Is Hoover Dam Worth Seeing?

Trip to Hoover Dam from Vegas

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.

Tours of Hoover Dam

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.

Powerplant Tour

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 of 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.

Hoover Dam Tour

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

This is a really popular attraction and it gets extremely busy, especially on weekends and between Memorial Day and Labor Day. There are fewer people at the dam between 10:00 a.m. and after 3:00 p.m.

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.

Getting from Vegas to Hoover Dam

The massive Hoover Dam is an engineering feat unlike just about anything else found in the United States—and it’s located only a short distance from the heart of Las Vegas. In fact, the Hoover Dam is one of the most accessible day trips from Las Vegas because it is so close to the city center, which means that it’s easy to head over and spend a simple half-day exploring before heading back to the Strip for dining, shopping, and clubbing.

There are two easy ways to reach the Hoover Dam from Las Vegas: By car or by tour. In both cases, you’ll be on the road. Though there are helicopter tours to the Grand Canyon that stop at the Hoover Dam, a direct tour to the dam and back to Las Vegas can only be done by vehicle.

Car

If you have your own car or you are renting a car in Las Vegas, it’s fairly simple to get out of the city. The Hoover Dam is located about 35 miles from the Strip; expect the trip to take slightly less than an hour. From your hotel, get onto I-15 going south. Take exit 34 and merge onto I-215 going east toward Henderson. In Henderson, merge onto I-515/I-93 going south into Boulder City, and stay on this road until you reach the Hoover Dam.

There used to be a horrendous back up along this road before the Hoover Dam, but the opening of a bypass bridge into Arizona has greatly reduced the traffic problem. To visit the dam itself, follow signs to the parking garage, which is on the Nevada side of the dam. From here, you can walk back and forth across the dam or take a tour of the facility. Because vehicles can no longer get into Arizona from Nevada via the dam, this has become a much more tourist-friendly site. If you want to walk across the bridge, there is a sidewalk on the north side, which leads to a parking lot. You can not stop your car on the bridge for viewing purposes.

Tour

If you don’t want to deal with the details yourself, consider taking a tour to the Hoover Dam instead. There are several tour companies in Las Vegas that offer half- and full-day tours to the site. Many of these tours also offer the Hoover Dam as an add-on, or they add on other features and stops to enhance the Hoover Dam visit. Your options for day trip tours from Las Vegas are exhaustive, and it’s common to find discounts or coupons for these activities, which help keep the costs reasonable.

Parking

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 nowhere to pull off near the bridge itself.

Hours

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.

Visitor’s Center

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.

Final Word

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 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.

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