Updated: May 21, 2015
Hoover Dam Tour Review - Planning a Visit to Hoover DamAn often overlooked (well, not totally - about a million visitors a year stop by...) tourist attraction in Las Vegas is the Hoover Dam, one of the most magnificent engineering and construction projects of the 20th century. The Hoover Dam is just 30 miles from Las Vegas - which means it is a pretty easy morning or lunch trip, leaving your nights free to enjoy Las Vegas. The Dam itself was built during the depression (seems like every big construction project was...), between 1931 and 1936. Built like a pyramid, it is more than 600 feet thick at its base, narrowing to less than 50 feet wide at the top. It is 726 feet tall and 1244 feet long across the top. It straddles the Black Canyon, holding back and controlling the waters of the mighty Colorado River, forming Lake Mead behind it, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. Halfway across the bridge, you'll pass from Nevada to Arizona, since the Colorado River is the natural boundary between the states here. This informational review will cover our visit and tour in 2011 - keep reading for more pictures, tour information, maps, etc.
Where is the Hoover Dam? How Close is the Hoover Dam to Las Vegas?The Hoover Dam is located just outside of Boulder City, Nevada. To get there, from the Las Vegas Strip or Airport area, take 215 East towards Henderson to Hwy 93 south. Hwy 93 leads you right into little Boulder City - take a left at the second stoplight, which is still Hwy 93. Follow the signs for dam visitor access and follow the old access road down to the parking garage (you will also pass a security checkpoint - they basically just look at your car and wave you through) - otherwise you will end up going across the bridge and end up in Arizona. The map below shows the location relative to Las Vegas.
View Hoover Dam Trip in a larger map
The only way to get from Nevada to Arizona in the old days (all of 6 months ago!) was to drive slowly across the top of the dam. Of course with the uber-paranoia generated by 9/11, dam traffic was severely limited, and an alternate bridge was finally constructed, being recently completed in the Fall of 2010 (it's official name is tge Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge). The bridge has a pedestrian walkway (accessed from a parking lot off the dam access road, before you get to the visitor center) which allows sensational views of the dam - if you've got an extra 30 minutes and are not afraid of heights, definitely think about taking this walk (NOTE: when driving across the bridge in a car, you CANNOT see the dam, as it is below the bridge and hidden by the concrete barriers). This video shows the lovely Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge, just downriver, and the dam, as seen from the visitor center overlook on the northern (Nevada) side of the dam.
Hoover Dam Tour Tickets - Hoover Dam TourThe official Hoover Dam website is http://www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/. The Visitor Center is open daily from 9AM-5PM (closed Thanksgiving and Xmas), while the parking garage (about 50 yards from the Visitor Center) is open from 8AM-4:45 (parking is $7). There are basically 4 options when visiting Hoover Dam. The first is to just do the free stuff - walk across the bridge, walk across the Dam, just enjoy the views -- no charge. To be honest, for many people, this is enough. You want a little more, then check out the Visitor Center, which is $8/person (kids under 3 free). There is a movie, photos, exhibits, etc. related to the design and building of the bridge, how the power plant works. We found the Visitor Center a worthwhile trip - the kids even enjoyed seeing how spinning magnets generate electricity, seeing how much power different home appliances consume, and checking out the little scale model of how the dam was constructed. You don't need more than an hour to see everything. Next options are the tours - the $11 Powerplant Tour, and the $30 Hoover Dam Tour. Both of these tours include entrance to the Visitor Center, so basically for an extra $3, you get to go down into the powerplant area if you opt for that tour -- definitely worth it vs. just seeing the Visitor Center.
Visiting the power plan involves taking an elevator down into the bedrock around the side of the dam -- you'll walk through tunnels carved out of rock, feel the hum of 96,000 gallons per second of water roaring underneath your feet, and enjoy a balcony view down into the actual massive generator room. All told you spend about 30 minutes down in and around the powerplant on the tour. Afterward, you go up to the observation platform (top floor of the Visitor Center) that looks out over the dam, canyon, and bridge. The final option is the Hoover Dam Tour -- this is the one we took. The first part is exactly the same as the Power Plant tour -- in fact, you'll ride the same elevator with all the people on that tour, see all the same things. When it is time to head back to the surface, the Dam Tour group is split off, and you get to take a separate elevator up and into the heart of the Dam itself. You get to walk along some internal corridors, walk along a tube that lead to a slotted viewing area right out the face of the Dam, you'll get a peek at a nearly vertical staircase that extends from the top to the bottom of the dam (don't worry, you get to use the elevators!). But that's about it - for $20 extra.
The Dam Tour is first-come, first-serve only (only 20 people per tour), so you show up and get whatever the next available time slot is - could be 1 hour, could be 3 hours. We went on a Tuesday morning in February at about 10AM, and got an 11AM time slot, so we spent the hour looking around the Visitor Center and enjoying the observation deck before our tour started. So if I had to recommend which tour to take, I would say the $11 Power Plant Tour is your best choice - you get access to the Visitor Center, you get to do deep down into the bedrock tunnels and get a feeling for the dam and powerplant -- there just is not enough extras to justify 3X the price for the "Dam Tour", which really is just a walk down a few access tunnels and not much more. And a lot more people can go on that tour, so your wait time will be significantly less.
Overall, a visit to the Hoover Dam is definitely worth it, whether you are on your way to the Grand Canyon and exploring Arizona, or just spending a long weekend in Las Vegas. It is truly a sight to behold, continuing to inspire awe in its visitors for almost 80 years. Any questions, please feel free to email at the address listed below.