Looking for the best things to do in Lake Mead National Recreation Area? These are the things you shouldn’t miss.
Even though we live in a landlocked city, we’re so lucky to be close to Lake Mead. It is the perfect escape from the scorching summers in Vegas, and although the air temps are still hot, the water temps stay cool year-round in certain spots.
Lake Mead is also great for hiking and biking in the winter.
A big thank you to Mojave Adventures and Evolution Expeditions for hosting our boating and kayaking trip. This post may contain affiliate links, where we receive a small commission on sales of the products that are linked at no additional cost to you. All opinions are always our own. Read our full disclosure for more info. Thank you for supporting the brands that make Local Adventurer possible.
Last Updated: September 3, 2022
About Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Lake Mead is America’s first and largest national recreation area and is managed by the National Park Service. It covers 1.5 million acres, including mountains, canyons, valleys, and two lakes, Lake Mead and Lake Mohave. It is home to the Hoover Dam and is also the largest reservoir in the US (in terms of capacity), providing water to Arizona, California, and Nevada.
When Lake Mead is at its fullest (which it hasn’t been since 1983), there are 759 miles of shoreline, 247 square miles of surface, and it’s 532 feet deep. There are all kinds of activities at Lake Mead, including boating, fishing, hiking, camping, biking, and more.
What You Need to Know Before you Go
- Hours: The park is open year-round, 24 hrs a day.
- Vehicle Daily Pass (1-7 Days): $25
- Lake Use Fee Vessel (1-7 Days): $16
- Individual Daily Pass: $15
- Motorcycle Daily Pass: $20
- Annual Pass Vehicle: $45
- Annual Pass Vessel: $50
- Save money by getting an America the Beautiful Annual National Park Pass if you plan on going to multiple parks. Lake Mead is one of the pricier parks, so it’s worth getting the annual pass that covers all the national parks, monuments, historic sites, and BLM land.
- Check the website or stop by a Visitor Center to learn about current conditions and closures.
- Temperatures vary significantly from summer (highs up to 117°F) and winter (lows of 30°F). Be sure to pack accordingly.
- Plan what you want to do and where you want to go ahead of time since the park is massive.
- Time changes can be confusing since the park is in Nevada and Arizona. Arizona is on Mountain Standard Time but doesn’t observe daylight savings. That means the times are the same during the summer, but in the winter, it changes forward one hour when you cross the state border. If you’re close to the border, the time will swap back and forth. Many outfitters go by Nevada time, assuming most visitors come from Las Vegas, but double-check with them.
- There are six main entrances to the park: Northshore, Lake Mead Boulevard, Lake Mead Parkway, Boulder, Temple Bar, and Meadview. There are also southern entrances at Willow Beach, Katherine Landing, and Cottonwood Cove.
Where is Lake Mead Located
Lake Mead National Recreation Area is located in Southeast Nevada and Northwest Arizona.
How Far is Lake Mead from Las Vegas
Lake Mead is about 25 miles or 20 minutes southeast of the Las Vegas Strip.
How to Get to Lake Mead
A car (or rental car) is the best way to get around Lake Mead. Keep in mind that if you’re going from Vegas, you’ll have phone service until you get close to the park.
An excellent place to start is the Lake Mead Visitor Center, located off of U.S. 93 southeast of Boulder City, Nevada.
Lake Mead Visitor Center
10 Lakeshore Rd
Boulder City, NV 89005 (map)
7 Best Things to Do in Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Boating is one of the most popular things to do in Lake Mead National Recreation Area. You can rent all types of boats, including sports boats, pontoons, fishing boats, houseboats, and personal watercrafts.
We rented a pontoon boat from Lake Mead Mohave Adventures at Willow Beach Marina. It was a relaxing way to enjoy the water (although the summer is much busier) and see some popular landmarks. We even jumped into the cold water for a quick dip.
You can rent pontoons that seat up to 12 people with daily rates starting at $400.
Please review all the details of what you need to bring your boat in and where to best launch your vessel on their website.
Local Tip: One thing to keep in mind is that if you rent from one of the Nevada marinas, you must meet their state of residence boating education requirements. A lot of people like to boat on the Arizona side since you can rent one without a boating license. Every operator will need to receive a safety briefing before operating the vessel.
What you can catch: striped bass (best known for this with some catches weighing in at over 40 pounds), then rainbow trout, catfish, sunfish, large and smallmouth bass, and crappie.
As a starting point, check out Hemenway Fishing Pier, Willow Beach Fishing Pier, and Katherine Landing Fishing Pier. Willow Beach is particularly popular on Fridays because they do a routine release of Rainbow Trout.
Local Tip: Depending on which state you are fishing in, you need the corresponding state’s fishing license. You can usually pick these up in nearby towns or most park marinas.
3. Water Sports
You can bring your own or rent kayaks, canoes, SUPs, or jetskis in most marinas or even do a tour.
