View of Lake Mead /Photo by Lizzie Gerecitano

View of Lake Mead /Photo by Lizzie Gerecitano

The Ultimate Lake Mead Travel Guide


About Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Hoover Dam tour map: A detailed guide showcasing the layout and attractions of the Hoover Dam tour.

Geographical Features and Location

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is located on the Colorado River, beginning about 25 miles southeast of the Las Vegas Strip, and covers areas in both Nevada and Arizona.

Lake Mead itself is an incredible contrast of water in the midst of the driest of lands – the Mojave Desert.

Lake Mead has over 290 square miles of water surface. But the entirety of Lake Mead National Recreation Area actually covers an area of 2,338 square miles and extends 240 miles along the Colorado River. 

Historical Background

As for its history, in 1936, the Boulder Dam Recreation Area (now Lake Mead National Recreation Area) was created after the damming of the Colorado River formed the reservoir of Lake Mead.

This was the very first national recreation area established in America and included Hoover Dam.

Lake Mead's Inclusion in the National Park System

Eleven years after its creation, the name was changed to Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Since Hoover Dam is run by the Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Mead was named for Elwood Mead, who was the Bureau of Reclamation commissioner at the time.

Although Hoover Dam is run by the Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Mead National Recreation Area is part of the National Park System.

Information You’ll Need to Visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area

A scenic view of Lake Mead in Arizona, USA, showcasing its vast expanse of water surrounded by natural beauty.Sunset View Overlook / Photo by Lizzie Gerecitano

Park Hours and Day-Use Areas

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with beautiful scenic driving, overlooks, hikes, and that lake!

Some of the beaches and other areas are day-use only, from dawn until dusk. These areas are marked on-site with signs.

Temporary Closures and Visitor Information

Sometimes, certain things are closed temporarily, like hiking trails in late spring and summer when it's very hot.

Ask park rangers at the Visitor Center near Hoover Dam or check the website for information

Entrance Fees and Passes

Lake Mead entrance fees (and lake use fees) can be purchased online or at one of the Fee Booth stations.

If you have an annual National Park Pass, that’s acceptable here. Otherwise, the entrance fee is $25 per vehicle, good for seven consecutive days.

The closest entrance to Hoover Dam is on Boulder City Parkway.

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Visitor Center and Tour Options

Stop at the Visitor Center for maps and information about where you want to go, what you want to see, or the hiking trails you want to take.

By the way, Shaka Guide offers an excellent tour route for Lake Mead National Recreation Area combined with Hoover Dam.

After that, continue down the road to the Fee Booth that leads to Boulder Beach and beyond.

RELATED: One-Day Itinerary: Hoover Dam & Lake Mead

Getting to Lake Mead National Recreation Area

One of the reasons Lake Mead National Recreation Area gets so many visitors is that it is next to one of the biggest tourist attractions in the U.S. – Hoover Dam, and a mere 25 miles from the tourist mecca of Las Vegas.

From the city, it’s an easy, half-hour to 45-minute drive southeast to Lake Mead (depending on the time of day, traffic, and which route you choose to get there).

Accessible Airport

The closest airport to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Hoover Dam is Harry Reid International Airport. This airport is situated in the heart of Las Vegas.

Scenic Beauty and Recreational Activities

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is incredibly beautiful, with scenic drives, overlooks, and hiking.

Boulder Beach, the shoreline of Lake Mead, can be seen from the rim of Hoover Dam.

Stop at the Lake Mead Visitor Center for maps and advice (or take the Shaka Guide tour which is full of great suggestions)!

With Hoover Dam having created Lake Mead and sitting, literally, on top of it, no visit to Lake Mead National Recreation Area is complete without also visiting Hoover Dam. 

If you have extra time during your trip to Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, or Las Vegas, consider visiting Red Rock Canyon. It's less than half an hour west of Las Vegas.

Shaka Guide also offers a fantastic tour of Red Rock Canyon! 

A jeep parked next to a tent and another tent at Lake Mead.Boulder Beach / Andrew Cattoir (Lake Mead National Recreation Area), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re also planning a trip to the Grand Canyon from Lake Mead (from the area closest to Las Vegas and near Hoover Dam) here’s what you need to know:

West Rim of the Grand Canyon

The West Rim of the Grand Canyon is less than a two-hour drive away and is on the Hualapai Reservation.

