The Hoover Dam, originally called the Boulder Dam, was built over five years during the Great Depression to hold back the mighty Colorado River where it narrows at the Black Canyon on the Nevada – Arizona border. The dam is the world’s largest concrete structure, and one of the seven civil engineering wonders of the United States. Even though it’s a crazy popular place to see, I highly recommend visiting the Hoover Dam from Las Vegas.
The Hoover Dam has been popular as a tourist destination since they first started building the dam in the 1930’s. Reportedly some seven million people visit the dam very year. It’s an easy half day trip from Las Vegas that is both fun and educational.
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Where is the Hoover Dam?
The Hoover Dam is 37 miles southeast of Las Vegas. It’s only a 40-minute drive if traffic is cooperative. Access to the dam itself is via Highway 172. There is no public transportation to the dam. You’ll find a parking garage on the Nevada side of the dam and more parking on the Arizona side as well.
Getting to Las Vegas
My daughter and I flew as guests into Las Vegas on board the inaugural Calgary – Las Vegas Lynx Air flight. It was a brand spanking new plane as you can see in this Instagram reel. As a low cost airline, you can look forward to great rates (as low as $Cdn131 one way to Las Vegas), though you will have to pay extra for any luggage and you need to take your own food on the plane.
Parking at the Hoover Dam
The parking garage is open from 8 AM – 5:15 PM PST. The cost is $10 but free to those with accessibility needs. Anyone with a high clearance vehicle more than 10.5 feet high and 23 feet long must park on the Arizona side of the Hoover Dam.
When you’re visiting the Hoover Dam in an oversized vehicle, recreational vehicle, or a vehicle with a trailer you must park on the Arizona side of the dam. There are three parking lots that are all open from 8 AM to 5:15 PM. The first parking lot you come to across the dam costs $10 per vehicle. But you can park in the higher lots – number 13 and 14 for free.
History of the Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam, a concrete gravity-arch dam, was constructed between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression with the help of 21,000 workers who worked 364 days of the year. It was finished two years ahead of schedule. It is predicted that the dam should last for more than 10,000 years.
The construction of the dam, forced the Colorado River to back up, thereby forming Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States. It took seven years for Lake Mead to fill to its maximum level.
When you see Lake Mead today, you can see the proverbial bathtub ring, unfortunately a great visual for how low Lake Mead is. In fact, in July 2022, the water levels are the lowest since the Hoover Dam was constructed.
Boulder City, a master planned community, was built in 1931 to house the workers for the Hoover Dam construction. Back in the day, there was a class distinction with the most important people living at the top of the hill in town, so they could enjoy the best breezes.
On the bright side, some kind soul at the local theatre, one of only two air-conditioned buildings in town, allowed the workers from the dam to sit and sleep in the last four rows of the theatre, a nice reprieve on hot nights.
Boulder City is still the only city in Nevada where gambling is illegal. But it’s a good place to visit if you enjoy art galleries, antique stores, and coffee shops.
How to visit the Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam is open daily from 9 AM to 9 PM PST except on Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, the Hoover Dam Visitor Center and Tours is only open from 9 AM to 5 PM with the last tour departing at 3:45 PM.
You can purchase tickets for the Power Plant Tour online but guided dam tours can only be purchased onsite.
There are lots of tour companies in Las Vegas who offer Hoover Dam tours as well. We did one with Pink Jeep Adventure Tours which was excellent and entertaining. They also pick you up right from your hotel in Vegas.
What we saw on our tour
If you’re visiting the Hoover Dam on a half day tour from Las Vegas, you’ll learn a lot – and just a fraction of it is about the dam itself. Our driver covered how Las Vegas got its start, how the Salton Sea was formed, the Colorado River Compact (a legal document detailing water rights among the seven states along the Colorado River) and the makings of Boulder City and the stories that went with that. It made the drive fly by!
