seven tips for visiting The Hoover Dam
I imagined visiting the Hoover Dam about a thousand times. I imagined the moment I first saw the giant slice of concrete, the moment I looked down and down and down, the moment I felt dizzy and excited, shocked and in awe.
This was years ago when I was in fourth grade. I had just finished reading The Titan’s Curse and I couldn’t shake Rick Riordan’s Hoover Dam description from my head.
“Then we straggled back toward the dam. It was cold and windy on top. On one side, a big lake spread out, ringed by barren desert mountains. On the other side, the dam dropped away like the world’s most dangerous skateboard ramp, down to the river seven hundred feet below, and water that churned from the dam’s vents.”Rick Riordan (From Percy Jackson & The Olympians, The Titan’s Curse)
Fast forward a decade and I’m now wedging a beat-up copy of The Titan’s Curse into our car’s map pocket. I didn’t consider the logistics of this trip. I probably should have. So as I’m heading out to see “The Greatest Dam In The World” (as Franklin D. Roosevelt called it), I have a dozen questions cycling through my head.
Does the Hoover Dam have an entrance fee? Can you park near the Hoover Dam? How far is the Hoover Dam from Vegas? How long does it take to visit the Hoover Dam? Is there anything to see at the Hoover Dam besides the dam itself?
The short answer: no, yes, further than you think, a half-day, yes. I promise I’ll get into more details in this travel guide.
Here are seven tips you need to know before visiting the Hoover Dam!
Know That Visiting The Hoover Dam Is Free
The Hoover Dam is free to visit. I came to the Hoover Dam, prepped with my National Park pass (which I absolutely did not need. The Hoover Dam isn’t even part of the National Park system. What was I thinking?), ready to bypass a hefty admission. After all, this is the Hoover Dam. I assumed it was going to cost an arm and a leg. And it can.
“Wait, Anshula,” you ask. “I thought you just said the Hoover Dam was free.”
Well…it depends on how you want to visit the Hoover Dam. Seeing the Hoover Dam is absolutely free. Touring the Hoover Dam is up-there in cost. And then there’s parking (ah, parking fees. I love you so). Parking at the parking garage costs $10. There’s free parking closer to the Arizona side of the dam, but it’s a walk (a giant, I-don’t-remember-signing-up-for-The Unlikely-Pilgrimmage-Of-Harold-Fry walk).
Note that the Hoover Dam’s tour packages are also tiered. So you’ll find an all-inclusive package (Guided Dam Tour), the mid-range package (Guided Powerplant Tour), and the Self-Guided Visitor Center Tour (the cheapest deal).
I really wanted to go on the Guided Dam Tour (you get to walk through inspection tunnels. need I say more?), but unfortunately, only the Self-Guided Tour was available when I visited the Hoover Dam.
For me, personally, the Self-Guided tour wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t the fault of the tour itself, we just weren’t well-matched (here’s my it’s not you, it’s me moment). I mean, I loved the presentation and exhibits (they were thoughtful, to-the-point, and informative), but I have a body-numbing fear of heights so I couldn’t appreciate the full glory of the views from the observation deck.
I think that if you get a chance to go on the hour-long Guided Dam Tour, do it. And if you don’t, I recommend listening to this podcast episode during your Hoover Dam visit instead (it’s not officially an audio guide, but it works well as one).
Know Where To Park At The Hoover Dam
- Hoover Dam Parking Garage: This 450-plus space parking garage is right next to the Visitor’s Center. There are stunning views of Memorial Bridge from the upper levels of this garage. Although it will set you back $10, it’s the most convenient location.
- Initial Parking Lot: Drive past the Hoover Dam parking garage and you’ll see one outdoor lot up ahead. Due to its proximity to the Hoover Dam, this lot also costs $10.
- Arizona Side Parking Lots: Later on, as you drive closer to the Arizona side, farther and farther away from the dam, parking fees halt. I don’t recommend walking from these lots in the summer. The Arizona side parking lots are, at the very least, over a quarter of a mile away, which doesn’t seem like much on a cool weather day, but in the heat…(I don’t even want to think about it).
Know The Best Way To See The Hoover Dam
Grab a thesaurus. Look for the words big, huge, ginormous. Combine all the words suggested into one singular idea, one singular thought. The Hoover Dam is larger than that.
I find it hard to describe the Hoover Dam. It’s one of those places that pictures can’t capture fully. No matter how many angles I take, I can’t capture the depth and breadth of the Hoover Dam. I can’t capture the hollow space and the water that flows just beyond. I can’t capture the way the mud-colored mountains tighten the landscape. And I can’t capture feelings – the pride in people’s eyes as they snap a picture with the dam in the background, the laughter of kids as they bounce along the pathway screaming “look, look”, the erratic heartbeats of Hoover Dam visitors as they look down and down and down.
