Visiting the Hoover Dam was one of the highlights of you our American Southwest road trip last summer.
Located on the state line between Nevada and Arizona, USA, Hoover dam is an impressive engineering feat attracting visitors from all over the world and a stop we strongly recommend to anyone driving in this area.
In this post, we share information about what there is to see in Hoover Dam, how to get tho Hoover Dam from Las Vegas, how to plan a visit to Hoover Dam and why you should add it to your USA travel bucket list!
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Visiting the Hoover Dam: location and how to get there
Hoover Dam is located approximately 35 miles South East of Las Vegas, on the Nevada-Arizona border.
It is a popular destination for day trippers from Las Vegas and also for traveler driving from the city to the Grand Canyon.
Driving from Las Vegas, the journey is easy.
From the strip, we followed US Highway 93 towards Boulder city and then Nevada State Route NV-172.
The dam is very well signposted and gas is available at many gas stations in the outskirts of Las Vegas.
When we traveled, road works were happening close to the exit serving the dam and we missed our turn.
However, soon after the exit, there is a pullout and the opportunity to turn the car, which is good to know should you for any reason find the exit difficult to locate.
If you prefer not to drive or have no access to a car, there are many available tours from Las Vegas to Hoover Dam. The following is a short selection of some available from our booking platform of choice, GetYourGuide:
Parking at the Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam is a major tourist attraction in the area and is served by several parking lots.
The closest one to the dam is a multi-level covered car park on the Nevada side of the dam and has an entrance fee of 10$ per vehicle.
A second parking lot, also at a 10$ charge, is located on the Arizona side of the dam and additional parking lots are available on the Arizona side of the dam free of charge.
These can be a good option if you are traveling on a budget but be aware of the heat especially if taveling in summer.
Some of the parking lots on the Arizona side are up to a 10 minute walk uphill from the dam, which can be challenging in hot weather conditions.
Parking in full sun should also be avoided due to the specific weather conditions in this area.
Hoover Dam Visitors center opening hours
Parking Garage: Open 8:00 a.m. Closes 5:15 p.m. Parking fee: $10.00
Visitor Center: Open 9:00 a.m. Closes 5:00 p.m. Visitor Center tickets must be purchased by 4:15 p.m.
Tickets are sold at the Visitor Center sold from 9 AM – 4:15 PM
Power Plant Tour Tickets sold from 9 AM – 3:45 PM
The Hoover Dam Visitor Center is open every day of the year except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
What is special about Hoover dam
Hoover Dam is a massive concrete dam holding back the waters of the Colorado River.
According to the Bureau of Reclamation, who manages the dam and water resources in the area, the dam was built between 1931 and 1935 to limit the impact of the unreliable flowing of the river onto the lowing land in this area.
When built, the dam was unprecedented engineering accomplishment: 6 companies worked together to the construction of the dam and a large number of men were employed to work in a harsh environment and remote conditions.
It is nowadays responsible for the supply of electricity to a large part of the American Southwest and beyond and it is now regarded as a world-renown structure for size and impact.
For the visitor, Hoover Dam is a place to marvel at engineering, its challenges and accomplishments.
The dam is an impressive sight and the visitors center a great place to learn about how the dam came to be, how this affects the power supply in the Southwestern states and the risks liked to potential changes in water supply in the area.
What to see in Hoover Dam
There are 3 things to do in Hoover dam: walk or drive across the dam itself, explore the dam visitors’ center or take a guided tour of the dam workings.
Walk or drive across the dam
The dam is a sight to behold: the massive concrete stricture has the same color as the land around and you first get a glimpse of it as you leave the cover car park.
If you are not afraid of heights, the best way to see the dam is to walk or drive across it.
From this height, you get to appreciate how huge the dam is, how much work and hardship must have been endured to build it and how beautiful the mountains in this area are.
The view from the dam is vast and somewhat scary: the concrete dam slides almost vertically down to the bottom of the valley and the massive Colorado river is so far below you, you would this it is a small brook!
Vehicles of various sizes are allowed to cross the dam but there are security checks so be prepared to stop. Specific information about what vehicles cannot cross the dam (buses with luggage, certain types of trucks etc) can be found on the official dam website here.
While the dam is open to cars, be aware that this is not a though road and you will have to retrace your steps to regain the main road out of the dam area.
Visiting the visitors center
The dam has a visitors center of the Nevada side and I highly recommend a visit.
To access, you need to pass a metal detector and pay an entrance fee and while this may seem steep, I believe it is worth it since the displays are well made and informative.