You can walk 70 feet over the glass Skywalk bridge for a clear view 4,000 feet down to the canyon floor.

Note that not all rental car companies cover the road to the West Rim Skywalk, so check your rental agreement.

The more popular North or South Rims of the Grand Canyon is a much further drive – about five-and-a-half hours each way to either of those rims. 

The East Rim of the Grand Canyon is a little under an hour's drive.

Weather/Best Time to Visit


Spring (April, May, and June) at Lake Mead is one of the most popular times of the year to visit.

With warm, sunny days and wildflowers in bloom, it’s the start of a season full of hiking, fishing, and camping.

Daytime highs average  80 - 98 F (27 - 37 C), and nighttime lows average 50 - 66 F (10 - 19 C).


During July, August, and September, the Lake Mead National Recreation Area experiences record-high temperatures.

It's risky to exert yourself outdoors, especially on hiking trails, so carry more water than you think you need and limit activities to the early morning.

Some hiking trails may be closed for public safety. This time of year is ideal for water recreation activities like:

  • kayaking
  • canoeing
  • paddleboarding
  • swimming
  • boating
  • fishing, and
  • waterskiing

Shaded picnic areas with tables, water, fire grills, and restrooms are available.


In October, November, and December, the weather is warm and pleasant. Hiking season resumes as trails reopen until the following summer.

Campgrounds get busy, so it's recommended to make reservations. Daytime highs average 59 - 83 F (15 - 23 C), and nighttime lows average 32 - 50 F (0 - 10 C).


In January, February, and March, Lake Mead National Recreation Area is known for its stunning winter sunsets and occasional snow-capped mountain peaks.

It becomes a destination for photographers, bikers, hikers, and campers. Daytime highs average 57 - 69 F (14 - 21 C), and nighttime lows average 30 - 40 F (-1 - 4 C).

RELATED: When’s the Best Time to Visit Hoover Dam & Lake Mead? 

What To Do In & Around Lake Mead National Recreation Area

A serene walkway at Lake Mead Visitor Center, adorned with palm trees and benches.Lake Mead Visitor Center / Photo by Lizzie Gerecitano

There are so many places to see and things to do on a trip to Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

One way to experience this destination is with the Shaka Guide Hoover Dam/Lake Mead Tour. It’s chock full of stops, advice, and detailed information you might not ever find out about on your own.

Lake Mead is a vast, stunning recreation area chock full of scenic drives, overlooks, hiking trails, and Lake Mead itself, but it helps to have an idea of where to go. 

1. The Visitor Center

The Visitor Center, just off the same road as Hoover Dam (Boulder City Parkway), should be your first stop.

It has a fantastic exhibit center and gift shop with crafts from Native American artists.

The Information Center, with park rangers and volunteers, can deputize your kids as Junior Rangers.

They also provide a wealth of information and advice about hiking trails, along with detailed maps to avoid getting lost.

2. Hike

The Historic Railroad Trail is a hiking must. It is a unique opportunity to walk along varying landscapes overlooking Lake Mead, plus you get to go through several tunnels that were used during the building of Hoover Dam to transport supplies.

There is nothing like this anywhere else, and it is not only a beautiful hike (and pretty flat and easy) but each tunnel has its own character.

Unlike some other tunnel hikes, this one is not full of graffiti. It’s almost exactly as it was left when Hoover Dam was finished!

The trail itself goes all the way to Hoover Dam and is over seven miles long, but even just taking the trail a mile or so through the first couple of tunnels is a pretty great way to spend an hour or two.

Stick to the trail, though, because although you’re walking a level path, that path is not at ground level and you’re actually pretty high up over the lake in spots.

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3. Hit the Beach (yep, a beach in the desert) 

Head down to the Boulder Beach shoreline. You may have seen Lake Mead from atop Hoover Dam, but to go right down to this bright blue body of water and see it up close is lovely, too!

Even if you’re not kayaking, canoeing, or paddleboarding, it’s pretty nice meandering the rocky shoreline,  dipping your toes (or taking a swim), and collecting pretty shells.

There’s even a stand full of life vests if you want to borrow one, and restrooms.

4. Go for a Scenic Drive

Scenic Driving Routes

A scenic road winds through majestic mountains under a clear blue sky.Northshore Road/ Shutterstock Image

There are two wonderful roads for scenic driving, with plenty of overlooks to enjoy along the way.