Once at the Hoover Dam we were handed off to someone else to do the guided power plant tour. On this tour we walked through original construction tunnels that can be seen sporting tape to hold back drips of water. We then made our way to a viewing platform where you can see a 30-foot diameter penstock. Finally, we checked out the generators in the Nevada Powerhouse.
Fun fact you’ll learn when visiting the Hoover Dam
One of the heartwarming stories around the building of the Hoover Dam surrounds the beloved Hoover Dam dog. Found at the construction site as a puppy, he ended up traveling back and forth every day to Boulder City, where the workers lived. On site he had the run of the place and would apparently chase ring-tailed cats in the dam’s tunnels.
Over time the dog got quite fat because the workers would share their lunch with him. For the sake of the dog’s health, the commissary decided that they would prepare one meal a day for the dog. Every morning it carried the bagged lunch onto the bus and ate it at the same time the workers had their lunch. He is buried at the dam.
Want to drive across the Hoover Dam?
You are allowed to drive across the Hoover Dam but no through traffic is permitted. The road on the Arizona side of the Hoover Dam is closed so you can cross and enjoy a different vantage point of the dam but you’ll have to return to Nevada.
One mile north of the Hoover Dam is a security checkpoint. Your vehicle must be inspected. You aren’t allow to carry any weapons or pepper spray. You will also have to pass through a security checkpoint to do a tour. Also note that not all types of vehicles are allowed to cross the dam, but if you’re in a car, light truck, SUV or van you won’t have any problem.
Where to find the best views of the Hoover Dam
I though the best views of the Hoover Dam and the Colorado River were from the top of the dam on the road looking south down the Colorado River. There weren’t the wires in this view that there are in others.
The other great spot was on the Arizona side at the first parking lot. From there you get an excellent view of Lake Mead – and the bathtub ring so you can see just how much the water has fallen. In summer 2022 it was at its lowest point since the dam was first built.
What to know when you’re visiting the Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam is one of the top attractions in Nevada. To avoid the crowds, visit in the winter or if that isn’t possible, go early – between 9 AM and 10:30 AM or late in the day between 3 PM and 4:45 PM.
From the Hoover Dam, enjoy a view of the stunning Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, that spans the Colorado River at a height of 900 feet, connecting Nevada with Arizona. (Interesting fact – Pat Tillman was a professional football player for the Arizona Cardinals. He gave up his multi-million-dollar football career to join the army.) There’s a bridge on the Trans-Canada Highway near Golden, British Columbia that is 300 feet high – and I find it scary. I can’t imagine driving on this one!
Don’t forget to pack a sunhat and lots of water in the warm weather months when you’re visiting Hoover Dam.
You can rent wheelchairs for $5 in the parking garage.
Animals are not allowed at Hoover Dam unless its a service animal – and they are not allowed to be left in vehicles unattended.
Appropriate attire is required when you’re visiting Hoover Dam as it’s considered a family environment. Don’t wear anything with obscene language or graphics and be careful with how much skin you bare.
You do have to go through a security check before purchasing any tickets.
Where to stay nearby
The Boulder Dam Hotel, rated fabulous offers on site dining and a museum. When the Hoover Dam was being built, the Boulder Dam Hotel hosted Hollywood stars as it was one of only two buildings in Boulder City at the time that had air conditioning, the other being the movie theater.
The Best Western Hoover Dam Hotel offers an indoor pool and poolside hot tub.
Hoover Dam Lodge has an outdoor pool with a red rock backdrop.
Choices abound in Las Vegas. We stayed at the Park MGM Las Vegas – a large hotel that was comfortable but not fancy. It does have an outdoor pool.
La Vegas Hilton at Resorts World is home to a a 5.5-acre pool deck and an infinity pool overlooking Las Vegas Boulevard.
Desert Rose Resort has a large outdoor heated pool surrounded by palm trees and contemporary suites with a private balcony.
You could also see what is available in Henderson and Winchester, Nevada.