Ever since I saw a Transformers movie years ago, I have dreamt about seeing Hoover Dam in real life. Do you remember the aerial shots of the dam when it is coming under attack by the Decepticons? After 15 years, I made the wish come true and found myself looking down at this massive, powerful, and impressive dam not once but twice within a week!
Hoover Dam (previously known as Boulder Dam) is only a short drive away from Las Vegas and thus became our first stop. Mighty dam, located on the border between Arizona and Nevada, holds back the Colorado River forming thus Lake Mead.
It was built between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression and was the largest dam in the world at the time of its completion. As usual, with such projects comes the human cost. Thousands of workers put massive effort into the dam’s construction, with 112 lives lost.
To get to the dam, you need to pass by the checkpoint on the road, where your vehicle will be inspected. We only had to open all the windows and go our merry way, but we saw some people who had to take out some belongings from the car.
Remember, if you walk in the area in the summer, take a water bottle and preferably a hat. In August, it was scorching hot, making it almost impossible to be outside. Even though I wanted to walk alongside the dam, we cut our visit short and ran back to the air-conditioned car.
There are a couple of points from which you can see the dam’s magnitude and sheer size.
Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
One of the best viewpoints is Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, commonly known as Memorial Bridge or Freedom Bridge. The bridge was built to bypass the congestion of traffic on the dam. With the winding, narrow roads leading up to a dam and million tourists walking back and forth, I can understand why a straight road on the bridge was needed.
The bridge opened in 2010, the year that celebrated 75 years of the Hoover Dam. It is the broadest twin-ribbed arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere and the highest concrete-arch bridge in the world.
The architects also knew it would be challenging to prevent people from stopping on the bridge to take pictures, and thus they incorporated a pathway on the side, so curious tourists could safely take their selfies with a dam as a stunning background.
Walk alongside the dam and look down to see the immense size of the construction. Remember to check the view of the river on the other side of the road.
If you are in the Visitors Center, walk towards Dam High Scaler Monument. A small distance away, there is a platform from which you can see both the dam and the bridge.
When I was googling things to do from Las Vegas, I noticed that it is possible to book a kayak tour along the Colorado river toward Hoover Dam. However, those are full-day activities, and we just didn’t have time. But maybe you would be interested?
Apparently, you can also see a good view of the dam from the top floor of the parking lot close to the Visitors Center. Whether it is true or not, no idea as I read about it when I came back :p
We skipped tours because it was way too warm to be outside for an extended time and just went around snapping pictures. However, if you are interested, you can take there three kinds of tours.
- Self-Guided Visitor Center Tour – walk through exhibits about the dam and look at the area from the observation deck.
- Guided Power Plant Tour – Walking through the original construction tunnels, then check out the viewing platform overlooking a 30-foot diameter penstock as you feel the vibration of the water rushing through the pipe and see 8 of the commercial generators.
- Guided Dam Tour – Visit some of the lesser-known parts of the dam. This tour extends upon the other two tours; hence additionally, you will be able to visit historic tunnels, ride the elevator to the top of the dam, walk the inspection tunnels, and view the river through the ventilation shaft.
More about tours is under the link.
Where to park
Bridge Walkway Parking Lot
There is free parking for the Memorial Bridge. When driving towards the dam, turn to a minor road leading to the “Bridge Walkway Parking Lot”. Sometimes you might have to wait for a little for a spot, but it won’t take much time – how long can a person last at 45°C 😛 Everyone climbs up, snaps selfies, and runs back to the car.
Nevada side of the dam
The most convenient parking – one close to the Visitor’s Center costs 10$. It is the closest distance walking-wise to the dam, and with the sun burning us to the crisp, we wanted as little walk as possible.
Arizona side of the dam
You can get more parking spaces if you drive further away through the dam. The ones furthest away are for free. The question is, do you want to walk that far in the scorching hot sun 😛
Oversized vehicles, recreational vehicles, and vehicles with trailers must park on the Arizona side of the Dam, Lot #9 (fee $10 per vehicle), #13, and #14 (no charge).