Though there’s more than enough to keep a person busy in Las Vegas, those itching for a short day trip may want to venture to Hoover Dam, which lies on the Nevada / Arizona border. Located about 35 miles from the Las Vegas Strip, the Hoover Dam is accessible by rental car or via organized tour.
The trip to Hoover Dam takes about an hour or so, depending on the day of the week, road conditions and holiday seasons. In the past, this trip used to take significantly longer as traffic backed up through Boulder City on the way to the dam, but the Hoover Dam bridge, which opened in October 2010, has helped relieve the congestion by sorting out those who want to actually visit the dam from those who just want to cross it in order to get to Arizona. The drive is picturesque, passing out of the city, near mountains and past Lake Mead.
The Hoover Dam (originally called the Boulder Dam) was constructed over the Colorado River on the border between Nevada and Arizona between 1931 and 1936, and when it was finally in place, it formed the man-made Lake Mead just to its north, which is a recreational area and another worthwhile stop for day trippers.
There is a parking garage located on the Nevada side of the Hoover Dam. It costs $7.00 to park in the garage. You’ll need to cross the dam to reach the Arizona side, but there are plenty of places to park on that side as well; these spaces offer a good view of the dam and the bridge. You will need to park near the dam to walk across the bridge as well, as there is no where to pull off near the bridge itself.
The visitor’s center is open daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas). In the summer, the visitor’s center is open 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.; the last tour ticket is sold at 5:15 p.m. In the winter, the visitor center is open from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.; the last tour ticket is sold at 4:15 p.m. In the summer and the winter, the first tour of the day is at 9:15 a.m.
You can walk back and forth across the dam, and you can also walk across the bridge, but if you want to stop in the visitor’s center, you’ll need to pay $8.00. The visitor’s center has a variety of displays, maps and photos of the dam as it was being built. The dam’s history is a rich one, and browsing through these exhibits helps visitors appreciate the engineering marvel just a bit more. There is a 10-minute film in the center, which provides more detail about the dam.
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There are two tours available for purchase at the Hoover Dam: the Powerplant Tour and the Hoover Dam Tour. The advantage of taking a tour is that, in addition to learning about the dam from a guide and seeing some of the mechanical aspects inside the dam itself, you also receive complimentary admission to the visitor’s center.
The Powerplant Tour offers a combination of guide-led instruction, audio and film presentations and entrance into the visitor’s center for a thorough introduction to the Hoover Dam. It provides an overview on the inner workings of the dam, and access to guides allows you to ask any additional questions you might have. On this tour, visitors are taken into the dam, where they have access to view the massive pipes that transport 90,000 gallons of water from Lake Mead each second to the dam’s generators, which guests can also view on the tour. The Powerplant Tour also offers an opportunity to see the dam and bridge from an observation deck that is only open to paying customers.
This tour is $11.00 for adults, and there are discounts for seniors, children and military personnel.
The Hoover Dam Tour encompasses all of the features of the Powerplant Tour, but it also provides guests with the opportunity to wander further into the depths of the dam via the tunnels and inspection galleries. This tour is almost a maze of sorts, taking people into the far reaches of the cavernous structure. Expect to walk more than a mile if you sign up for this tour.
Unlike the Powerplant Tour, which can be booked in advance, the Hoover Dam Tour is a first-come, first -served tour, so arrive early in the day to ensure your spot is secure. This tour costs $30.00 per person, and no one under the age of eight is permitted.
In addition to the Powerplant Tour and Hoover Dam Tour, keep in mind that there are other tours in Las Vegas that offer a tour of the dam as part of the package. Some of these also offer an additional dimension to touring the dam by providing a float tour in the Colorado River below.
Tips for Visiting Hoover Dam
It may be hard to believe, but it is hotter at the Hoover Dam than in Las Vegas, so come prepared for high temperatures, especially in the summer months. Light-colored clothing, sunglasses and water bottles are not only recommended but practically a necessity.
One Final Note
In comparison to the glitz and glam of Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam is a very different attraction. Like museums and historic sites in other cities, the tours of the dam are educational and informational, and people looking for light-hearted, Las Vegas-esque entertainment are unlikely to find the Hoover Dam all that interesting. If you feel like the tour might be a waste of time and money, that’s okay, but you may want to drive down anyway, just to walk across the dam and the bridge, both of which are totally free.