Do you find the flashing neon lights of Las Vegas a little overwhelming and are seeking a natural respite?
One of the best day trips from Las Vegas is to drive about 40-minutes south east from The Strip and discover all the cool things to do at Lake Mead.
The striking desert scenery and brilliant blue waters of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a true oasis in the desert.
Well, it is a man made lake, so maybe not true as in an oasis provided by Mother Nature. But she did provide the mighty Colorado River that was controlled by man to create this incredible lake for your enjoyment.
We loved seeing the Colorado River again after leaving it a month earlier in the Grand Canyon and on the shores at The Needles California.
It flows pretty much straight out of the Grand Canyon into Lake Mead.
About Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Where is Lake Mead?
It’s about 30 miles south east of Las Vegas, or 290 miles north east of Los Angeles.
Lake Mead Nevada became a National Recreation Area for those looking for relaxation and fun in the desert since the Hoover Dam was created in 1936 and in 1951, Lake Mohave joined the recreation area when the Davis Dam was completed in 1951.
Both lakes became part of the first National Recreation Area in the National Parks Service in 1964.
Lake Mead is one of the largest and cleanest reservoirs in North America, with the water levels supplying over 25 million people with their drinking water.
And in the desert too! Don’t forget to be mind boggled over that and fall in love with the Colorado River.
Across this gorgeous area sits the Mojave Desert, which makes up 87% of the park and gives you an abundance of activities to experience and enjoy.
Within this playground there are nine wilderness areas to explore, making it one of the best things to do near Las Vegas.
You can fish, swim, boat, bike, hike and enjoy scenic drives. Or just relax with gorgeous desert views surrounding you.
We spent a week camping right on the shores of Lake Mead. We couldn’t have asked for a more serene and naturally beautiful setting.
Look at these views from the girl’s bedroom. Not bad to wake up to each morning right?
The glow on the rocks as the sun rose each morning was stunning.
We spent several days not doing much other than exercising, playing, cooking s’mores over the fire, catching up on work, and enjoying these views and delighting in the wild calls of the coyotes each night.
It sounded like there were packs of them and we saw a jack rabbit bolting off across the desert floor. But we couldn’t spy the coyotes.
We had one day of heavy rain all day – a desert rarity – which didn’t dampen our time there at all.
We did venture out for a few days though to explore the region.
Things to do at Lake Mead
Lake Mead Cruise
Don’t miss the opportunity to get out on the water and do one of the Lake Mead cruises. If you have your own boat that works well too!
If you don’t, find a friend, rent one, or join a 90-minute Desert Princess Cruise, a paddle wheeler boat.
We joined one in combination with our Hoover Dam tour that was included in the Las Vegas Sightseeing Pass (see bottom of blog post on saving money on Las Vegas attractions).
The cruise took us past Boulder Rocks into the beginning of Black Canyon to the edge of Hoover Dam.
It was interesting to see it from this perspective. I was more enamored with the orange and black rocks – stunning.
There was informative commentary on the dam and Lake Mead during the cruise and a sandwich lunch was provided.
A Hoover Dam visit is a highlight for many people visiting Las Vegas.
You can easily go from Las Vegas to Hoover Dam as a day trip, join a tour, or, if you are staying on Lake Mead, it’s right in your neck of the woods.
Hoover Dam was just around the corner from our campground.
However, we joined a Hoover Dam tours from Vegas (picked up at the Hoover Lodge) as it was included in our Las Vegas Sightseeing Pass (see the bottom of the post for more information on this pass).
The elevators weren’t working when we visited so we could not go down into the dam to explore the power plant.
Apparently this happens frequently. It reopened while there but the line was too long.
There is a free museum at the top of the dam which was interesting enough and it’s great to walk over the Colorado River from Arizona to Nevada and back.
Don’t Miss The Northshore Drive
One of the best land-based things to do at Lake Mead is this road trip!
We went for an afternoon drive and discovered the stunning beauty of the Northshore Drive.
This is on the way to the Valley of Fire State Park along the north western part of Lake Mead. You can easily combine it if you’re planning on visiting Valley of Fire from Vegas.
The drive is almost 50-miles but you can go as far as you like. We went as far as the Redstone Hiking Trail.
Be sure to stop off at the Northshore Summit Trail for a short hike up to a spectacular viewpoint from the mountain.
I loved looking out for miles over the Muddy Mountains, the Bowl of Fire, and the road we just drove along.
Redstone Hiking Trail
200 million years ago these red rock formations were sand dunes and the area looked very much like the Sahara Desert.
The iron particles holding the sand together oxidized over time to turn the rocks red. Now we have this beautiful desert walk where we can appreciate it.
The walk is less than a mile loop. There is no real trail, you kinda just walk around and explore at your leisure.
You can book your tour from Vegas here.
River Mountains Loop Bike Trail
For adventurous things to do near Las Vegas, you may like to take on the entire 34 mile river mountains loop bike trail.
16.70 miles of the trail are in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and surrounds the River Mountains connecting the park, Hoover Dam, Henderson, Boulder City and the rest of the Las Vegas Valley,
With a gain in elevation in one section of about 500 feet in less than a mile, it’s not going to be an easy bike ride, but I’m sure you’ll have fun.
We met a couple doing it who raved about it, even the one steep hill they had to get off and push their bikes up.
We cycled a short 2.5 miles one way from our campground to the start of the Historic Railroad Trail.
