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Driving to Hoover Dam from Las Vegas, plus more!

Updated: Mar 19

Buckle up for an excursion that takes you beyond the neon-lit spectacle of the Las Vegas Strip and into the heart of the surreal Mojave Desert. For adventure travelers, sustainability enthusiasts, and seekers of history, the road to Hoover Dam is more than just black ribbon on sand – it's a narrative of resilience, human ingenuity, and the subtle dance between civilization and nature. In this long-form exploration, we dissect the experience of the iconic drive from Las Vegas, unraveling the unique blend of adventure, edutainment, and sheer natural beauty that are as quintessentially American as the flag fluttering over the mighty dam itself.


Welcome to a story not just about the destination, but the sumptuous odyssey of getting there. Plus, save your pocketbook, you need to take a break from all the gambling in Vegas.


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Driving to Hoover Dam from Las Vegas.

First off, make sure you have a rental car if you fly into Vegas. The Las Vegas airport has many options to rent from. From well-known rental car companies to some budget friendly options. You will want a car if you are exploring the Hoover Dam area. There are tours you can book from Vegas, if that is more your style, but Hoover Dam is not something you should just Uber too.


Overlook near Hoover Dam
Overlook near Hoover Dam

Your Vegas fantasy isn't one-dimensional – it's just a part of the tapestry that is your desert odyssey. Departing from the whirring energy of The Strip, the first chapter of your adventure unfolds as you steer your vehicle towards the south-eastern edge of the city. The asphalt stretches out ahead, accompanied by the crimson sands and brush of the Mojave. Your GPS indicates approximately 37 miles lie between you and your destination, a testament to how much variety you can pack into such a short drive.


You will drive south on Interstate 515 and then Interstate 11. You will pass Hendersonville that has several exits and then the exit to Boulder City. When you see Boulder City you know you are close.


While on I-11, you will see signs for a roadside stop only accessible on the drive south. I would stop if I were you. Sure, it is not much of a stop, just a little roadside stop, but the view of going down the mountain and Lake Mead are great. Sure, you will see basically the same sight as you drive along, but this way you can stop and stretch your legs plus the driver of the car can take a good look of the scenic overlook without putting you at risk while looking and driving at the same time.


The Desolate Elegance of the Mojave

The initial miles of the drive reveal a landscape that's both stark and starkly beautiful. The earthy palette of the desert seems to defy life, yet the hardy flora and fleeting fauna offer a silent testimony to perseverance. Cacti cast spiky silhouettes against the azure sky, and the occasional roadrunner zigzags across the tarmac with a comical urgency that's a slapstick cliché come to life. It’s a tableau that whispers solitude yet screams adventure. One time while taking the exit to the Hoover Dam I spotted a mountain lion. It was walking way up on the ridge away from the car, but I spotted it and pointed it out to my friend in the car before it disappeared over the ridge of the mountain.


Setting Your Trail with Time

Expect roughly a 45-minute drive to unveil the dam in all its grandeur, but don't rush the experience. The Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve is a wonderful checkpoint for birdwatchers.



The Hoover Headliner

Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam

When the serpentine road finally reveals the colossal facade of the Hoover Dam, an engineering marvel, it's nearly impossible not to be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the engineering masterpiece. The concrete arch-gravity dam, standing guard over the Colorado River, impounds the vast Lake Mead, and is a triumph of resource management in a region where water isn't just liquid gold – it's the stuff of legend and livelihood.


There is not entrance fee to enter Hoover Dam. You can drive, or walk over the dam, but there is a security checkpoint you have to go through as you drive in. Some free parking is available also, but it tends to be a further walk. There is other parking that costs $10, that you should use if you are paying for a tour of the power plant. Complimentary parking is available for those who have difficulties, and there are handicap accessible sections. 


Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam Visitor Center serves as your gateway to a variety of guided tours, offering insights into the construction and operations of the dam. Or, if crowds aren't your thing, simply wander the intricate art deco interior and gaze upon murals from a pre-WWII era that reveal a poignant intersection of art, industry, and history.


The tours are interesting, and you learn a lot. If you are claustrophobic, it could cause you some difficulties. A guided power plant tour is $30 and wheelchair accessible and tickets must be purchased at the visitor center. You can purchase for $15 the self-guided Hoover Dam tour that can be purchased on their website. Be sure though to walk or drive to the other side to the bridge, that way you can say you have been to the Arizona side of the dam.


