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Do you find the flashing neon lights of Las Vegas a little overwhelming and are seeking a natural respite? Then you may want to pack up your car and drive only a short distance to Lake Mead, Nevada’s cleanest lake.
Visiting Lake Mead is one of the most awesome day trips from Las Vegas, because it’s so close and yet there are so many things to do at Lake Mead.
The striking desert scenery and brilliant blue waters of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area are a true oasis in the desert.
Well, it is a man-made lake, so maybe not an oasis provided by Mother Nature. But she did provide the mighty Colorado River which runs into this man-made lake to create a place for your enjoyment.
But what is there to do at Lake Mead and how can you enjoy it? In this guide, I’ll be sharing all the top Lake Mead attractions so you can make the most of your visit…
- How to Get To Lake Mead from Las Vegas
- About Lake Mead National Recreation Area
- Things to Do at Lake Mead
- 1. Go Camping near Lake Mead
- 2. Take A Lake Mead Cruise
- 3. Marvel at The Hoover Dam
- 4. Don't Miss The Northshore Drive
- 5. Hike the Redstone Hiking Trail
- 6. Bike The River Mountains Loop Bike Trail
- 7. Walk The Historic Railroad Trail
- 8. Take a Pontoon Boat Ride
- 9. Go Fishing at Katherine Landing
- 10. Visit the Alan Bible Visitor Center
- Things to Do Near Lake Mead
- Where to Stay at Lake Mead Recreational Area
- How to Save on Las Vegas Attractions
- Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Lake Mead
How to Get To Lake Mead from Las Vegas
The Lake Mead National Recreation Area is only a short 32km (20 miles) drive southeast of the Las Vegas strip along the I-515 S and takes 25 minutes. It’s 290 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
There are six entrance stations to the Lake Mead NRA: Lake Mead Parkway, Northshore, Boulder, Lake Mead Boulevard, Meadview and Temple Bar.
If you want to explore beyond Vegas and tick off this list of things to do at Lake Mead, you’re going to need a car.
Many of the most stunning places to visit near Las Vegas are only reachable by car so if you don’t have your own then you will want to rent a car.
Unless you join a tour from Las Vegas.
About Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Lake Mead Nevada became a National Recreation Area for those looking for relaxation and fun in the desert when the Hoover Dam was created in 1936 and in 1951, though back then it was known as the Boulder Dam.
Lake Mohave joined the recreation area when the Davis Dam was completed in 1951.
Both lakes became part of the first National Recreation Area in the National Parks Service in 1964.
Lake Mead is one of the largest and cleanest reservoirs in North America, with the water levels supplying over 25 million people with their drinking water.
And in the desert too! Don’t forget to be mind-boggled over that and fall in love with the Colorado River.
Across this gorgeous area sits the Mojave Desert, which makes up 87% of the park and gives you an abundance of activities to experience and enjoy.
Within this playground there are nine wilderness areas to explore, making it one of the best things to do near Las Vegas.
Things to Do at Lake Mead
You can fish, swim, boat, bike, hike, and enjoy scenic drives. Or just relax with gorgeous desert views surrounding you. Whatever you choose to do, don’t miss the following Lake Mead attractions…
1. Go Camping near Lake Mead
We spent a week camping right on the shores of Lake Mead. We couldn’t have asked for a more serene and naturally beautiful setting.
Look at these views from the girl’s bedroom. Not bad to wake up to each morning right?
The glow on the rocks as the sun rose each morning was stunning.
We spent several days not doing much other than exercising, playing, cooking s’mores over the fire, catching up on work, and enjoying these views, and delighting in the wild calls of the coyotes each night.
It sounded like there were packs of them and we saw a jackrabbit bolting off across the desert floor. But we couldn’t spy on the coyotes.
We had one day of heavy rain all day – a desert rarity – which didn’t dampen our time there at all.
2. Take A Lake Mead Cruise
Don’t miss the opportunity to get out on the water and do one of the Lake Mead cruises. If you have your own boat that works well too!
If you don’t, find a friend, rent one, or join a 90-minute Desert Princess Cruise, a paddle wheeler boat.
We joined one in combination with our Hoover Dam tour that was included in the Las Vegas Sightseeing Pass.
The cruise took us past Boulder Rocks into the beginning of Black Canyon to the edge of Hoover Dam.
It was interesting to see it from this perspective. I was more enamored with the orange and black rocks – stunning.
