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If you’re visiting the Hoover Dam, you might also want to stop and see the US’s largest water reservoir that it’s attached to: Lake Mead. Water from the lake goes to the states of Arizona, California, and Nevada. It’s impressive to see the source of electricity and water for many people in the southwest US. Here’s a list of things to do at Lake Mead:
Location / Hours / Fees
Location: Lake Mead is located on the border of Arizona and Nevada. Just minutes from the Hoover Dam and about a half hour from Las Vegas.
Hours: It’s open year round, 24 hours except for certain beach areas being day use only.
Fees: Lake Mead is a National Recreation Area under the authority of the U.S. National Park Service, and it also comes with the standard National Park entrance fee. Currently for 1 vehicle lasting 7 days it’s $20.
The best deal is if you’re visiting multiple National Parks throughout the year, pick up the $80 annual pass, which is what we did as we were off to see the Grand Canyon next!
Things to Do at Lake Mead
Check out the Lake Mead Visitor’s Center
Coming from Boulder City on I-93, the visitor’s center will come up on your left, and if you’re like us and missed the entrance because the roads in Nevada are a bit different that what you’re used to, you can just turn around at the Hoover Dam Lodge, it’s only a little ways up the road.
The visitor’s center is a tan, uninteresting looking building from the outside, which blends in nicely with the surrounding landscape. Tall palm trees greet you outside, and if you’re from anywhere like where I’m from…well you only see palm trees on vacation, so they’re pretty cool, and…tall!
Thankfully, it’s also free to enter, so if you’re not interested in driving or walking down by the lake, you don’t have to pay anything extra. Inside the visitor’s center, there are some nice displays with the history of the area, wildlife to be found, and of course details on the lake. There’s also the standard National Park gift shop, helpful rangers to talk to, maps you can pick up, and other information. I always recommend stopping at the visitor’s centers if it’s your first time in an area!
This neat looking Cactus Wren was also hanging out near the visitor’s center, we got a couple good shots of him and were able to identify it. Surprisingly there’s a lot of wildlife to spot in the desert!
This is a big lake, and where there’s water, there’s almost always people with boats! You can bring your own, or rent one of many types of boats at the marina. There are stand up paddleboards, kayaks, jetskis, pontoon or jet boats, etc..
You can also sit back and relax on a cruise!
If you want a bit more of a boating adventure, consider doing the Black Canyon Water Trail. It’s a part of the Colorado River just south of the Hoover Dam. You can take a guided tour starting from the Hoover Dam, or if you want to go yourself with your own boat, you can start from Willow Beach, just off I-93 in Arizona. The water trail is 30 miles (48km) long, and runs past beaches, tall desert cliffs, caves, and even hot springs!
Yes, you can fish in Lake Mead! There’s trout, bass, catfish, etc.. You will however, need a special permit, and more detailed information on that can be found on the National Park’s Website here.
Boulder Beach is the most popular place to swim on Lake Mead. The ground there is rocky though, so you’d best wear some water shoes. For sandy beaches, you can take a drive farther south of the Hoover Dam to another lake within the park’s boundaries: Lake Mohave.
Now, I’ll be honest. I LOVE hiking. But it’s HOT around here! Even in October when we visited, the sun was blinding! If you go for any sort of walk, make sure you take as much water with you as you can, and wear a hat and sunglasses! You’ll be really happy your Mom made you pack that ugly hat ;p The best months to hike here are November-March to avoid the heat. You could also take an evening or early morning hike if you’re there in the summer or warmer months.
Fact: It can get up to 120F (48C) degrees in the shade in the summer! So yeah, it’s not recommended to go hiking then!
You can pick up trail maps from the visitor’s center, or check them all out online here: https://www.nps.gov/lake/planyourvisit/hike.htm
One Trail I would recommend going on that’s easy is the Historic Railroad Trail. It’s 7.5 miles round trip, and takes you through 5 of the tunnels where the old railroad line ran from Boulder City to the Hoover Dam. You can access the trail from the visitor’s center and it takes you all the way to the parking lot at the dam.
Visit the Ruins of St. Thomas
Probably one of the more interesting things to visit at Lake Mead is the old historic town site of St. Thomas. Settled in 1865 by Mormons, it was completely flooded when the dam was completed and the waters rose in. In 1938 the last resident left, and at the lake’s high point it was 60 ft (18m) over the town. It wasn’t until 2002 that the water level fell and the town again came into view. At its peak there were about 500 residents, with stores, a school house, church, even a post office. You can visit the ruins of the town today, which is located in the northern part of Lake Mead. For more on the history and a short video, check out the National Parks’ website.
Interesting Fact: Lake Mead is the 16th largest man made lake in the world. It’s also shrinking at an alarming rate. The big white line around the water shows how much it did shrink from an all time high in 1983. If it goes too low tons of communities that depend on the water will be in trouble….or if you’re the town of St. Thomas, you may be coming back to life!
Walk Around Boulder City
Boulder City is a nice little town, you can check out the small shops, restaurants, and places to stay overnight in the historic section located on Nevada Way, just off I-93. There’s even a little museum right in town, and places to stop and see the view of Lake Mead, like Hemenway Park, where you might even be able to spot some bighorn sheep!
Visit the Hoover Dam
Of course, how can you not stop and see the Hoover Dam! I’m not going to elaborate too much on this here since it’s a big site to see in itself. We had a quick stop at the Hoover Dam Memorial Bridge to see it which you can read about.
A Little History on Lake Mead
Archaeologists throughout the years gathered evidence that the area was once inhabited by early Native Americans. Pottery, simple tools, arrow heads, and even petroglyphs were discovered. Animal bones, such as horses, camel, and even ground sloths were also found suggesting that the area was once wetter than it currently is.
In the 1800’s, explorers coming in search of gold and silver in the southern Nevada mountains settled in the area. As more and more kept coming with the railroads being built, ways to grow and irrigate crops and provide water to communities were greatly needed. In the 1900’s flood control and electric generation were also big considerations, so a dam was proposed.
Construction started on the Hoover Dam in 1931 and was completed in 1936. Back then it was known as the Boulder Dam before being named after President Herbert Hoover.
The lake that was formed from the dam brought a lot of tourists to the area and in 1964 Lake Mead became the first national recreation area in the country. It was named after Elwood Mead, the commissioner of the US Bureau of Reclamation in 1924-1936 who was associated with planning and creation of the dam.
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