The dam museum is entirely devoted to the building and workings of the dam.
The first part of the exhibition has info panels and historical photos of the building process, plus interesting facts on why the dam was built and what it wanted to accomplish.
The second part has more detailed information about the dam’s working and some interesting interactive and fun displays that show how electricity is formed and daily activities’ impact on its demand for production.
We found the whole experience truly enriching and felt is was a good compromise between just driving across the dam and taking the full on guided tour.
Hoover dam guided tour
Guided tours of the dam and the power plants are available.
The Dam Tour includes a 1-hour guided tour of the power plant and passageways within the dam itself, and admission to the Visitor Center.
The Power plant Tour includes a 30-minute guided tour of the power plant only, and admission to the Visitor Center.
Please note that access to these tours is not recommended to people who suffer from claustrophobia or hart conditions (there are several notices about this before the ticket counter) and kids under 8 are not allowed on the Dam tour.
Mike O’Callaghan Pat Tillman memorial bridge
When visiting the hoover Dam there is only one additional man-made marvel able to steal the show: the incredible Mike O’Callaghan Pat Tillman memorial bridge.
The bridge was built between 2005 and 2010 and is 880 feet high. As such, it is the the second-highest bridge in the United States (the highest is in Colorado) and the highest concrete-arch bridge anywhere.
The bridge operates as a by-pass and can be viewed easily from the observation deck on top of the Hoover Dam’s visitor centre.
The opposite is, however, not the case: while you can see the dam if walking across the bridge, the dam is not visible if you are just driving across it due to the high walls framing the road.
Hoover dam with kids
We visited Hoover Dam with kids aged 6 and 8 and I was surprised to discover what a family friendly attraction it is, despite the age restrictions for the tours.
The dam is impressive for kids to see and while it is not the type of place you can get a child to run wild, it is possible to visit Hoover Dam safely at all ages.
The visitors center and exhibition have many displays that are easy to enjoy with kids and informative.
The displays are indoors, which is excellent in terms of shelter from the weather, and all levels are accessible by stair or lift.
Visiting the Hoover Dam with fear of heights
Visiting Hoover Dam with a fear of heights can be challenging.
The dam is a massive concrete wall plunging down almost vertically into a deep river gorge.
Its impressive height and the in-hospitality of the environment are what make it so breathtaking but they will cause major issues to anyone who is unsteady in high places.
However, it is possible to visit the area and the visitors center without ever being exposed to heights as such.
If you park your car inside the covered parking lot on the Nevada side of the dam, there is only a small road to cross to enter the visitors center and this is in no way exposed to the sheer drop into the valley.
Once inside, the visitor center itself offers an exhibition without windows: this means that you can easily enjoy all the information panel and interactive artifacts without ever having to take in the landscape.
Depending on how easy or ill at ease you are on terraces, the visitors’ center has a terrace that offers incredible views of the dam but that is large enough to keep you away from the actual drop.
Hoover Dam facilities, food and souvenirs
Restrooms are available in several locations near the dam including the parking lot and the visitors center.
A souvenir shop and a cafe / cafeteria is at the dam selling burgers, crisps sandwiches, ice creams etc.
How much does it cost to visit Hoover Dam
Walking across the Hoover Dam is free. When budgeting for a day at the dam, consider costs up to:
- $10 for parking (unless using the free lots on the Arizona side)
- $10 per person (ages 4 and up) for the visitor center
- $12-15 per person for 30-minute Powerplant tour. Exact fee varies with age, military discounts etc
- $30 per person for 1-hour Hoover Dam tour. Exact fee varies with age, military discounts etc.
- Possible food and photo stop, both available on the Nevada side of the dam
What to bring to visit Hoover Dam
The dam is in a remote location and especially in summer it is important to be protected from the sun.
Recommended items to bring are:
- Good walking shoes if taking longer tours
- Camera /phone
Interesting books about the Hoover Dam
Hoover dam facts
Once completed, the dam presented the following characteristics (taken from the dam official brochure):
- Type: arch gravity dam
- Height: 726.4 feet (221.3 mt)
- Crest length: 1244 feet (379.2 mt)
- Crest width: 45 feet(13.7. mt)
- Base width: 660 feet (201.2 mt), which equals two footballs fields measured end-to-end
- Volume of concrete: 3.25 million cubic yards (2.6 million cubic meters)
- The Colorado River is more than 1,400 miles long and supplies water to Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix.
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