Best Ways to See The Hoover Dam Up Close (Rafting Tour, Lookout and More)
A testament to human ingenuity, the Hoover Dam is one of America’s most stunning icons. The massif of concrete holds back the mighty Colorado River, and the resulting backflow created Lake Mead, one of the nation’s most popular destinations today.
The Hoover Dam is repeatedly featured in popular films, and for good reason. It is more than 700 feet tall and more than 1,200 feet wide. At 45 feet thick, it’s an absolute giant of a structure, requiring 3 1/4 million cubic yards of concrete. If you paved over an ordinary city block and built upwards, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation explains, the resulting structure would be 2 1/2 miles high.
Built in 1931, the Hoover Dam has withstood almost a century of absolutely unimaginable force from the Colorado River, weighing in at 45,000 pounds per square foot at its base. Impressive, right? A true must-see … but how?
If you’re looking to visit the dam, but aren’t quite sure what’s the best way to see it, we’ve got you covered. Here are the best ways to see this remarkable feat of engineering up close.
The Hoover Dam Lookout
The Hoover Dam Lookout is located across from the dam and offers spectacular views of Black Canyon (in which the dam is built) and Hoover Dam itself. It is located in Arizona next to Parking Area 10 and Parking Area 13, so there’s no trouble finding a spot to leave your vehicle, whether you’re coming from Las Vegas or anywhere else.
To get to the viewing decks, you can walk from the parking lots using either the stairs or the ramp. Public opinion is that the stairs aren’t as bad as they look, but if you want a gentler stroll or are traveling with the young or old, the ramp is a great option.
Two observation decks give different views on the dam, so be sure to try both of them. There are toilets and a gift shop on the top level, and more toilets near the parking lots, so don’t worry about the calls of nature … just the call of that view!
The Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
While perhaps not as impressive a project as the dam itself, the nearby Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge itself appears a miracle of building and history. Under construction from 2005 to 2010 – with preparation work that started 2 years before – this graceful bridge stands 890 feet above the Colorado River, making it higher than the dam by more than 150 feet. Its design is beautiful to look at from the dam, but gives even better views from the other direction. It’s a fantastic way to check out the Hoover Dam up close.
Also known as the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge, this 1,900-foot-long arch connects the Nevada and Arizona sides of the Colorado River, with access to both cars and foot traffic. Take a hike out to its center, starting from the visitor’s center, and you’ll get the photo opportunity of a lifetime. You can also cross for a spectacular view from the car.
The bridge gets its name from Mike O’Callaghan, who served as Nevada’s governor from 1971 to 1979, and Pat Tillman. The latter was a football player for the Arizona Cardinals who later enlisted in the Army. He lost his life to friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004.
Check Out the Visitor’s Center and Catch a Tour
The Hoover Dam is open to the public for free and comes with a handy visitor’s center, exhibits, and tours. If you want to learn more about the inner workings of the dam, these are all excellent resources. Learn about the various gates and machinery, and explore this huge engineering marvel from the inside. The visitor’s center offers even more resources, with a nearby parking lot easily accessible from the highway.
All open areas can be accessed without tickets, but you will need to pay for tours and exhibits. Note: Due to the changing nature of pandemic guidelines, the visitor’s center may not be open when you visit. If you’re worried about not being able to get the experience you want, consider choosing a rafting trip instead.
Hoover Dam Rafting Tour
One of the most spectacular ways to see the Hoover Dam is from the water. Few things inspire as much awe as the sight of the huge edifice rising 726 feet from the surface of the Colorado River, ensconced within Black Canyon’s towering walls.
You’ll enjoy a several-hour ride on comfortable, safe, motorized rafts that allow you to do nothing but sit back and enjoy the scenery. Take pictures of this hidden part of Black Canyon, with glimpses of wildlife and lovely blue waters. Relax beneath the Hoover Dam, with plenty of time to cool off and take in the sights.
Your Hoover Dam rafting tour begins in Nevada and ends in Arizona, where you can check out the Willow Beach gift store and then enjoy a ride over the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge on your way home.
Historic Railroad Trail
The Historic Railroad Trail is one of the most historic-feeling aspects of the sprawling Hoover Dam project. Built in 1931 to provide materials to the enormous Hoover Dam construction project, the railroad was built in just 5 months. When the dam was completed in 1935, the railroad shut down. The tracks weren’t removed until the 60s, though, and it did not become a trail until 1995 – but only after it featured in a Clint Eastwood movie. Just saying.
Now you can walk along it with your family and even the doggo, enjoying spectacular views of surrounding Lake Mead and peeps of the Hoover Dam. You can also check out five amazing tunnels built into the rock. The tunnels are about 300 feet long and 25 feet in diameter and provide a nice break from the sunny climes on the rest of the trail.
Be sure to bring a camera to capture images of you standing in the mouth of the tunnel against the bright backdrop of the outdoors … it makes for quite a dramatic shot. Also be sure to bring sunblock and water, as it’s a hot stretch of trail. It is flat and easy, however, so you can feel safe bringing elderly parents or toddlers on this adventure.
While it isn’t the best way to see the dam itself, the Historic Railroad Trail is a can’t-miss addition to your Hoover Dam trip.
Visit Spectacular Hoover Dam Today!
No matter how you plan to see the Hoover Dam, it’s time to plan your trip. Lodging and activities fill up fast in this popular area, so don’t wait. Book your rafting tour today!