A lot of people think that Lake Mead National Recreation Area is only worth visiting to see Hoover Dam.
It’s true that the dam is an American icon but when it comes to Lake Mead, the dam is like a shiny object, taking your attention away from its surroundings.
Away from the dam the park is used by locals for boating, hiking, fishing, cycling, and camping.
While most people access LMNRA from Las Vegas, the eastern edge of the park borders Grand Canyon National Park and the southern edge stretches all the way down to Laughlin. About half of the park is in Nevada and the other half in Arizona.
Take a look at a detailed google map of Lake Mead here.
Hoover Dam is one of America’s most famous landmarks from the Great Depression era. The massive concrete structure was built in the 1930s to produce hydroelectricity and create the country’s largest reservoir by volume.
The dam is a popular destination, visited by a million tourists each year.
Beneath Hoover Dam is Black Canyon, where the Colorado River flows through a deep and narrow cut in the mountains. This area has been designated as one of America’s Scenic Waterways and is popular with kayakers and fisherman.
Willow Beach is the best access point to Black Canyon. There’s a boat launch, campground, beach area, and day-use facilities.
NELSON LANDING AT MOHAVE LAKE
Nelson is a great day trip from Las Vegas. Beyond the ghost town and old mines, the paved road continues all the way to the edge of Lake Mohave. There are beaches at Eagle Wash and Placer Cove, and some excellent cliff jumping into the beautiful blue water.
There are a good number of developed campgrounds and primitive camping areas around the two lakes and along the Colorado River. For those able to make the extra effort, there’s beaches on the river that you can backpack or paddle to and camp.
There are dozens of excellent hiking trails within the park, but these are my favorites:
- Whiterock Canyon – Hot Springs Loop
- Goldstrike Canyon
- Railroad Tunnel Trail
- Bowl of Fire
In the northern part of the park is a point of interest for history buffs. St. Thomas is an old Mormon village originally settled in 1865. All that remains are foundations and tree stumps, but the site has plenty of informational signs to tell the story of this once-important frontier town. St. Thomas lost its relevance when the first railroad between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles was built through the tiny desert outpost of Las Vegas. Less than 30 years later it was decided that St. Thomas would be flooded when Lake Mead was created. Today the lake’s water level has been declining since the 1980’s, and St. Thomas has been dry since the ’90s.
OFF-ROAD DRIVING TRAILS
The park has a handful of unpaved desert roads to explore. Some are maintained and occasionally graded, while others are true 4×4 trails that can reach old mines, hard-to-get-to trailheads, and remote coves on the Colorado River or Lake Mead. Having a 4-wheel drive vehicle will enhance your ability to see more of the park.
When paying for entry to Lake Mead National Recreation Area, ask a ranger for the “paper” backcountry map as well as the official glossy National Park Service brochure. The paper map shows all the backcountry roads open to the public.