Either side of the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River is dammed forming two huge artificial lakes; Lake Powell in Utah and Lake Mead on the Arizona/Nevada border (named after Dr. Elwood Mead, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner from 1924 to 1936). This began filling in 1935 following the completion of Boulder Dam, later designated the Hoover Dam after the 31st president, across the river at Black Canyon, 25 miles from Las Vegas. Indeed, it was the construction of the dam and the arrival of thousands of workers which prompted the legalization of gambling in Nevada and the consequent growth of the city. Before the dam, this area of the Mojave Desert in northwest Arizona was largely unvisited due to the harsh, irregular terrain, the lack of roads, and the extreme summer temperatures. Now, the lake forms the major component of Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 1.5 million acres that extends quite far south and includes 25 miles of the Colorado River plus the smaller Lake Mohave, formed by Davis Dam near Bullhead City.
Lake Mead Map: Map of Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Hotels: The nearest towns with hotels close to Lake Mead are Boulder City, Henderson, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, while Bullhead City is near to Lake Mohave. Follow the links for hotel information and reservations.
Scenery: Lake Mead flooded a large area of desert, covering many canyons, several small villages and many relics of ancient settlements. It is not necessarily a compensation, but this inundation has created a major Southwest attraction which now brings many thousands of visitors each year. They come for boating, fishing, jetskiing, camping, swimming and to a lesser extent hiking - outdoor activities are possible year round as the weather is usually sunny and hot, up to 110 °F in midsummer when the water temperature reaches the mid 80's. The scenery is impressive enough - clear blue water beneath gaunt rocky cliffs, but much can only be appreciated using a boat as the majority of the innumerable sheltered coves and flooded canyons, often with clean, empty beaches for camping, are quite inaccessible by road. In general though most of the surrounding land is rather nondescript desert - dry washes, desert plains and low, rugged hills, so the area is not as scenic as Lake Powell, and as there are very few official trails, Lake Mead NRA is not a major destination for hiking and exploring, but rather just for the water-based activities, which are concentrated along the 20 miles of the southwest shore, close to Las Vegas.
Access - West: Nevertheless there are rather more access points to the shoreline compared with Lake Powell, especially the section northwest of Hoover Dam in Nevada which has numerous beaches, camping areas and marinas. Highway NV 167 (Northshore Road) runs fairly close to the water for 40 miles passing through colorful, empty, desert surroundings with a dozen side roads of varying quality leading towards the water of which three are to developed marinas: Callville Bay, Echo Bay and Overton Beach, though this latter is currently closed due to low water levels. The surrounding desert is characterized by gaunt mountain ranges with occasional bright red or orange sandstone outcrops - Valley of Fire is the most spectacular, but also worth exploring, though harder to reach, is the Bowl of Fire, a few miles north of the road near the Callville Bay turn-off. Another scenic red rock location is Whitney Pockets north of the lake, near the Virgin River. But the most visited section of Lake Mead is that closest to Las Vegas - here are two large marinas at Boulder Beach and Las Vegas Bay, plus campgrounds, beaches, picnic areas and the main NRA visitor center. The proximity to the city and ease of access means that the beaches and overlooks hereabouts tend to have a lot of litter.
Access - East: There are also several roads leading to beaches on the southern shores of the Lake Mead in Arizona - at Temple Bar, reached by a lonely 28 mile drive along a side road branching off US 93 18.5 miles south of Hoover Dam, there is a lively marina with an RV site and plenty of colorful Mojave desert scenery. Further east, a longer but still paved road leads through forests of Joshua trees and the extended settlement of Dolan Springs to South Cove (just a boat launch site) and Pearce Ferry, at the far east of the lake where the Grand Canyon begins (or ends). However, the northeast section of shoreline between the Virgin and Colorado rivers remains virtually unvisited - it may only be reached by driving along many miles of rough dirt roads across the Shivwits Plateau in northwest Arizona, land which is part of the new
Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument.
Camping: The west side of Lake Mead has a number of free primitive campsites along tracks forking off Northshore Road, for example at Stewarts Point, near Overton Beach at the north end of the lake. Here, camping is allowed on a large area of the shoreline, which is flat, sandy and sheltered. Sites nearer Las Vegas tend to be crowded and full of litter but far fewer people drive further north so camping here is very peaceful and secluded. Official (paid) sites for tents and RVs may be found at all the marinas, and are charged at $10 per site per night. In Nevada, the nearest places for primitive camping outside the NRA, and so free of any regulations, are along dirt tracks leading into a range of low hills either side of NV 169, a few miles north of the turn off for Valley of Fire State Park.
||Scenic Mojave Desert region near Las Vegas, centered around a large lake on the Colorado River, formed by the Hoover Dam. Also includes the smaller Lake Mohave, together with large areas of remote lands all around
|Nearest city with hotels:
||Las Vegas, 20 miles
||36.016129, -114.737349 (Hoover Dam)
||Water-based recreation is popular all year, but hiking away from the lake is not recommended in summer, when temperatures can exceed 115°F
|Lake Mead - Locations
|Arizona Hot Springs - spring in a slot canyon bordering Lake Mohave - along the White Rock Canyon Trail
Bowl of Fire - dramatic mounds of red sandstone
Hoover Dam - the dam which created Lake Mead
Lake Mohave - long, thin lake formed by Davis Dam
Map - map of Lake Mead and Lake Mohave
Kingman (70 miles from Hoover Dam) - historic town on old Route 66
Las Vegas, Nevada (34 miles from Hoover Dam) - world-famous casinos