It was slightly uphill on the way but nothing too difficult and the girls managed it super well. We especially loved the return journey – we didn’t have to turn the pedals too much just let gravity push us all the way down.
You’ve got beautiful views the entire way.
Historic Railroad Trail
One of the most unique things to do at Lake Mead is walk the Historic Railroad trail – it’s superb for views of Lake Mead and for a bit of history.
It is the old railroad tracks that once transported workers and goods from Boulder City to Hoover Dam.
There are five tunnels on the trail you can walk through and the trail will take you to Hoover Dam.
The Historic Railroad Trail is 3 miles return. However, only the first two tunnels were open when we went due to the third tunnel being unsafe.
It was a short hike that took us just over 30-minutes in total. It’s a very easy walk and great for families.
Other things to do around Lake Mead
- Black Canyon is named for the dark volcanic rock that flowed and cooled here 13 million ears ago. This steep-walled canyon begins below Hoover Dam and you can explore several sites around Lake Mohave in it by water. Water heats up below the surface of the earth and percolates up through the rocks to form hot springs.
- Willow Beach is a popular place to explore in Black Canyon and the Liberty Bell Arch can be hiked to on the rim of the canyon. The Black Canyon retains a feel of the old Colorado River and provides a different perspective of the area.
- Valley of Fire State Park is one of the best Las Vegas day trips and is just outside the northern borders of Lake at the end of the Northshore Drive. Stay tuned for a post on that.
- Muddy Mountains Wilderness Area is also just beyond the park, which is another popular things to do around Las Vegas
- If you like ATVs you may love this ATV tour of Lake Mead that takes you to Hoover Dam
Where to Stay at Lake Mead Recreational Area
Camping at Lake Mead
We loved our Lake Mead camping spot at the Lake Mead RV Village Boulder Beach.
Get a lakeside spot if you can, it’s the ultimate. We stayed two nights at another spot and it was nowhere near as good.
The sites are spacious, and very clean.
They also have sites at Echo Beach which is the north end of Lake Mead.
Next door to the RV Park is a NPS Boulder Beach campsite. They have tent camping and full RV hookups. You can reserve in advance or turn up for their first come first served but I loved their campsites under the shade of some gum trees!!
There are various other NPS campsites in the Lake Mead Recreational Area. Click here for more details.
Other Lake Mead Accommodation
- Hoover Dam Lodge is just behind the Historic Railroad Trail and around the corner from Hoover Dam.
Read reviews and book your stay on Booking.com
- For a more luxurious stay, you can’t go past the Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort on the north western edge of Lake Mead Recreation Area. You also have two outdoor pools and a private beach and loads of space.
Read reviews and book your stay on Booking.com
- Likewise, the boutique Hilton Lake Las Vegas Resort and Spa is also on Lake Las Vegas at the north west edge of Lake Mead Recreation Area. It’s Mediterranean-inspired architecture, outdoor pool and restaurants will give you a relaxing Vegas vacation. It’s only 17 miles from The Strip.
Read reviews and book your stay on Booking.com
- Airbnb has a range of historical homes and cottages in the Lake Mead region.
Click here to find your perfect Airbnb rental.
Rental Cars from Las Vegas
If you want to explore beyond Vegas and tick off this list of things to do at Lake Mead, and check out all the stunning places to visit near Las Vegas by car (which we highly recommend), then you will want to rent a car.
Unless you join a tour from Las Vegas
Check rental car prices here.
How to Save on Las Vegas Attractions
The Las Vegas Sightseeing Pass, is a city attractions pass that offers savings on popular attractions.
We’ve used them for New York, LA, and New Orleans and find they offer great savings.
You can choose from a wide variety of tours and attractions and either a certain number of attractions on the card OR a certain number of days.
The day pass entitles you access to all attractions on the pass but you’ll have to plan your day well to fit in as much as you can.
It’s important to do your research and plan your trip carefully.
Choose the activities or attractions you most want to do and then do the math to see if the day pass or attraction pass would suit better and what time frame you’d want it for.
The 7 attraction Las Vegas Sightseeing Pass costs $379.
The 3 attraction pass costs $229
And the 3 day Las Vegas pass would cost $369.60
Click here to see how you can save with the Las Vegas Sightseeing Pass
Some of the Las Vegas attractions that we used on the card were:
- Hoover Dam and Lake Mead tour
- Downtown Las Vegas Walking tour
- Matt Franco Magic Reinvented Nightly Show
- The Mob Museum
Some other attractions included on the card worth mentioning:
- Grand Canyon South Rim tour
- Cowabunga Bay Water Park
- Vegas Nights Helicopter tour
It’s worth noting that the children’s pass for Vegas cost the same as the adults. I think this is because Vegas has mostly “Adult” attractions.
There are many the kids can still do though, including some of the night shows. It’s worth thinking about.
Definitely do careful research so you know you’ll get the savings from it.
The Sightseeing Pass also has a USA pass if you plan to travel through multiple US cities in 30 days.
We work with The Sightseeing Pass as affiliate partners and they provide us with the passes. We share them because they offer great savings.
We’ll be doing more of the attractions on the pass on future Vegas trips.
The Bellagio Fountains
Alternatively, the Las Vegas Pass is also another discount city attraction card designed to help you save money on Las Vegas Attractions.
Click here to see what attractions are included and the prices.
The Go Las Vegas Card also gives access to 35+ attractions.
You can click here to see what attractions are included on this card and the prices
We don’t have experience with either of those cards, but I know the brands have a good reputation.