Hoover Dam is a structural masterpiece…an engineering wonder…especially considering the fact that it was built in the 1930’s. (1931-1935 to be exact) It’s a National Historical Landmark, a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, and one of America’s Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders. Need another reason to visit? It’s just really interesting. 🙂
The Dam is located 34 miles east of Las Vegas. Though we are not the ‘Vegas kind of people’, we planned a visit there (flights and accommodations are quite inexpensive) just to see some of the things in the area – Hoover Dam, Death Valley Nat’l Park and the canyons of southwest Utah. The WEST rim of the Grand Canyon is also within a few hours’ drive, though we didn’t have time to venture that far on this trip.
SOMETHING TO NOTE: Hoover Dam is NOT a part of the National Park system. It is managed by the Dept. of the Interior – Bureau of Reclamation. That means that it will not be as economical as the Nat’l Parks are to visit, however, you have a lot of choices on HOW you visit which will determine the final cost. “Seeing” the Dam is free; touring will cost.
VISITING HOOVER DAM:
First Point: EXPECT temperatures in Black Canyon (Hoover Dam) to be 10-15 degrees higher than they are in Las Vegas or the Lake Mead area. Bring Water!!!
Because Hoover Dam is a potential military target, there are security checkpoints. The first checkpoint is on the highway leading to the Dam. They may or may not stop you to inspect INSIDE your car. Then, when entering the Visitor Center/Tour area, there is airport type security. Bags are x-rayed and are subject to size restrictions. (listed online) Lines for this can be long later in the day. Arrive early! 🙂
A visit to Hoover Dam can be done several ways – at a variety of costs. – The most economical way is to park in the free parking on the Arizona side. Walking across the bridge is a ‘significant’ walk, but certainly manageable for those in good health. There are outdoor exhibits on the Nevada side as well as an AIR CONDITIONED gift shop & café. 🙂 A drive further up the Arizona side of the Dam gives some great views/photo ops of the back side of the Dam. Then, views of the front of the Dam are best from the O’Callaghan-Tillman Memorial Bridge and pedestrian walkway on the Nevada side of the Dam. These walks will give you a thorough view of the Dam (both front and back). This plan involves a lot of walking, but for the able-bodied, it’s a fine way to see the Dam exterior and it’s all FREE.
For a more ‘in-depth’ visit and more information, (and some cost) there are tours available.
TICKET OPTIONS: (prices current in 2015)
- Visitor Center: This ticket will give you admission to the museum detailing the building of the Dam and how it functions/produces electricity, an observation deck with views of the front of the Dam and a film on the history/building of the dam Cost: $10 pp.
This is included in the purchase of a tour (below) but can also be purchased alone.
- Powerplant Tour: Includes the Visitor Center/observation deck/film (above) PLUS a tour of the power plant portion of the Dam. They say the tour is 30 min…..but it’s really closer to 15-20 min. Cost: $15 pp
- Hoover Dam Tour: includes the 2 tickets above (Visitor Center/observation deck/film AND Powerplant tour) PLUS a tour down inside the dam to see the tunnels and passageways. They say this tour is 1 hour but really it’s 45 min. Cost: $30 pp
The two tours (Powerplant and Hoover Dam) are together for the first 20 min. Then those with the Powerplant Tour wristbands are released to go back to the Visitor Center and those with the Dam tour wristbands continue on. We took the Dam tour.
Tours are booked on a first-come-first-serve basis on the day of the tour only – no reservations. There is no a/c on the Dam portion of the tour. (There IS a/c on the Powerplant tour portion) Therefore, an early morning tour is HIGHLY recommended!! 🙂 You will need to be IN LINE at the Visitor Center by 8:30- 8:45 ready to enter when it opens at 9 to get one of those early tours. (possibly earlier on weekends….)
The last tour of the day is at 3 pm and they typically sell out by noon or 1 pm each day.
VIEW OF HOOVER DAM:
The road that actually goes over Hoover Dam (Hwy 172) was shown on our Rand McNally map to be a through road…but it is NOT! About 1/2 mile up on the Arizona side, the road is blocked (see google map below) It’s still a GREAT road to take…wonderful photo ops with several pull-offs and of course, this is where all the free parking lots are. There’s a larger parking lot with a nice viewing area at the top of this road.
Since you can NOT see the Dam while you are ON the Dam, 🙂 🙂 it is necessary to either go to the Visitor Center Observation deck, take the road on the Arizona side…or the O’Callaghan-Tillman bridge walkway (Hwy 93) to actually SEE the Dam. That brings me to…….
THE BEST VIEW – AND ITS FREE!
