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Las Vegas as a family vacation destination? Yes, if you go beyond the Strip

At the Westin Lake Las Vegas, you’ll be able to see the lights of the Strip at night but spend your days kayaking or enjoying more family-friendly offerings.

Heather Greenwood Davis/Heather Greenwood Davis

A few years ago, my husband and I took our two kids, then under the age of 10, to Las Vegas. Now, before you raise an eyebrow, it’s important you understand that I had the best intentions.

We were only going to be passing through the city for a night or two and I figured roller coasters, circus acts and building-sized M&M characters warranted enough family-friendly activity to bring them along.

They had a great time, but I found myself intercepting shady pamphlets and answering questions about the “penis show” billboards.

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When I mentioned my experience to a Las Vegas representative at a recent travel show, she shook her head at me and though there was no “tut, tut” or visible finger-wagging, the message was clear: “Vegas isn’t for kids. It’s an adult destination,” she told me.

Any kiddie by-products you think you’re seeing are actually aimed at the young at heart – not the young in age.

So, what to do when a planned RV trip timed over one of the busiest travel dates of the year meant we’d need to spend a few nights in this not-for-families destination? Go further. While we flew into Las Vegas, we opted to skip the Strip and spend our time getting to know a whole other side of Nevada.

But fear not if Las Vegas is still on your family’s destination wish list. Here’s how to explore it in a way that will make everyone happy.

Stay in a hotel where there’s likely a family like yours next door

The four waterslides and two pools at the Cancun Resort off the Vegas Strip offers a respite for families.

Skip the flashy, mega-hotels on the strip and book into the comforts of a spot like the Westin Lake Las Vegas. The hotel is part of a community here, with piazza- and canal-filled neighbourhoods reminiscent of Italian towns and complimentary kayak trips out onto the lake. Late-night exploits include looking back at the city’s skyline while also having the option of looking ahead to a starry sky clear of the neon glare. Closer to town, the Cancun Resort gave us the benefit of a gigantic pool complex complete with four waterslides, a games room and planned activities. The kitchen in our suite meant the always-snacking kids could eat as often as they liked.

Get outside without fear of being invited to a strip show

At Valley of Fire State Park, most of the rocks can be touched, climbed and crawled through

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area offers a scenic drive through sandstone cliffs and an opportunity to rock climb. We opted for a morning out in the Valley of Fire State Park – about 84 kilometres from Las Vegas - but quickly ditched all other plans so that we could spend the better part of the day there exploring petroglyphs, an interactive visitor centre and incredible rock formations.

Find your thrills away from the casinos

The author and her family make their way between the ziplines at Bootleg Canyon.

Heather Greenwood Davis/Heather Greenwood Davis

Ever tried a seated zip line? Now you can. Boulder City is only 30 minutes south of the Las Vegas Strip but feels much more like the desert you’re in. After a quick lesson from the Flightlinez Bootleg Canyon staff on all the ways grabbing the wrong part of your line can maim us, we set out on a relatively easy but thrilling experience. On the first line we faced a steep drop and hit speeds of up to almost 100 km/hr. Kids are welcome as long as they weigh more than 75 pounds.

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Eat well without the egos

Save the celebrity chefs on the Strip (and their pricey menus) for the next time you’re in town with your adult pals. Take the family to eateries that locals swear by. Making a reservation at Lotus of Siam, often regarded as one of the best Thai food restaurants in North America, is a great idea. As is a visit to one of the Bachi Burger + Shoku Ramen locations in town.

Choose your re-entry reasons carefully

Theatre is my kryptonite and Vegas has some amazing shows. Arguing a need for some Canadian content, we opted for Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson tribute show (Michael Jackson One) at Mandalay Bay as our reason to venture onto the Strip. The show didn’t disappoint and was well worth encounters with the drunk St. Paddy’s partygoers and scantily clad waitresses we had to pass on the casino floor to get there. Besides, the kids need something to tell a therapist down the road, right?

The writer’s visit to Las Vegas was supported in part by Booking.com and Nevada Tourism. They did not review or approve this article.

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