Other places to see nearby

Before you leave the dam area, the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge beckons with a view that's postcard-perfect. There is a trail nearby that takes you up to the Bridge, if you enjoy an uphill walk, stairs, and are not scared of heights. There are plenty of free parking lots at the base of the trail. You will get a great view of the top of the dam, but you will have to walk out to the middle of the bridge, which can be scary for some, but still one of the best ways to see it. 


Seeped in its own historical significance, the quaint Boulder City serves as a preamble to the might of the dam. Established as a federal settlement to house the dam workers, the city exudes the charm of old-Americana, with its green parks and neat, nearly century-old architecture. A stroll down its streets is a nod to the Heritage of Hoover. Plus, the Hoover Dam Museum is located in Boulder City. There is a casino in Boulder City too, if you want to try your luck outside of Vegas. Hemenway Park is a nice park to stop at and enjoy views of Lake Mead from a distance. You will see Bighorn Sheep here especially in the mornings. 


Fulfill your thirst for history with a short iteration of time travel to the 19th century by adding on a visit to Eldorado Canyon Mine. Less than an hour's drive south of the dam, this is a guided historical tour that takes you through one of the oldest and most famous mines in Southern Nevada, offering an authentic look into the region's mining past.


Lake Mead
Lake Mead

Lake Mead's emerald expanse, stretching along the border of Nevada and Arizona, offers a sharp contrast to the desert it resides in. Boating, fishing, and swimming appeal to the water enthusiasts, and quieter pursuits are equally abundant along its 1.5 million acres of recreation area. The Lake Mead National Recreation Area ensures that the legacy of the dam extends to leisure, and life. Lake mead is man-made lake due to the construction of the Hoover Dam.


As you can tell with the pictures Lake Mead is a great place to check out while you are here. There are places to horseback ride, camp, swim, boat, kayak, and fish. Basically, anything you want to do, you can do here. Did you know Lake Mead feeds Las Vegas its water? With the drought Lake Mead is lower than normal, but this year the water levels actually went up, but you can see the past water lines on the rocks. Lake Mead is fed by the Colorado River, (comes through the Grand Canyon). 


This is a neat and popular stop while hiking the Railroad Trail that winds around the hills above the Hoover Dam. There is a fence around the so-called boneyard (old machinery) The trail itself is 3.7 miles and is part of the Lake Mead recreational area, what is neat about the trail is it passes through 5 tunnels, something quite unusual, but you will have great views of the lake, the surrounding south Virgin Mountains and a chance to see wild animals like lizards or even Bighorn Sheep. This by far is one of the best hikes of the area.


The Dog who owned the Dam

Is just a marker but this dog was the mascot of the dam during the build. He was a black lab, and all the workers knew him as he would climb ladders and even use the open-air elevator during the build.


WWII bunker at Hoover Dam

It sits above the Hoover Dam from the Arizona side, hidden in plain sight. It's just neat to take a glance at knowing that at one time soldiers were sitting there with machine guns prepared to protect the United States and the dam during WW2.


Hoover Dam Lodge Trail Head

1.5 Out-and-back trail that is considered easy and nearby if you would like some more hiking in the desert. It will also offer a great spot to view the lake and gives you another chance to see bighorn sheep.


Overlooks Galore

Beautiful overlook 10 minutes down the road from Hoover Dam
Beautiful overlook 10 minutes down the road from Hoover Dam

There is one more overlook I have to mention, it is 10 minutes past the Hoover Dam on the Arizona side of interstate 11. Right off the side of the interstate and it gives a great view of the mighty Colorado River. One of the best views I have seen of the Colorado River.


At an hour and 16 minutes north of Hoover Dam, this is also a great place, not too far from Hoover Dam, or the Las Vegas area. Many hiking trails, or you can just drive through the state parking you like. It is beautiful, with the red sandstone formations. If you do make some stops in the park and do some walking you will see petroglyphs that are over 2000 years old,


If interested, Helicopter tours are available from Las Vegas that take you over the dam if you are interested in that instead of driving out there.


Viator

Your drive from Las Vegas to Hoover Dam is more than a checkmark on a tourist's to-do list. It's a reminder that quests, both great and small, hold significance not just from their termini but the stories woven along the way. Marry your appreciation for the great history, nature, and industry with delights of the road-trip experience itself, and you've achieved an adventure that is as educational as it is enjoyable.


This isn't just about driving; it's about deriving a deeper understanding of the landscapes that have shaped us, the technologies that sustain us, and the testament to human endurance personified by a dam and the desert both. Drive thoughtfully, stop frequently, and soak it all in – after all, every adventure is as much about the pauses as it is about the rapid progress.




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