O’Callaghan-Tillman Memorial Bridge
Highway 93 and the O’Callaghan-Tillman Memorial Bridge on the Nevada side gives the BEST view of the front of the Dam. This is the new highway/bridge built over the Canyon to accommodate ‘serious traffic’ and to avert regular traffic away from the security areas and tourist spots. Before this was built, it could take ‘regular traffic’ 5-6 hours to cross this bridge during the summer tourist season. The wonderful thing for tourists is that Highway 93 and the Bridge spans Black Canyon less than 1/4 mi. from the Dam — giving visitors an incredible view of the Dam. It should be noted, however, that you canNOT see the Dam when driving over the bridge.
The side wall is too high. You must park, get out and walk on the pedestrian walkway built alongside the bridge. The parking lot will accommodate a LOT of cars, and there are restrooms and a water fountain there as well. The pathway leading up to the walkway has both stairs and handicap walkway. It’s accessible to most. DON’T miss this!!
THE BIGGEST PROBLEM YOU’LL ENCOUNTER – PARKING
There is a parking garage on the Nevada side for $10. There is also paid parking on the Arizona side that contains some covered spots, but it’s not a garage. The website says this costs $19, but that is incorrect. It is $10 as well. The advantage to this lot, however, is location – it’s right next to the Dam so is a shorter walk for those only wanting to walk across. There is FREE parking on the Arizona side too, however, it is in various lots #10 – #15 further up the side of the Canyon – that means walking…possibly quite a distance if you’re in lot #15. NOTE: These spots are basically gone by 10-10:30 a.m. After the crowds arrive, you’ll only find a space if someone happens to leave as you are arriving…. There are SO many reasons to arrive early. )
Walking Across the Dam: This is an experience regardless of what else you opt to do… NOTE: Cars are NOT ALLOWED to stop on the Dam (security issues). Do not plan to stop the car to snap that photo or let out passengers. The speed limit across the Dam is 15 mph (and they ARE patrolling this…be advised) There are restrooms and water fountains on this walk as well. 🙂 They’ve done everything they can to make this day in the desert surrounded by concrete as comfortable as possible for visitors.
- NOTE: Hoover Dam is in the desert…. Deserts are hot….and Dams are made of concrete. Summer in the desert lasts from April to Oct. It’s pleasantly ‘warm’ the rest of the year….
- EXPECT temperatures in Black Canyon (location of Hoover Dam) to be 10-15 degrees higher than in the surrounding area. PLAN for this!!!
- FROZEN water bottles are great. Place them on your neck to cool the entire body (This really works!) then when the ice melts (which it will do rather quickly) you have water to drink. This was my ‘all-time best tip’ for travel in the desert areas.
- If you’re planning to take a tour and are parking in the paid parking area, ASK the garage attendant if they are doing the tours that day – before you pay to park. We pulled into the garage and thankfully asked that question. We found out that tours had been cancelled that day. We were able to leave without parking or paying the $10. We returned the next day when tours WERE running. You don’t want to find out there are no tours AFTER you’ve paid to park.
- That brings me to the next point. The website says they conduct Dam tours 7 days/week. That statement is followed with a disclaimer that tours can be cancelled for any reason – issues with the Dam or generators, a high security alert….or if the tour guides just don’t show up to work that day. (I know…. ugh ugh UGH!!!) We were told (by a source that shall remain nameless…ha) that often the tour guides don’t show up on Sundays…making the tour schedule either cancelled…or limited. If you can plan your visit on a day OTHER than Sunday, you might not run into problems getting on a tour. That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t do tours on Sundays. I’m just sharing our experience….. We came on Sunday and left because there were no tours. We returned on Monday and had a tour. 🙂
- Arrive early….for parking…for tours…for relief from desert heat. The parking garage opens at 8 am; Visitor Center opens at 9 am (but be in line by 8:30 if you want to purchase an early tour); First tour is at 9:35 am. We were one of the first 25 in line and were put on the 10:35 tour. These sell fast!! 🙂
NOW TIME FOR MY OPINIONS ON ALL OF THIS: (Skip if you don’t like ‘opinions’ ha)
- First, the tours were great! I highly recommend them. The Dam is incredible; the tour guides are personable and interesting. It’s a GREAT tour!
- Second…the tours were too expensive for what we got in my opinion. Now, I don’t regret it. I’m glad we did it our first time there, but I doubt if we would take the tour on a second trip to the area. We’d just walk across the Dam and be happy. 🙂
- Third, the Visitor Center is very small.. There’s not a lot there, so $10 was, imho, a pretty inflated price (I’ve been to a lot of museums and paid a variety of entrance fees. I have a lot to compare it to) However, (and PLEASE NOTE THIS) when combined with the Powerplant Tour which is $15, it becomes reasonably priced…For $5 more, you get the tour. That’s the Visitor Center, Observation Deck, the history film and the tour for $15. That’s not a bad deal at all! When it comes to paying $30 for the Dam Tour, that’s just a matter of personal preference and how detailed you want to go with your experience, however, we, being who we are, chose to do that. 🙂
ONE LAST PARTING WORD: BRING WATER!!! This is the desert…You’re in a Canyon. It’s hot year-round but especially April-Oct. Bring Water!!! 🙂