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Lake Mead National Recreation Area Guide — Hiking, Camping, and More

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

Senior Content Contributor

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Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
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Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a national park site with 1.5 million acres of mesmerizing landscapes, canyons, valleys, and 2 vast lakes of vibrant blue waters. This park is a playground for adventurers who love hiking, watersports, fishing, boating, scuba diving, and more.

This national recreation area offers a chance to see the Hoover Dam, enjoy the waters of Lake Mohave and Lake Mead, and retreat into nature in one of the park’s 9 designated wilderness areas.

How To Get to Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Where Is Lake Mead National Recreation Area?

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is located in both southeastern Nevada and northwestern Arizona. The closest major city to this park is Las Vegas, a mere 26 miles away. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area Opening Hours and Seasons

This national recreation area is open year-round, 24 hours a day. The visitor center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. This facility is closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. 

Nearest Airports to Lake Mead National Recreation Area

The closest and best airport option for those flying into the Lake Mead National Recreation Area is Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas. This airport is just 26 miles from the park. Many travelers utilize this airport to visit Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, and the Grand Canyon

This airport provides nonstop and connecting flights to many different worldwide hubs, including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Mexico City, Montréal, Panama City, and Vancouver. Airlines serviced here include Allegiant, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, Spirit, and WestJet. 

Once you arrive at this airport, you are just a hop, skip, and jump from the park. Several car rental kiosks can help you arrange the rest of your journey to Lake Mead. 

Driving to Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Driving To Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Image Credit: David Lusvardi via Unsplash

There are 9 access points to this national recreation area, so the route you choose will depend on the area from which you are coming and the entrance you want to utilize for your arrival. The best and most popular entrance is the one that takes you to the visitor center. US 93 is the main road used by those driving to the park. 

Taking the Train to Lake Mead National Recreation Area

There is no train service to this recreation area.

Taking the Bus to Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Boulder City Express offers bus shuttle service from different areas within Boulder City, Nevada, or from Las Vegas. This service allows travelers to sit back, enjoy the ride to the park, and take in the sites along the way. This is a great way to get to the park and get to and from the different attractions nearby. 

Getting Around Lake Mead National Recreation Area

The best way to get around this park is by private vehicle. This vast recreation area has so many sites and attractions to explore; the best way to do this is by driving to the different areas and exploring on foot.

Of course, another good way to explore the park on the water is by boating or paddling on the bright blue waters of Lake Mohave and Lake Mead. The National Park Service offers printable and interactive maps to help you plan your itinerary. 

What To See and Do in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

This national recreation area covers 1.5 million acres of canyons, lakes, valleys, and mountains. There is no shortage of adventure at this park. Check out some of the most popular activities and sights at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. 

Boating

Boating Lake Mead
Image Credit: Andrew Cattoir via NPS

Over 290 square miles of waterways are within the boundaries of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Lake Mead and Lake Mohave provide some of the best boating opportunities for those who love to explore the park on the water. Whether you want to speed through the open water or float in a private cove, there are many fun and relaxation opportunities here. 

Boat rentals are available at the marinas on Lake Mead and Lake Mohave. Many types of boats are available to rent, including sports boats, fishing boats, paddle boats, pontoons, and houseboats. These locations also rent out water skis and wakeboards for even more adventures. 

Hot Tip:

Be sure to read the park’s boating rules and regulations to ensure you have a fun, safe time.

Canoeing and Kayaking

Thanks to all the water within the park’s boundaries, canoeing and kayaking are popular activities at this national recreation area. The views from the calm lake waters and majestic mountains surrounding them are breathtaking.

The Black Canyon Water Trail and Mohave Water Trail are the most popular trails for paddling, but there are also many hidden coves throughout the park just waiting to be discovered.

Guided Tours

A variety of guided tours are offered at this national recreation area. The park’s visitor center is a wonderful place to learn about the various tour options.

Some of the guided tour options include cruises, ranger-led hikes, and hunting and fishing adventures. The most popular tours include the Cruise to the Hoover Dam and the Float Down the Colorado River. There are also self-guided options, should you choose to explore on your own. Taking advantage of the many tour options is a fantastic way to learn about and explore this impressive area. 