The best way to see the Hoover Dam is in person. You need to let the sight of the dam overwhelm you, amaze you, and inspire you.
Here are the best vantage points of the Hoover Dam:
- Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge Pedestrian Walkway: This is a wind-whipped path where you can see it all: the dam, Lake Mead, the mountains beyond. It’s also unbelievably high-up. I didn’t realize how far Memorial Bridge shoots up until a little too late. Although this walkway offers one of the best views of the Hoover Dam, my legs felt wobbly as soon as I neared the rail. My mind blanked, I forgot how to breathe, and I froze a fourth of the way down the path. If you have acrophobia, like me, I do not recommend this viewpoint at all. But if you don’t have a fear of heights, this might turn out to be your favorite viewpoint! It was just too much for this lil’ blogger to take.
- Observation Deck: This viewpoint was included in the self-guided tour package. I loved that I could see the hauntingly deep drop of the Hoover Dam from behind glass windows. There’s also an outdoor area perfect for grabbing a selfie with the dam! I didn’t venture out for long because I was still trying to regain my senses after Memorial Bridge but the view from here is incredible.
- Hoover Dam Bridge Bypass Trail: this isn’t really a trail. It’s a massive, paved walkway from the parking garage to the Hoover Dam. You’ll find thick crowds moving in one continuous photo-taking mass along the path. Hoover Dam Bridge Bypass Trail is one of the most accessible and popular Hoover Dam viewpoints.
- Initial Parking Lot: I was taken aback by the views from the first open parking lot past the parking garage. Smooth dark blue water stretched out to brown-toned rocky edges like a poured-in glaze. The cloudless sky above was bluer, brighter. And the mountains – oh my goodness, if I wasn’t a mountain person before, I was in that moment.
Know That The Hoover Dam Takes A Half-Day To See
I originally planned for the Hoover Dam to be a day trip from Las Vegas (it’s about a one-hour drive from The Strip). Including the tour, the dam takes four-ish hours to see (I think I would have spent longer had I been in a position to savor the views). Traffic from the entrance to the parking garage halted our trip a little (the line took thirty minutes to get through and it took us twenty minutes to find parking).
If you’re visiting the Hoover Dam, plan to spend at least a half-day here.
Know What To Bring To The Hoover Dam
Before visiting the Hoover Dam, I wish I knew to leave my hat at home. Back then, I only knew that this part of Nevada was unshaded, so I happily planted my hat on top of my head and went out to explore the Hoover Dam area.
The region right around the Hoover Dam is windy. If Chicago is one of the windiest cities, the Hoover Dam is definitely one of the windiest attractions in the United States. The winds here don’t howl, but they are big and strong and forceful. Imagine a parade of sumo wrestlers sneaking along a walkway and then hitting you, one at a time, at full blast. That’s what the winds at the Hoover Dam felt like. It’s a miracle my hat made it.
Here’s what you can and can not bring during your Hoover Dam visit:
|BRING THIS (ALLOWED)||LEAVE THIS (PROHIBITED)|
|water bottles||canned drinks|
Know Where To Eat Near The Hoover Dam
The food at the Hoover Dam is exactly what you’d expect: typical tourist trap. I usually don’t dine in heavily-trafficked areas, but I made an exception for the Hoover Dam. Remember when I said I visited the Hoover Dam because I read about it in The Titan’s Curse?
Well, there’s this scene:
“Nothing,” Grover said, trying to keep a straight face. “I could use some dam french fries.”Rick Riordan (From Percy Jackson & The Olympians, The Titan’s Curse)
So I ended up ordering this…
I’m the ultimate tourist.
On that note, I’d highly recommend bringing your own food and just eating it in your car (since food isn’t allowed in any of the Hoover Dam buildings). You could also picnic at Lake Mead National Recreation Area ($25 per vehicle) or dine in Boulder City.
If I could redo my trip, I’d visit Dam Roast House & Browder Bookstore first and grab a specialty latte and a filling breakfast-to-go (alongside some light snacks).
Know That The Hoover Dam Is Worth Visiting
Is the Hoover Dam worth visiting? Yes! Absolutely. Visiting the Hoover Dam felt like a bucket-list moment ticked off. It’s one of those places that’s 100% more magical in person than in pictures. The scale. The brilliance. The grandeur.
Sure, I made tons of travel mistakes while visiting the Hoover Dam (who doesn’t?), but you live and you learn. And even with my fear of heights, I don’t regret visiting the Hoover Dam one bit. It was everything I dreamed it would be and so much more.
Have you ever visited the Hoover Dam? What tips would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below! As always, I love hearing from you!