There was an informative commentary on the dam and Lake Mead during the cruise and a sandwich lunch was provided.
3. Marvel at The Hoover Dam
A Hoover Dam visit is a highlight for many people visiting Las Vegas.
You can easily go from Las Vegas to Hoover Dam as a day trip, join a tour, or, if you are staying on Lake Mead, it’s right in your neck of the woods.
Hoover Dam was just around the corner from our campground.
However, we joined a Hoover Dam tours from Vegas (picked up at the Hoover Lodge) as it was included in our Las Vegas Sightseeing Pass.
The elevators weren’t working when we visited so we could not go down into the dam to explore the power plant.
Apparently, this happens frequently. It reopened while there but the line was too long.
There is a free museum at the top of the dam which was interesting enough and it’s great to walk over the Colorado River from Arizona to Nevada and back.
4. Don’t Miss The Northshore Drive
One of the best land-based things to do at Lake Mead is this road trip!
We went for an afternoon drive and discovered the stunning beauty of the Northshore Drive – one of our favorite scenic drives in the United States.
This is on the way to the Valley of Fire State Park along the northwestern part of Lake Mead. You can easily combine it if you’re planning on visiting Valley of Fire from Vegas.
The drive is almost 50-miles but you can go as far as you like. We went as far as the Redstone Hiking Trail.
Be sure to stop off at the Northshore Summit Trail for a short hike up to a spectacular viewpoint from the mountain.
I loved looking out for miles over the Muddy Mountains, the Bowl of Fire, and the road we just drove along.
5. Hike the Redstone Hiking Trail
200 million years ago these red rock formations were sand dunes and the area looked very much like the Sahara Desert.
The iron particles holding the sand together oxidized over time to turn the rocks red. Now we have this beautiful desert walk where we can appreciate it.
The walk is less than a mile loop. There is no real trail, you kinda just walk around and explore at your leisure.
6. Bike The River Mountains Loop Bike Trail
For adventurous things to do near Las Vegas, you may like to take on the entire 34 mile river mountains loop bike trail.
16.70 miles of the trail are in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and surrounds the River Mountains connecting the park, Hoover Dam, Henderson, Boulder City, and the rest of the Las Vegas Valley,
With a gain in elevation in one section of about 500 feet in less than a mile, it’s not going to be an easy bike ride, but I’m sure you’ll have fun.
We met a couple doing it who raved about it, even the one steep hill they had to get off and push their bikes up.
We cycled a short 2.5 miles one way from our campground to the start of the Historic Railroad Trail.
It was slightly uphill on the way but nothing too difficult and the girls managed it super well. We especially loved the return journey – we didn’t have to turn the pedals too much just let gravity push us all the way down.
You’ve got beautiful views the entire way.
7. Walk The Historic Railroad Trail
One of the most unique things to do at Lake Mead is to walk the Historic Railroad trail – it’s superb for views of Lake Mead and for a bit of history.
It is the old railroad tracks that once transported workers and goods from Boulder City to Hoover Dam.
There are five tunnels on the trail you can walk through and the trail will take you to Hoover Dam.
The Historic Railroad Trail is 3 miles return. However, only the first two tunnels were open when we went due to the third tunnel being unsafe.
It was a short hike that took us just over 30 minutes in total. It’s a very easy walk and great for families.
8. Take a Pontoon Boat Ride
While there are so many things to do at Lake Mead that involve hiking the landscape, you can’t visit this impressive lake without actually venturing out onto it, right?
One of the most popular ways to explore Lake Mead is to take a pontoon boat out onto the lake.
Within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, you will find boat rentals along the piers and marinas, as well as several launch ramps where you can launch your own personal watercraft.
However, if you don’t have a boating license, you cannot launch your boat from the Nevada side.
You can also get fishing boats, paddle boats, canoes, or go kayaking.
Boating is one of the top things to do at Lake Mead so don’t miss out on this opportunity!
9. Go Fishing at Katherine Landing
If you enjoy fishing, you can try your hand at catching some fresh water fish, such as channel catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, sunfish, striped bass, smallmouth bass, and rainbow trout.
The best place to go fishing at Katherine Landing where you can fish from the shore. You can also cast a line from Willow Beach, Cottonwood Cove, and Hemenway Fishing Pier. 9.
10. Visit the Alan Bible Visitor Center
The Alan Bible Visitor Center is the Lake Mead Visitor Center and opened in 1966. This is a great place to learn about the creation of the lake and the park, as they have a 20-minute movie about its history.