Hiking

Historic Railroad Trail Lake Mead
Image Credit: Andrew Cattoir via NPS

Hiking is a popular activity in this recreation area. There are a variety of hikes that vary in difficulty and length. These trails are in the Lake Mead and Lake Mojave areas. The hiking trails show off the park’s diverse ecosystems and take hikers past incredible rainbow-colored rock formations, canons, and washes.

Some of the favorite trails include the Historic Railroad Trail, River Mountains Loop, and Owl Canyon. The best time to hike here is from November to March. The temperatures are cooler during these months, and the journey is much more enjoyable. Guests are not recommended to hike during the summer months, as the temperatures are dangerously high. 

Scenic Drives

There are 2 main scenic drives in Lake Mead National Recreation Area: Lakeshore Road and Northshore Road. These drives travel through the mountains, canyons, and desert basins. Driving these roads offers visitors excellent opportunities to enjoy the views and capture photos of the bright blue waters and colorful mountains.

Visitors also enjoy stopping for picnics while driving along these roads. Cyclists, pedestrians, and wildlife use these scenic roads, so stay alert and mindful of those sharing the road with you. 

Visitor Center

The Lake Mead Visitor Center is an excellent place to visit before starting your park adventures. This facility is just a few miles north of the Hoover Dam and has so much to offer park visitors. 

Park rangers are stationed at the visitor center to help you plan a fantastic adventure or answer any questions. You can obtain park maps brochures, get a national park passport stamp, or turn in a Junior Ranger booklet to earn your Junior Ranger Badge.

There is also a store inside this facility that is run by the Western National Parks Association. This store offers guests a chance to buy books about the park, Native American arts, crafts, jewelry, posters, clothing, and postcards.

Best Times To Visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area

You’re guaranteed an unforgettable trip any time you’re able to visit this national recreation area. There are better times than others to plan a trip here, especially if you hope to participate in particular activities. Take a look at the best times to visit this park.

Best Time To Visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area for Summer Fun

Walking and Cycling River Mountains Loop Trail
Image Credit: Andrew Cattoir via NPS

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is an exciting place for summer fun. The best time to visit during the summer months is in June. The high temperatures typically reach the upper 90s, and the lows dip down to the low 70s. There is an average of 0 days of precipitation during the time, making the summer adventure opportunities never-ending.

Best Time To Visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area To Avoid the Crowds

The best way to explore a new place is without having to worry about crowds and traffic. If you want to experience this national recreation area without crowds, plan to come in November. This time of year is the least busy, making it a perfect time to enjoy the park at your own pace. 

Best Time To Visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area for Ideal Weather

Weather can make or break a trip, so planning around typical weather patterns is a great idea. If you want to experience this park when the weather is ideal, plan to come in April. The daily lows are in the mid-50s, and the highs are in the upper 70s. It typically only rains an average of 1 day in April, but it’s always wise to come prepared for rain just in case.

Cheapest Time To Visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Saving money while traveling may seem impossible, but with a bit of research and planning, it can be a reality. The best time to visit this park and save money is November, the least busy time of the year. Flight and accommodation rates are at their lowest, meaning you could save hundreds of dollars visiting during this month. 

Annual Events in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

This national recreation area hosts several events on a regular basis throughout the year. Some of the regularly scheduled events include star parties, guided hikes through the wetlands, and hikes to Majestic Canyon. There are also some annual events.

National Public Lands Day Litter Cleanup

Each September, Lake Mead National Recreation Area participates in the National Public Lands Day Litter Cleanup. This free event is an excellent way for visitors to positively impact the park and help remove litter from the beaches and other areas. A benefit to visiting on this day is that participants will receive a voucher to visit a federal public land at no charge. 

Rage Triathlon

Each year in April, the Rage Triathlon takes place at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. This race has taken place since 2001 and offers a fantastic way to experience this park. It winds through beach campgrounds and along river and mountain trails. The Rage Triathlon is considered one of the region’s most scenic desert landscape triathlons.

