Las Vegas is a place where you can expect the unexpected. For example, did you know there’s a beautiful lake just a 45-minute drive away from the Las Vegas Strip? That’s right – Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a favorite spot for locals who love to fish, hike, swim, boat, and more. In this ultimate guide, we’re going to share everything you want to know about Lake Mead, including the best ways you can experience this beautiful place on your next trip to Vegas.
What Is Lake Mead?
Drive just 45 minutes away from the glittering and glamorous Las Vegas Strip and discover a different side of Vegas: Lake Mead National Recreation Area. This 1.5 million-acre national park site is a truly gorgeous place to visit, with crystal-clear waters contrasting against the rugged desert landscape.
Lake Mead, and its sister Lake Mojave, were created when the Colorado River was dammed with what was then called Boulder Dam, now known as Hoover Dam, to provide hydroelectric power to the states of Arizona, Nevada, and California. Lake Mead is 115 miles of glistening blue water, towering canyons, secluded beaches, and some of the most gorgeous desert landscapes your eyes will ever behold.
How To Get To Lake Mead from Las Vegas
Lake Mead National Recreation Area is located just 33 miles from the Las Vegas Strip, and the drive takes about 45 minutes. If you want to venture out from the city and discover hidden gems like Lake Mead and Red Rock, it’s a good idea to rent a car for your time in Vegas. Otherwise, many guided tours will pick you up at your hotel on the Strip and drive you out to Lake Mead for the day.
6 Unforgettable Ways To Experience Lake Mead
So what is there to do at Lake Mead? Las Vegas locals visit this stunning location to enjoy the sparkling blue water and enjoy some time in the outdoors. Here are 6 ways we recommend exploring Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
One of the best ways to experience the sheer beauty of Lake Mead National Recreation Area is by hiking its incredible desert trails. More than 87% of the park protects a huge area of the Mojave Desert, and exploring this area on foot will allow you to take in the area’s natural beauty at your own pace, with lots of chances for taking photos. The Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail and River Mountains Loop Trail are the hiking trails we recommend.
If you prefer to pick up the pace a little and get your heart pumping, another great way to experience Lake Mead is by mountain biking. The Historic Railroad Trail is the best mountain biking trail for beginners – an easy trail along a former railroad grade that gives you breathtaking views of Lake Mead. Please be sure to stick to the trail, because biking through the designated wilderness area is prohibited.
Lake Mead is where the locals take their boats out to enjoy a beautiful day on the water, and there’s no reason why you can’t do the same! Marinas on Lake Mead rent out a variety of different boats to visitors, including sports boats, pontoon boats, fishing boats, and even houseboats.
Lake Mead is a great fishing spot for catching striped bass, with some catches weighing in at more than 40 pounds. Other types of fish you can catch here include rainbow trout, catfish, sunfish, and crappie. Every Friday, more rainbow trout are released into the lake near Willow Beach. You can take a boat out for a fishing excursion or cast a line from one of the park’s two fishing piers.
One of the most stunning ways to see Lake Mead is to paddle a kayak out on the calm water surrounded by colorful desert mountains. You can rent kayaks, paddleboards, or canoes from the marina, or you might prefer to take a guided kayak tour. Exploring the lake and the Colorado River by kayak will allow you to find hidden coves, towering canyons, and secluded beaches.
Yes, Lake Mead is not only safe to swim in, it’s one of the cleanest reservoirs in North America, with sparkling blue water that’s nice and warm in the hotter months. When you take a boat or kayak out on the water, be sure to land for a while at one of the many small beaches on the shoreline to spend some time swimming and perhaps enjoy a picnic lunch.
Does It Cost Money to Visit Lake Mead?
Yes, all visitors must pay a fee to enter Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Lake Mead passes can be purchased online or at an entrance station. The entrance fee is $25 per vehicle or $15 per person. Most guided tours of Lake Mead include your entrance fee to the park.
Our Top 5 Favorite Lake Mead Tours
Taking a guided tour of Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a great way to discover the area with a local who knows their way around. Here are our top 5 favorite guided tours of Lake Mead:
On this exciting tour, you’ll get to see Lake Mead and the mighty Hoover Dam in one day of adventure. First, you’ll travel to the Hoover Dam where your knowledgeable guide will give you a 90-minute tour of this engineering marvel. Next, you’ll jump on board the Desert Princess, a historic paddle-wheel steamboat, for a lunchtime cruise on Lake Mead. On your way back to your Vegas hotel, you’ll stop by the famous Ethel M Chocolate Factory and stop for a photo op at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign.
If you’ve never seen a desert sunset before, you’re in for a treat with this sunset kayak tour on Lake Mead. You’ll paddle out to the Boulder Islands with your friendly guide where you can swim, explore on foot, and chow down on a delicious catered dinner while enjoying a 360-degree view of the desert around you while the sun sets. You’ll get to roast s’mores over a bonfire before embarking on a night paddle back to shore with your kayak all lit up.
You’ll ride on a three-wheeled CanAm Ryker motorcycle for this private tour to Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam, with lots of stops for photo opportunities at marvelous desert locations along the way. Your expert guide will show you the ropes, so you don’t need to be a pro to enjoy this experience. You’ll get to learn about the sights you’re seeing and the history of the locations you visit through the Bluetooth connection in your helmet.
If you’d like to try your hand at fishing in Lake Mead but don’t know where to begin, this awesome guided fishing tour will take you out on the water with a licensed Arizona Fishing Guide. You’ll ride on a pontoon to the best spots on the lake for catching striped bass, with a choice between a daytime or nighttime fishing excursion. All the equipment you need for a great day of fishing will be provided for you.
Experience the excitement of riding on an ATV along the back trails surrounding Lake Mead and along the Colorado River. This adrenaline-pumping tour will take you off the beaten path to see the rugged desert terrain with its unique flora and fauna, with lots of photo opportunities along the way. You’ll get to stop at the edge of the Colorado River where you can take a refreshing dip to cool off from the heat.
What’s the Best Time of Year to Visit Lake Mead?
Spring is the most popular time to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area, especially for hikers. From March to May, you can expect warm, sunny days without it being overbearingly hot yet. In the summertime, things heat up considerably, with temperatures up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (yes, you read that right!). This makes summer a popular time for swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding.
Fall brings the temperature down to an average high of 83 degrees Fahrenheit, putting hiking and biking back on the agenda for visitors. If you want to avoid the heat, consider visiting Lake Mead in the wintertime, when you can expect daytime highs of about 69 degrees and nighttime lows of about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a prime time for camping and mountain biking.