By Andrea Bennett
January 05, 2015
Ian Dagnall / Alamy

Some people think that the only nail-biting adventure you can have in Las Vegas is finding your way back to the right hotel room—or even the correct hotel—after a long night of excess.  But there are any number of adventures you can take part in on and around the Strip; after all, at its heart, this is a city that has a passion for both risk and extremes, and those qualities need not be limited to the craps table or the dance floor.   Its location in the desert, too, amps up the wide-open-spaces potential for adventure.   But even if you’re not a nature lover, plenty of the best adventures in Vegas don’t require going much farther than a machine gun range (manned by sexy ladies, natch), or riding a stomach-lurching roller coaster to get your bragging rights.  Here are my favorite heart-pounding experiences, all of which will give you the most impressive souvenir from Las Vegas:  an excellent story to tell back at home.

Related: Best Adventure Travel Destinations 2014

Operation Red Flag

When you grab hold of the controls of an Extra 300 stunt plane with tour operator Sky Combat Ace, you’ll make like a fighter pilot and head up to 6,000 feet to recreate air combat maneuvers—including looping, rolling and hopefully keeping the contents of your stomach intact. Such adventure does not come cheap: it costs $5,999 for up to three participants.

Mini Baja Chase

By taking part in this adventure through Sun Buggy—which does ATV tours and rents out dune buggies—you will be reinforcing what most people think the desert-rat locals do anyway:  chase around the area’s sand dunes, dry creek beds and trails on four-wheelers. The difference here is that—suited up inside a dune buggy ’s steel roll cage—you can really go nuts.  Costs $89 for a 15-minute run.

Shark Encounters

It’s proof that, even after seeing Jaws and its sequels, some people are still willing to pass themselves off as chum—and pay for the pleasure. This program at the popular Mandalay Bay Shark Reef Aquarium lets your assist in feeding the resident stingrays, sea turtles and sharks. Rates start from $50.

SkyJump and X-Scream

See all that stuff attached to the top of the Stratosphere? Yes, it is a roller coaster, 866 feet above the ground. You’ll get propelled headfirst, 27 feet over the edge, and then pulled back. Or, you know, you could just jump off. (In a harness, of course.) For $120, you can suit up, step out on the ledge and plummet more than 100 stories down.  

El Loco

As the largest indoor theme park in America, Adventuredome at Circus Circus already packs in families for rides like the Sling Shot, which shoots up like a 4G-force rocket launch. But since December 2013, El Loco lets riders experience a negative 1.5 “vertical-G” when they climb 70 feet before dropping over—and under—backward. Tip: Eat your funnel cakes after the ride. $5-$8 per ride; day passes cost $16.95.