Every time we hear of a friend or family member heading to Las Vegas for a vacation or work conference, we recommend a trip to Lake Mead NRA. Year after year, Lake Mead NRA ranks as one of the Top 10 most visited units in the entire National Park Service. Just 30 minutes from downtown Las Vegas, it’s one of the best spots to take a break from the nightlife and escape the desert heat.
What are the top destinations in Lake Mead NRA? Not only does Lake Mead offers the best of water fun (swimming, boating, rafting, kayaking, etc.), its hiking and history can’t be beaten. Today we’re posting our Top 11 don’t-miss destinations for your next visit to the park.
1. Take a Hoover Dam Tour
It’s estimated that more than 7 million people visit the Hoover Dam every year. It’s one of the reasons Lake Mead has such high annual visitor counts. If you’re visiting Lake Mead for the first time, you’ll want to plan a tour of the Hoover Dam. The dam is the reason Lake Mead was formed in the first place. The museums and tour guides are full of information about the Colorado River, the formation of Lake Mead, and current efforts to address the water shortage issues of the Southwestern United States.
The Bureau of Reclamation–not the National Park Service–manages tours of the Hoover Dam. Currently, there are two different tour options, the Powerplant Tour and the Dam Tour. Powerplant tickets are available online. Dam Tour tickets are first-come, first-serve only.
The Powerplant Tour is shorter and a better option for small children or anyone with mobility issues. The Dam Tour includes the Powerplant Tour and an additional tour through the inner passages of the dam itself. It requires traveling on uneven ground and through narrow spaces. If those don’t bother you, we highly recommend it!
2. Swim at Boulder Beach
Boulder Beach–located just inside the park’s western entrance–often tops the list as the most popular swimming beach in Lake Mead NRA. All summer you’ll find the beach full of kids and families enjoying the sunshine. Boulder Beach also ranks among our top places to watch the sunset at Lake Mead.
A few notes about Boulder Beach:
- Pets aren’t allowed at the beach.
- The surface here is not sand. It’s small to medium-sized pebbles so you may prefer to wear swimming shoes.
- The Boulder Beach Campground is just a short walk from the beach. It’s one of the more popular camping areas in the park.
3. Visit the Alan Bible Visitor Center
It wouldn’t be a #parkchasing visit if you didn’t check out the visitor’s center. The Alan Bible Visitor Center is located just outside the park’s western entrance station in Boulder City. A few things to plan on your visitor center stop:
- Collect your national park passport stamp, the unigrid, postcards, and other memorabilia.
- Watch the park video that shares the history of Native Americans whose traditional lands are now Lake Mead NRA. Learn about the decision to build Hoover Dam and how Lake Mead formed as a result
- Wander through the display gardens. Outside of the visitor’s center, there’s a good sample of some of the plants and cacti native to the park.
- See the full-size relief map of the entire park and the other exhibits inside the museum area.
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4. Paddle the Black Canyon Water Trail
In 2014, the Secretary of the Interior designated a 30 mile stretch of the Colorado River as the Black Canyon National Water Trail. The water route begins at the base of the Hoover Dam and travels south to Eldorado Canyon. The park service also advertises the chance to experience private beaches, caves, hot springs, and desert wilderness. There’s also a chance to see bighorn sheep and historic structures from the construction of the Hoover Dam.
Today outfitters launch canoes, kayaks, and rafting trips from the base of the Hoover Dam, Willow Beach, or Eldorado Canyon.
5. Bike the River Mountains Loop Trai
In 2012, the community of Boulder Beach and
The best part: It’s an extra-wide paved trail allowing both bikers and hikers the chance to enjoy the Mojave Desert views. Access points can be found around the trail, including at the Alan Bible Visitor’s Center. For maps, visit the River Mountains Loop Trail Website.
6. Check out Blue Point Springs / Roger Springs
Many visitors don’t realize that Lake Mead has over 300 springs, making it one of the largest freshwater lakes in the United States. Only 89 of the springs have been surveyed including Blue Point Springs and Rogers Springs, two of the most easily accessible. Rogers Spring which produces water at around 720 gallons per minute, the largest of in the park.
The springs are found along the west side of the Overton Arm of Lake Mead, just west of Northshore Road.
7. Wander the St. Thomas Townsite
St. Thomas, Nevada was founded in 1865 by Mormon settlers who thought they’d reached the Utah/Arizona territory. The town grew to more than 500 residents in the late 19th century and then quickly diminished. When the Hoover Dam was constructed, Lake Mead slowly overtook the townsite, covering the entire town with more than 60 feet of water.
Lowering water levels in Lake Mead now allow visitors to wander through the historic St. Thomas Townsite. Remnants of pioneer life continue to appear as the water recedes from the area. Access to the site lies in the northern part of the park near the Overton Arm along the Muddy River, which feeds into Lake Mead. Drive along the access road and then hike a short distance from the parking area.
8. Hike the Historic Railroad Trail
Considered to be the most popular hiking trail in the park, the Historic Railroad Trail is a well-packed, accessible trail that follows a historic railroad grade. The trail departs from the Alan Bible Visitor’s Center in Boulder City, traveling through a series of tunnels and along with stunning views of Lake Mead.
9. Visit Lake Mohave
One of the more remote wilderness areas in the park, Lake Mohave forms the southernmost section of Lake Mead NRA. Lake Mohave formed in the
Access to the lake is available through the small desert communities of Cottonwood Cove and Katherine Landing. Paddle tours are also available to Lake Mohave from the base of the Hoover Dam.
10. Drive along Northshore Road
Many consider Northshore Road to be the most scenic drive in all of Lake Mead NRA. The road winds between Callville Bay and Echo Bay through many of the geological formations of the park. Some of the most popular moderate to strenuous day hikes can be found in this area of the park as well.
If you drive along the road, be sure to stop at the Redstone Picnic Area and Dune Trail. The short .5 mile hike winds through a series of ancient petrified sand dunes. It’s an especially stunning spot in the early morning and evening.
11. Take a Lake Mead Boat Cruise
While we listed it last on this list, taking a boat cruise on Lake Mead is one of the most popular activities for tourists and locals alike. There are several options for departures and boat rentals in the area. Sunset cruises, brunch and dinner cruises, and Hoover Dam history tours are all options provided by the local marinas. Lake Mead has 6 marinas to depart on your boat cruise adventure.
See the NPS website for a full list of marinas in Lake Mead NRA: https://www.nps.gov/lake/planyourvisit/marinas.htm