Since living in Vegas, Emerald Cove has been on our bucket list, and we finally got to go with Evolution Expeditions. We loved our guide, who made sure the group stayed together, gave us insight into the landscape and history of the area, and she even helped us take tons of photos and videos.
The cave itself gets busy! Even when we went on the off-season, we had to wait to get in. During the summers, waits can be over an hour.
If you own a kayak, canoe, or SUP, there are plenty launching points to go on your own. We need to bring our inflatable SUP to Willow Beach next summer. Another excellent launch point from Lake Mead is Canoe/Kayak Beach in Hemenway Harbor.
4. Hoover Dam & Boulder City
Tours range from $10-30, depending on what you want to see. If you don’t want to bother with driving yourself, there are also a bunch of tours that take you to Hoover Dam from Las Vegas. We’ve linked to a few options below.
You can also explore Boulder City, which has small-town charm, plenty of food options, outdoor adventures, a railroad museum, and more. It’s a great spot to make your home base if you want to spend more time at Lake Mead.
5. Northshore Road or Northshore Drive
Scenic drives are perfect when you need a low-key day, or the weather is too hot for you. Northshore Road takes you through brilliant red boulders stretching almost fifty miles. If you want to hop out for a hike, check out the Northshore Summit Trail.
We take it all the time to visit one of our favorite state parks, Valley of Fire. We’ve even stopped along this road for some astrophotography.
Here are a couple more scenic drives to check out:
- Lakeshore Road – scenic south shore of Boulder Basin
- Pearce Ferry Road – colorful desert landscapes with Joshua Tree forests
Local Tip: Gas stations are hard to find, so fill up when you can.
Although the lakes are the main attraction, there are also some great hikes. You can hike 15 trails, including two that take you to different hot springs and one that leads you through a historic railroad trail. Our favorite hike so far is Arizona Hot Springs!
We don’t recommend hiking in the summer since temperatures can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit even in the shade. Always be aware of closures and have plenty of water and hiking gear.
- Redstone – Easy 1.1 miles Round Trip | 80 ft Elevation Change
- Wetlands – Moderate 1.5 miles Round Trip | 110 ft Elevation Change
- Callville Summit – Moderate 2.7 miles Round Trip | 150 ft Elevation Change
- Northshore Summit – Moderate 1 mile Round Trip | 205 ft Elevation Change
- St. Thomas – Moderate 3.9 miles Round Trip | 85 ft Elevation Change
- Fisherman’s – Easy 1.8 miles Round Trip | 35 ft Elevation Change
- Lakeview – Moderate 4.7 miles Round Trip | 115 ft Elevation Change
- Liberty Bell Arch – Challenging 5.5 miles Round Trip | 275 ft Elevation Change (Closed May 15 – Sept 30)
- Gold Strike Hot Springs – Challenging, 4.7 miles Round Trip | 935 ft Elevation Change (Closed May 15 – Sept 30)
- White Rock Canyon – Challenging, 6.5 miles Round Trip | 885 ft Elevation Change (Closed May 15 – Sept 30)
- Arizona Hot Springs – Challenging, 5 miles Round Trip | 755 ft Elevation Change (Closed May 15 – Sept 30)
Local Tip: You can join ranger-led hikes year-round with summer hikes held in the evenings.
During the hot summer days, there’s no better way to cool off than jumping in the water.
With that said, be aware that there are no designated swimming areas and no lifeguards on duty.
Boulder Beach and Willow Beach are popular spots for swimming. We jumped in from our pontoon boat too. Check out more popular sites here.
When the weather cools, you can still enjoy the water if you seek out the hot springs!
More Things to Do in Lake Mead
- Camping – Tent and RV camping at 15 diff sites. Some of the most popular are: Boulder Beach, Callville Bay, and Echo Bay. You can rent an RV here.
- Biking – $5 daily entrance fee valid for up to 7 days. Some popular trails:
- River Mountains Loop Bike Trail
- Historic Railroad Trail
- Backcountry Roads / Off-Roading
- Scuba Diving at Black Canyon and Scuba Beach at North Boulder Beach.
- Horseback Riding
- Visitor Center – Get info from rangers and learn about the park.
- Check water levels before using launch ramps. They can change significantly and they have been dropping quickly. A lot of the launch ramps have had to shut down because of this.
- Water temperature varies by season, with a 95 degrees F average in the Summer and 47 degrees F in the winter.
- Some areas/beaches may reach capacity (especially in the summer). Check their FB page for updates.
- Use Leave no Trace Principles.
- Bring water, sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses. Be sure to stay hydrated.
- Do not hike alone, especially during the summer.
- When boating, make sure you clean your boat and equipment thoroughly to prevent the spread of quagga mussels.
- Rent a boat from the Arizona marinas vs. ones in Nevada if you don’t have a boating license.
What to Pack
- Layers – pack light layers. It can be colder on the water. Also, if you’re hanging out in Vegas, the casinos are always pumping the AC. Check out our favorite travel jackets here.