You can also pick up maps and information about the things to do at Lake Mead and walk through its desert botanical garden.
Things to Do Near Lake Mead
If you have more time and you can afford to venture a bit further, here are some top things to do near Lake Mead…
- Black Canyon is named for the dark volcanic rock that flowed and cooled here 13 million ears ago. This steep-walled canyon begins below Hoover Dam and you can explore several sites around Lake Mohave in it by water. The water heats up below the surface of the earth and percolates up through the rocks to form hot springs.
- Willow Beach is a popular place to explore in Black Canyon and the Liberty Bell Arch can be hiked to on the rim of the canyon. The Black Canyon retains a feel of the old Colorado River and provides a different perspective of the area.
- Valley of Fire State Park is one of the best Las Vegas day trips and is just outside the northern borders of Lake at the end of the Northshore Drive. Stay tuned for a post on that.
- Muddy Mountains Wilderness Area is also just beyond the park, which is another popular thing to do around Las Vegas.
Where to Stay at Lake Mead Recreational Area
If you’re thinking you’d like to make the most of this beautiful area and want to stay a while, here are some accommodation options I recommend…
Camping at Lake Mead
We loved our Lake Mead camping spot at the Lake Mead RV Village Boulder Beach.
Get a lakeside spot if you can, it’s the ultimate. We stayed two nights at another spot and it was nowhere near as good.
The sites are spacious and very clean, and there are picnic areas with grills for visitors to use.
They also have sites at Echo Beach which is the north end of Lake Mead.
Next door to the RV Park is an NPS Boulder Beach campsite. They have tent camping and full RV hookups. You can reserve in advance or turn up for their first come first served but I loved their campsites under the shade of some gum trees!!
There are various other NPS campsites in the Lake Mead Recreational Area.
Some other Lake Mead accommodation options are:
- Hoover Dam Lodge is just behind the Historic Railroad Trail and around the corner from Hoover Dam.
- For a more luxurious stay, you can’t go past the Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort on the northwestern edge of Lake Mead Recreation Area. You also have two outdoor pools and a private beach and loads of space.
- Likewise, the boutique Hilton Lake Las Vegas Resort and Spa is also on Lake Las Vegas at the northwest edge of Lake Mead Recreation Area. Its Mediterranean-inspired architecture, outdoor pool, and restaurants will give you a relaxing Vegas vacation. It’s only 17 miles from The Strip.
How to Save on Las Vegas Attractions
You can choose from a wide variety of tours and attractions, and also allow you to skip the line. There are two types of pass; one that allows you unlimited entrance for a certain number of days, or you can choose a selection of top attractions only.
The day pass gives you access to all the attractions included, but you’ll have to plan your day well to fit in as much as you can.
When using these passes, choose your bucket list attractions and plan your trip carefully.
Some of the Las Vegas attractions that we used on the card were:
- Hoover Dam and Lake Mead tour
- Downtown Las Vegas Walking tour
- Matt Franco Magic Reinvented Nightly Show
- The Mob Museum
Check prices and availability for the 7 attraction Las Vegas Sightseeing Pass here.
Or check prices and availability for the Las Vegas day pass here.
Some other attractions included on the card that are worth visiting:
- Grand Canyon South Rim tour
- Cowabunga Bay Water Park
- Vegas Nights Helicopter tour
It’s worth noting that the children’s pass for Vegas cost the same as the adults. I think this is because Vegas has mostly “Adult” attractions.
There are many attractions that the kids can still do though, including some of the night shows. It’s worth thinking about.
Definitely, do careful research so you know you’ll get savings from it.
The Sightseeing Pass also has a USA pass if you plan to travel through multiple US cities in 30 days.
The Go Las Vegas Card is a similar product that also gives access to 35+ attractions. You can click here to see what attractions are included on this card and the prices. We don’t have experience with this card, but I know the brand has a good reputation.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Lake Mead
Lake Mead is a beautiful and peaceful place and the perfect place to cool off and escape the heat of the Nevada sun.
We loved seeing the Colorado River again after leaving it a month earlier in the Grand Canyon and on the shores at The Needles California.
It flows pretty much straight out of the Grand Canyon into Lake Mead.
I hope this guide helped you plan your trip to Lake Mead and gave you some inspiration for what to do there.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area Video
For more inspiration on Lake Mead, you can watch our video of our experience here.