Those roads are Lakeshore Road and Northshore Road. Some of the wonderful overlooks along Lakeshore Road include the Sunset View Scenic Overlook and 33-Hole.

There’s also a great hike at Owl Canyon leading down to a slot canyon where you might see owls, but it involves a scramble downhill at the beginning.

You can access the trailhead by taking the road to 33-Hole Road and making a left where the road splits.

Northshore Road

Northshore Road is arguably one of the prettiest scenic drives in America. But make sure you have a full tank of gas if you’re planning to take the whole road.

If you went all the way to the end, it would take you about an hour and lead you to Valley of Fire State Park (on your left).

There, you’d need a couple of extra hours to explore all of the red rock formations.

Exploring Lost City

The Lost City is also up that way (on your right) which used to be underwater but now, due to drought conditions, you can go explore.

But there is only one place to fill your tank once you leave Boulder City inside Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and that requires turning off of Northshore Road to Echo Bay as you approach Valley of Fire.

BEST ADVICE Stop in downtown Boulder City on your way to Lake Mead, fill up your gas tank, and grab a cooler for your car to fill with water, lunch, and snacks if you’re heading out on a road trip!

Northshore Summit Trail

The Northshore Summit Trail, about 15 miles up Northshore Road after turning onto it from Lakeshore Road, is a really nice stop (with a restroom) for the view or the hike. The payoff is your view from the top of that trail.

A stop sign with a street sign on top, located near Lake Mead.Northshore road sign / Photo by Lizzie Gerecitano

Return Route to Las Vegas

If you want to see the lava-capped mountains on Northshore Road, turn back when you're ready to head to Vegas.

Go back down Northshore Road, then turn right on East Lake Mead Boulevard for a quick, awesome, and scenic drive to downtown Las Vegas.

You'll enjoy beautiful mountains and a skyline view of The Strip and the Stratosphere.

It might feel like a mirage when you realize how close Lake Mead is to downtown Las Vegas!

5. Outdoor Activities

If you visit Lake Mead in the summer or the warmer months of spring or fall, there are many water activities available. You can:

  • rent a houseboat
  • pontoon
  • kayak
  • canoe
  • paddleboard
  • book a cruise along Lake Mead
  • go jet skiing
  • fishing
  • Make a camping reservation or just spend a day here

6. Boulder City

If you have a couple of days to explore Lake Mead and Hoover Dam, stay at a hotel in downtown Boulder City.

It's in the historic district, and you can enjoy strolling through this beautiful, pedestrian-friendly town with shops and cafes in the evening and morning.

Don't forget to check out the free Boulder City-Hoover Dam Museum inside the lobby of the Boulder Dam Hotel.

Also, visit Hemenway Park, especially in the late afternoon or early evening when bighorn sheep may come down from the mountain to graze the green grass.

It's a one-of-a-kind sight!

7. Red Rock Canyon

If you're staying in Las Vegas and want to see more beauty outside the city, head 15 miles west to Red Rock National Conservation Area. There's a fabulous Shaka Guide Tour for that too!

8. Hoover Dam 

Although this may seem obvious, the nearby Hoover Dam is a perfect companion to any Lake Mead itinerary. Check out Shaka Guide’s Hoover Dam & Lake Mead Tour to visit both. 

RELATED: The Ultimate Hoover Dam Travel Guide

What To Pack

A motel nestled amidst palm trees with majestic mountains in the backdrop.Lakeshore Road / Photo by Lizzie Gerecitano

1. Snacks 

In addition to stocking a cooler with picnic lunch items for Lake Mead (there is no place to buy food inside this national conservation area) make sure you have plenty of snacks and more water than you think you need since the Mojave Desert can dangerously dehydrate you. 

2. Shaka Guide (and car accessories) 

Also, in case you decide to download a driving app to help you explore Lake Mead and the surrounding area (like Shaka Guide!), make sure you bring a car charging wire and adapter to connect to your car’s charging station, and a cell phone mount so that you can view your phone’s screen while driving. 

3. Hiking Boots or Sneakers

High-top hiking shoes or high-top sneakers with good tread (for grip, and so you don’t get pricked by cacti).

4. Sun Protection 

  • Sunglasses
  • sun hat
  • sunscreen

5. Hiking Clothes

Think layers. Temps can drop in the evening and early morning. In the summer, temps can rise to above 110 degrees Fahrenheit during the day.

