Desert Shores

Lake Las Vegas attracts with shopping, watersports and more

By: Anne Burke

Fly-fishing and gondola rides on a deep blue lake. Midnight strolls under a starry desert sky. Roasting s’mores around a fire pit. Could this be Las Vegas?

Close enough. Lake Las Vegas, a Mediterranean-flavored resort community 30 minutes northeast of McCarran International Airport, is quickly gaining popularity as a slow-paced and outdoor-focused antidote to the high-energy scene on Las Vegas Boulevard.

The big attraction is the 320-acre manmade lake, as well as a Tuscan-flavored Ritz-Carlton, a Moroccan-inspired Loews (recently rebranded from a Hyatt Regency) and the Mediterranean-themed MonteLago Village Resort, a condominium resort and retail complex that is well-suited for clients looking for value over the amenities of a high-end hotel.

The body of water that lends its name to this 3,600-acre resort (master-developed by Transcontinental Properties, Inc.) is an honest-to-god recreational lake — two miles long and 150 feet deep. There are a couple of small, sand beaches suitable for sunbathing and sandcastle making; swimming is nice in warmer months. Anglers go after large-mouth bass and rainbow trout while kayakers paddle past mansions that hug the shoreline, guessing which belongs to the community’s most celebrated resident, Celine Dion. (Hint: It’s not the obvious one with tinted windows.) Alongside the lake’s perimeter are 3½ miles of paved trail for walkers and joggers. In the distance are the low-lying brown mountains that give Southern Nevada’s high desert its distinctive backdrop.

We spent three nights here in a one-bedroom suite at MonteLago Village Resort. Priced about half that of a comparable room on the Strip, this is the most economical place to stay at Lake Las Vegas and a good bet for families on a budget. The living room was unexceptional but homey, with a plump sofa in the middle and a dining table for six pushed against a wall. The galley kitchen was fully equipped for cooking, with a dishwasher and jumbo-sized refrigerator. Free, high-speed Internet and a sink-in tub in the spacious bathroom were welcome surprises. Clients should be aware that Monte-Lago Village isn’t a hotel; there is no lobby to speak of, no room service and the housekeeping is hit and miss; my coffee pouches and bathroom soap went unreplenished.

Clients looking for niceties like spa treatments and interesting decor will be better off at Loews or the Ritz-Carlton. The latter lays claim to the most exclusive rooms at the lake, ensconced in the three-story Ponte Vecchio Bridge, a remarkable replication of its Florentine namesake. The bridge rises high enough above the lake to let a 21-foot sailboat pass underneath and the lower level has a chapel and open space that is busy with wedding parties.

Our third-floor room at the Village offered a more modest view from the balcony but was still fun. Toward sunset, we leaned over our third-floor balcony to watch the parade of people who moseyed past restaurants and boutique shops on the cobblestone walkways that spill toward the lake. Except for the requisite Starbucks, MonteLago Village eschews restaurant and retail chains, so all the shops and eateries are ripe for fresh discovery.

Our party of 10 dined the first night in a cozy and dimly lit wine cellar at Sunset & Vines. We started off with a wine-tasting contest that was led by the genial sommelier Robert Cross and accompanied by plates piled high with gourmet cheeses. Dinner was a feast of grilled salmon in a mustard cream sauce, citrus-marinated baby hen and Alaskan halibut in a shrimp tomato salsa. Lunch the following day was at the Auld Dubliner, which serves a classic shepherd’s pie amid walls hanging with rusty old things that bespeak of an Irish pub.

Any real Las Vegan will tell you they “I never go to the Strip.” MonteLago Village is different. Weekends come alive with art and music, attracting as many locals as tourists. A floating stage on the lake hosts name entertainers, as well as ballet and free Shakespeare. PBS recently broadcast Andrea Bocelli’s performance here under a desert sky. Seal and Michael Feinstein have also headlined. In winter, the floating stage becomes an ice-skating rink.

After dinner one evening, the oldsters in our party headed to the small casino at MonteLago Village. The youngsters squeezed into Auld Dubliner, where the tables had been pushed aside to create a dance floor and a local cover band turned out the hits. By 2 a.m., the Strip was going full blast. At Lake Las Vegas, all was quiet.


Lake Las Vegas

Loews Lake Las Vegas

MonteLago Village

Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas

Sunset & Vines