- Sun protection (hat, glasses, sunscreen, rashguard)
- Flip flops and watershoes if you’re walking through rocky areas.
- Hiking shoes (see best travel shoes)
- City clothes for Vegas
How was Lake Mead Created?
Is Lake Mead in Arizona?
Lake Mead is in both Arizona and Nevada.
Will Lake Mead Go Dry? How long will Lake Mead last? What will happen when Lake Mead dries up?
Lake Mead’s water levels are continually falling. On average, it loses 6 feet of water each year due to evaporation. If it dries up, there could be power and water shortages in the Southwest.
What percent full is Lake Mead? Will Lake Mead ever fill back up?
As of August 2021, Lake Mead was at 35% of its capacity. 1983 was the last time Lake Mead was full, and scientists do not believe it will be at capacity again.
What is the white ring around Lake Mead?
The white ring, aka the bathtub ring, is the high-water mark on the shoreline created from leached minerals from previously submerged surfaces.
What is the weather like in Lake Mead NRA?
In the winter, average temperatures are 44°F (lows of 30°F and highs of 57°F) and the summer temperatures average 89°F (lows of 72°F and highs of 105°F).
Is There Anything to Do at Lake Mead?
Lake Mead offers boating, water skiing, kayaking, hiking, some of the best sport fishing in the US, and more.
Is Lake Mead Worth visiting?
Lake Mead in one of the most popular national recreation areas and destinations in Nevada. People visit for recreation, outdoor activities, fishing, and history at the Hoover Dam.
Is it illegal to swim in Lake Mead?
No, but there are no designated swimming areas or lifeguards. Swim at your own risk.
What is Lake Mead famous for?
Lake Mead is known for its water recreation, Hoover Dam, and providing water to the Southwest.
Are there alligators in Lake Mead?
There are myths of a man releasing alligators into Lake Mead in 1948 but there has been no proof or evidence that there are any in the lake today.
Is there a town under Lake Mead?
The town of St Thomas was founded in 1865 by Mormon settlers. When Hoover Dam and the lake were created, the town was submerged. It has emerged because of fluctuating water levels in 1945 and 1963, and since 2012, it has been revealed and you can walk through the ghost town.
Camping at Lake Mead
There is a wide variety of camping sites available in Lake Mead National Recreation Area. You are limited to a total of 90 days within any consecutive 12-month period and 30 days in any developed campground. Also, be sure to review all the other rules, regulations, and closures.
Fees are $20 per site and posted at the entrance to the campground. Some require reservations, while others are First Come, First Served.
First Come, First Serve
- Boulder Beach Campground, Lake Mead (148 Tent/RV Sites with Wifi Access, No Hookups or Showers)
- Las Vegas Bay Campground, Lake Mead (84 Tent/TV Sites with Wifi Access, No Hookups or Showers)
- Echo Bay Campground, Lake Mead (37 Tent/TV Sites, No Hookups, Showers, or Wifi)
- Boulder Beach Group Campground, Lake Mead (5 Tent/RV Sites with Wifi Access, No Hookups or Showers)
- Callville Bay Campground, Lake Mead (52 Tent/TV Sites with Wifi Access, No Hookups or Showers)
- Cottonwood Cove Campground, Lake Mohave (45 Tent/TV Sites with Wifi Access, No Hookups or Showers)
- Katherine Landing Campground (157 Tent/TV Sites with Wifi Access, No Hookups or Showers)
- Willow Beach RV/Campground (8 Tent / 28 RV Sites, Hookups, Showers, Wi-fi)
- Lake Mead RV Village (115 RV Sites, Hookups, Showers, Wi-fi)
- Callville Bay RV Park (5 RV Sites, Hookups, Showers, Wi-fi)
- Echo Bay RV Park (58 RV Sites, Hookups, Showers, No Wi-fi)
- Temple Bar RV Park (10 RV Sites, Hookups, Showers, Wi-fi)
- Cottonwood Cove RV Park (72 RV Sites, Hookups, Showers, Wi-fi)
- Katherine Landing RV Park (25 RV Sites, Hookups, Showers, Wi-fi)
Best Places to Stay at or Near Lake Mead
- Hemenway Park (3 miles SW / 7 min, map)
- Flightlinez Bootleg Canyon (5.1 miles / 9 min)
- Las Vegas (30.1 miles W / 39 min, map)
- Red Rock Canyon (44.5 mi W, 50 mi, map)
- Valley of Fire (62.9 miles N / 1 hr 20 min, map)
- Muddy Mountains Wilderness (72.3 miles / 1 hr 29 min)
- Grand Canyon West (93.2 miles / 1 hr 37 min)
- Lake Havasu City (137.5 mi S, 2 hr 15 min, map)
Are you a lake person? Have you done many of these things to do in Lake Mead National Recreation Area? Anything we missed?
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Esther + Jacob
Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, which is one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found both near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.