs are. Then we drove the same route from the south entrance back to the north entrance. Each direction seemed different. Well worth it to travel both ways!
The park’s northern end has beautiful painted desert landscapes to stop and enjoy. The rich colors are a photographer’s dream. Drive to the park’s southern entrance to walk among the petrified trees and see them up close. Stop at the Painted Desert Visitor Center. Don’t miss this chance to visit a National Park that is easy to navigate and see in a few hours.
5. Albuquerque, New Mexico
Home Of the Balloon Fiesta
We arrived at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta full of anticipation and excitement. Having secured a two-night reservation for RV parking at the fiesta, we anxiously awaited our chance to see the balloons launch in the morning. Alas, the events for the two days we were there were canceled due to bad weather. We vowed to return next year and hope for better weather.
Please stop in and see the Balloon Museum, where it is never raining!
Twister’s Burgers and Burritos was the site used for filming the fictional Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant. If you are a fan of the TV series Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul, reserve a tour well in advance. The most popular tours are booked solid well in advance.
Pro Tip: Reservations for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta are very popular and hard to get (they are gone in minutes). Reservations for various events, lodging, balloon rides, and RV parking are made available multiple times; consult the Balloon Fiesta website for dates when you can make your reservations.
6. Sedona, Arizona
A Bucket-List Destination
On the way back from Albuquerque, take a detour and visit Sedona. The area is stunningly beautiful. The red rocks are everywhere and provide a pleasant backdrop to the town. We stayed in a great RV park there. A return trip to Sedona is also still on my bucket list!
Pro Tip: The road to Sedona, mapped by most GPS and phones, will take you from Highway 40 to Highway 89A. Avoid this road if you are in an RV or pulling a trailer. Check the Rancho Sedona website for alternate directions.
7. Oatman, Arizona
“Way Out There”
Another fascinating and worthwhile detour is to Oatman, Arizona. Exit Highway 40 and drive to Oatman on the old Route 66 road. Oatman was a mining boomtown. It’s now a town of 100 or so people. The city is also home to wild burros, or donkeys.
Lunch at the Oatman Hotel Restaurant & Saloon is a must! Good food and dollars galore!
8. Laughlin, Nevada
A Great Place To Spend A Day Or Two
Laughlin is an excellent place to stop for the night. We stayed at the Riverside Resort RV Park. The park is gigantic but has all the amenities you will need. A shuttle will pick you up at your RV site and take you to the hotel down at the river.
You will find so much to see along the route to New Mexico. Take some time to explore the many exciting places along the fabled Route 66.