Most family-friendly attractions in Las Vegas these days are pretty low-key. There are tons of things for kids to do outside of the tourist corridor, but the many of the big things for kids in the Strip area, from the Wet and Wild water park to the MGM Lion Habitat, have closed. In fact, Las Vegas is as family-friendly as its ever been–you just need to know where to look. Case in point: the Las Vegas Springs Preserve.
The Springs Preserve is relatively new–it opened in 2007–and it feels fresh. It’s owned by the Las Vegas Valley Water District, which seems to be doing pretty well for itself, since the Springs Preserve is pretty nice.
In a nutshell, the Springs Preserve is an outdoor, ecology, and history museum/exhibit center with a focus on Las Vegas. If your main Vegas experience is on the Strip, you might chuckle at that…and I strongly suggest you visit the Springs Preserve to see what you’ve been missing. There’s some interesting history here.
There are six main sections of the Springs Preserve:
The Origen Museum, which itself has four parts:
– Natural Mohave, a section that explores the land in and around the Las Vegas Valley, including the “People of the Springs,” a section that includes a recreation of the 1905 land auction that created Las Vegas–and a rail car you can walk through. I saw two kids wearing Thomas t-shirts here, which can’t be a coincidence.
– The Big Springs Gallery, which, when we went, seemed to have children’s art.
– An Outdoor Area featuring a mock-up of early Fremont Street that kids can help build, an extensive play area, and the chance to see a few of the species native to the Las Vegas Valley. There aren’t too many, and most of them are frankly not that cuddly: bats, spiders, and scorpions seem to predominate. But there are two animals that are genuinely fun: a fox and a cottontail rabbit. We saw the fox while he was curled up for a nap, and even with his eyes closed he was one of the cutest things I’ve seen in a while. I respected him enough not to flash a picture while he was sleeping. There’s also a cottontail rabbit, which was neat for us to see because we have them in our neighborhood, and some of them hang out in our backyard.
–A Special Exhibit area, which, when we went, was occupied by “Space: A Journey to Our Future.” This was the only exhibit that was Vegas-specific, and indeed the Springs Preserve seems to have caught this traveling exhibit on the tail-end of its life, since it seems to be at least four years old and makes reference to the Constellation program,
which has been canceled. There are lots of neat things to see, though, that are timeless, including the looks back at the Apollo (moon) and shuttle programs. You can see a genuine moon rock (the first time I’ve done so) and hear astronauts speak about their missions. You can also see yourself via an infrared camera, which is pretty neat, although if you stare at your face for a while you might get freaked out. This exhibit, which closes in May, is an excellent introduction to space travel for little kids, with plenty of interactive experiences for older ones as well.
The Amphitheater/Playground area, which is a nice place to unwind after spending some time in the Origen Museum. You can easily spend 45 minutes here. There are a few playground fixtures and sand pits. Guess which ones your kids will want to hang out in?
VivaTotVegas Tip: take off their socks and shoes before they go in the sand pit.
The Trails. There are 3.65 miles of them, and you can walk through them or rent bikes
and ride around. We didn’t do this, but probably will on a future visit.
The Desert Living Center. This is probably the area where the Water District’s interest is most strongly felt–there are lots of interactive exhibits here about “sustainability in action,” and a Nature Exchange where kids can create things while learning about nature.
The Gardens. These are beautiful to walk through but also educational, especially for Valley residents. There are classes and activities, including demonstrations that are helpful to anyone who’s tried to make their backyard patch of the desert bloom. There’s even a Rose Arbor that hosts weddings and other special events.
Nevada State Museum. This moved over from Lorenzi Park a while ago, and if you’re a Vegas fan, you definitely should visit it at least once. It’s not large. On the left you’ll find the permanent exhibit, which chronicles the history of Las Vegas from prehistoric times until today. It’s probably the only museum in the world that features the Ichthyosaur Shonisaurus popularis, showgirl headdresses, and Steve Wynn. Seriously, it’s required for anyone who considers themselves a Vegas aficionado, and one part of the Springs Preserve where you’ll have as much fun as your kids. On the right is a rotating exhibit. When we went it had a very interesting photography exhibit. There’s also a gift shop.
I don’t think I can recommend the Springs Preserve highly enough. It’s not expensive: for Nevada residents, adult tickets are $10, kids 5-17 $5, and 5 and under free. Non-residents will pay $19 and $11, respectively, with discounts for seniors, students, and veterans in both groups. If you’re planning to come more than once a year, you might want to look at becoming a member. Again, there are some family-budget-friendly options here.
Showing up at around 10:30 in the morning with no real plan and not much of an idea of what to expect, we spent 3 hours at the Springs Preserve. Those three hours went by very quickly; with a variety of exhibits and areas to explore, you’re not cooped up in a single air-conditioned building. It’s the antithesis of Casino Vegas, and a welcome antidote for people who’ve brought small kids to the Strip.
You can easily spend five hours here, and still not see everything. If I was traveling with kids for a family event (let’s say a wedding or reunion), I’d schedule my trip to the Springs Preserve on a morning when you’ve got an entire day to yourselves–for example, the only thing scheduled is a family dinner at 6-ish. You can go shortly after opening at 10 AM and have plenty of time to explore, then get a nap in so your kids are fresh for your family meet-up.
One note: while the Springs Preserve is open all week, the Nevada State Museum is only open Friday to Monday.
It’s relatively accessible from the tourist–at Valley View and Alta, it’s northwest of the Strip and a bit southwest of Downtown. It’s an easy car ride away, and it’ll give you an excuse to get away from the casinos. Bonus: if you find you haven’t packed something, the Meadows Mall is across the street.
There are plenty of places in Vegas where you and your kids aren’t welcome; this is one of the few where you’re all the center of attention. Highly recommended.