In the desert, it’s not a question of when to go to catch the sun – more, how much of the sun you can take. The seasons aren’t particularly well defined here (in fact most locals count two seasons, summer and not summer), and so there isn’t really a high and low season for Vegas in the same sense as there is for other cities. Yes, it’s slightly harder to find rock bottom rates during the summer (June to September is when most tourists hit the Strip), but if you book far enough ahead, it shouldn’t be a problem.
What this means is that you can pretty much let your own preferences (and ability to stand the heat) govern your dates.
Spring – gentle heat and the desert in bloom
Spring is my absolute favourite time here. Things start warming up from the late teens in March, but from April to the end of May, the wild flowers in the desert are in full bloom and although it’s hot, it’s a bearable heat – think the UK on a hot June day, with temperatures hovering in the late 20s, but with the desert wind keeping temperatures down.
If you’re wanting to see anything other than the Strip during your trip to Vegas, this is a great time to get outdoors. A visit to Red Rock Canyon to see the desert in flower is a must, Valley of Fire is a great day trip that’s slightly further out, and visits to the Grand Canyon and even Death Valley are also lovely to do in this weather.
Summer – heating up to furnace levels with the pool season in full swing
The end of May is when I stopped being able to go for an afternoon jog this year. From June until mid September, it just carries on getting hotter and hotter, and temperatures are permanently in the high 30s and 40s. During July and August, don’t expect temperatures to be below 41 or 42 degrees, and there are often days that climb as high as 46.
Perhaps oddly, if you’re used to European temperatures, summer is high season in Vegas, so prices don’t dip. And although the desert heat will come as a shock, and being outside is difficult, to say the least, the heat is actually more bearable than the temperatures make it sound. Because it’s a desert, it’s a dry heat, and that really does make a huge difference – in July I went from 46 degrees in Vegas to 36 in New York, and found the latter far more uncomfortable thanks to the humidity. Also it’s windy, so that helps a lot.
Also, bear in mind everything in Vegas is air conditioned, from the casinos (which can get arctic) to taxis, the monorail and even, in some places, the Strip itself (sections have fine sprays of cold water being pumped out to give you some relief).
So although summer isn’t the best time if you’re planning an active, outdoor trip, if all you want to do is take in the Strip and sit by the pool, it’s very viable. In fact, the pool season is huge in summer, with the party scene shifting from the clubs at night to the poolside in the daytime. Personally, I find it too hot to sit outside by the pool, but I’m definitely in the minority on that one.
Autumn – cooling down, but still warm
By the end of September, temperatures are still in the 30s but they’re not breaking the 40s anymore. If you’re feeling brave, it’s now time to venture out to Red Rock Canyon, hit the Grand Canyon before it gets too cold, or take part in other outdoor activities. But there’s no “Fall” here, so the desert will look as parched as it did in the summer months.
Winter – mild temperatures with a few splashes of rain, but beware the wind
Come November, you’ll probably be needing a sweater but temperatures remain mild for the winter. It does get cold at night, but we’re talking relatively cold – about 5 degrees, with temperatures rising to the teens in the daytime. Snow is rare on the Strip (Summerlin, the higher altitude suburb to the west can get a scattering for a week or two in January or February) although it has been known to happen. And there will be a couple of days in January or February where it rains, but it’s hard to predict actual dates. From mid February, you’ll be back in your t-shirt but be warned – don’t assume Vegas weather is the same for all the desert! The Grand Canyon, for example, is at a much higher altitude, and is covered in snow from November until late March. That makes it incredibly beautiful to visit, but I wouldn’t want to hike it at this time. Also, the wind in Vegas can make winter seem colder still.
The "high season" in Vegas goes by the day of the week
As I said, prices stay relatively stable year-round, but where rates do fluctuate hugely is by the day of the week. Rooms generally cost at least double on weekends (Friday and Saturday nights are highest, but Thursdays are also on the climb), and Sunday through to Wednesday are when you’ll find the rock bottom prices. Having said that, you can get a good deal over the weekend if you book far enough in advance – as availability drops, rates are hiked dramatically. Try and book at least six weeks ahead if your stay includes a weekend; you can leave it as late as the week before if you’re only after, say, a Sunday to Tuesday stay.
Rates also go up when major conventions are in town. There are events most weeks but not all drive the rates up, so it’s worth checking the week before and after your intended dates, just to check that you’re not coming at the same time as a major convention, or see the full list of conventions at http://www.lvcva.com/meetings/convention-calendar.jsp. The main period to avoid is 6-9 January when Vegas plays host not only to CES but also to the Adult Entertainment Expo (aka the porn convention), and rates rise considerably.
The absolute worst dates to go? US public holidays, when room rates are at a premium, entry prices to clubs and bars soar, and restaurant reservations become the norm. Memorial Day (last Monday of May), Fourth of July and Labor Day (the first weekend of September) are the main ones. The place is uncomfortably packed on these dates, shows sell out, traffic is impossible and evenings out become a logistical nightmare. If you must travel on those dates, though, book as far ahead as you can – a friend of mine came out for Labor Day this year and averaged out a spend of under £100 a night on his rooms at the Wynn and the Hard Rock, simply by booking six months ahead.