And in winter, even if it feels warm during the day, temps can fall below freezing in the morning and evening. Insulated canteen to keep your water cool.

6. Personal Locator Beacon 

If you are traveling/hiking on your own, it is very wise to make sure that someone knows where you are heading and what time you plan to return.

Additionally, consider investing in a Personal Locator Beacon to keep in your backpack for emergencies.

It can help you call for help, especially if you lose wifi or battery life on your cell or if your car breaks down in the desert where there are no other people. This is a vast desert.

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RELATED: Know Before You Go, Hoover Dam & Lake Mead

Where To Stay

If you’re not staying in nearby Las Vegas, here are some alternatives closer to Lake Mead. 

Best Western Hoover Dam

This is a great place in the heart of the Boulder City Historic District, with free parking and a pool. Reasonably priced.

Leave your car there and stroll through this gorgeous little town’s shops and cafes.

The hotel has a nice pub/restaurant on the premises with outdoor seating, and ask about a voucher for breakfast across the street at the fabulous Southwest Diner!

Boulder Dam Hotel

This is a gorgeous, classic, and quaint hotel featuring the incredible Boulder City-Hoover Dam Museum in the lobby.

Their outdoor patio is in the heart of the historic district, so you can walk to shops and restaurants. This hotel sells out, so advanced reservations are necessary.

The Hoover Dam Lodge 

This hotel is on the highway in Boulder City (instead of in the walkable, downtown historic district) and features a trail that leads down onto the Historic Railroad Hike in Lake Mead’s National Recreation Area.

Front of hotel with sign 'Boulder Dover' - a charming accommodation option in a scenic location.Boulder Dam Hotel / Photo by Lizzie Gerecitano

How Much Time to Allow for a Visit & Parking Info

Each place that we have recommended to visit inside Lake Mead has free parking areas, and most of the stops also have restrooms, with many having shaded picnic areas as well.

You could see quite a bit of Lake Mead in one day, but two or three days would be optimal if you want to head up to and explore the Valley of Fire or to allow enough time for hiking, visiting Hoover Dam, and strolling around the historic district of Boulder City.

RELATED: 2-Day Itinerary: Hoover Dam & Lake Mead

Is Lake Mead Drying Up/Are Water Levels a Concern?

Due to a combination of climate change, years of drought conditions, and expanding populations (and therefore a greater demand for water) in the area that Hoover Dam serves, Lake Mead has dropped below key thresholds in the past few years.

As environmentalists continue to search for ways to refill the lake, our nation’s largest reservoir continues to drop in water level. 

Lake Mead's Role in Water Supply and Electricity Generation

Lake Mead provides water to about 25 million people in

  • Arizona
  • Nevada
  • California and
  • parts of Mexico

...and provides electricity to 1.3 million homes as well, in the form of hydroelectric power.

If Lake Mead water levels can't go up, the southwest will face significant water cuts. It will start with agriculture and then extend to cities, reducing the amount of Colorado River water available.

Sustainable Solutions Needed for the Colorado River

The bottom line is that Hoover Dam and the Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell (the dam above Hoover Dam) have been using more water than the Colorado river can provide.

Effective changes must be made, or the Colorado River would eventually start to dry up and not be able to flow past Hoover Dam.

Understanding Lake Mead and Hoover Dam with Shaka Guide Tour?

You can find out more details about this and many other geological and scientific facts about Lake Mead and Hoover Dam by downloading the Shaka Guide tour of Hoover Dam/Lake Mead. It does a really good job of explaining the challenges that enormous, man-made dams like this face.

RELATED: Why Was the Hoover Dam Built?

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Ready to explore Lake Mead? Check out Shaka Guide’s Hoover Dam & Lake Mead Tour

We hope that we’ve given you all the information you need to make the most of your day. Your vacation is extremely important to us so if you have any questions feel free to reach out at aloha@shakaguide.com.

For more detailed information to help you plan, check out our Hoover Dam & Lake Mead Itinerary and Know Before You Go article.


The Ultimate Hoover Dam Travel Guide

2-Day Itinerary: Hoover Dam + Lake Mead

Hoover Dam & Lake Mead Weather: When’s the Best Time to Visit?

Las Vegas to Hoover Dam – How to Get There

Can You Visit the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon on the Same Day?

The Ultimate Lake Mead Travel Guide

Why Was the Hoover Dam Built?

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