Where To Stay in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead National Recreation Area has an abundance of options for those who want to stay within the park’s boundaries or in a town nearby. Check out some of the best places to stay both in and near this recreation area. 

Inside the Park

There are many options for accommodations within this national recreation area. From campgrounds to resorts and lodges, the options are many. Check out some of the different places to stay within this park.

Campgrounds

Camping Lake Mead
Image Credit: Andrew Cattoir via NPS

Camping is a great way to get the full Lake Mead experience. If you hope to camp here, you’re in luck. There are 8 campgrounds within the boundaries of Lake Mead National Recreation Area, with over 900 sites.

Visitors can choose from campgrounds with lakeside views or desert views. The campgrounds feature restrooms, running water, grills, picnic tables, and dump stations. These sites can accommodate tents, RVs, and trailers.

Most of the campgrounds can be reserved, but there are a few that are only available on a first-come, first-served basis. Some of the campgrounds are operated by the National Park Service, such as Boulder Beach, Callville Bay, Cottonwood Cove, Echo Bay, Las Vegas Bay, and Temple Bar.

Concessionaires operate the other campgrounds within the park. These campgrounds include Katherin Landing and Willow Beach.

Bottom Line:

If you prefer to set up camp and sleep under the stars, you will find so many options at Lake Mead that you may have difficulty narrowing down where to pitch your tent.

Cottonwood Cove Resort and Marina

Cottonwood Cove Resort and Marina is a beautiful option for those wanting to stay within the park’s boundaries. This Spanish-style resort is right off the shores of Lake Mohave and offers red-roofed motel rooms and lots of amenities for a comfortable stay. 

This lodging option features covered outdoor patios with tables and chairs for lounging and taking in breathtaking sunsets and lakefront views. There are also outdoor barbecues for those who prefer to cook outdoors. 

Another unique choice for visitors who want to get off the grid is renting a houseboat during your stay. This is a great way to experience the lake and take a break from the duties of home.

Lake Mohave Resort at Katherine Landing

Lake Mohave Resort at Katherine Landing
Image Credit: Lake Mohave Resort at Katherine Landing

Several types of accommodations are available at Lake Mohave Resort at Katherine Landing. Visitors can choose from mid-century-style rooms, a full hook-up RV or tent site, and even private homes. This resort has gorgeous views of the desert scenery and Lake Mohave.

The lodge offers standard double or standard king rooms. These rooms feature a private bathroom, air conditioning, coffee makers, and satellite televisions to make you feel at home. There is also a spectacular restaurant on-site to take care of any cravings you may have during your stay. 

Visitors who stay here can enjoy world-class boating, water skiing, scuba diving, wakeboarding, and fishing for largemouth, smallmouth, and striper bass. 

Temple Bar Marina Resort

Temple Bar Marina Resort is located on Lake Mead on the Arizona side of the park. This resort offers lake view lodging, an RV park, access to hundreds of beaches and coves, an on-site store, gift shop, café, bar, and launch ramp. This is an incredible option for a home base when visiting this national recreation area. 

Temple Bar has standard motel rooms and cabins for those who want a more traditional type of stay. Visitors can choose from standard rooms with either lake views or desert views, fishing cabins, or suites with kitchen access. Whatever type of stay you seek, this resort has a perfect solution for your travel needs. 

Towns Near Lake Mead National Recreation Area

There are several towns near this recreation area for those who prefer to set up a base camp outside the park’s boundaries. Whether you seek a quiet, small town or a lively, larger city, there’s a perfect place for you in these towns.

Boulder City, Nevada

Boulder City is a charming small town with a rich historical heritage, only 6 miles from the park. For those wanting to stay near the recreation area, this town has a variety of options for dining, lodging, and entertainment.

This city has a variety of accommodations, including RV resorts, contemporary hotels, and budget-friendly motels. Whether you’re looking for a unique stay in a themed motel, a luxury stay in a hotel, or a relaxing visit to a resort, there are plenty of options in this city. 

Food enthusiasts are in for a treat in this city. A variety of restaurants, including cafes, sushi bars, diners, and Mexican taquerias, are scattered throughout this town. Your hardest decision will be deciding where to eat during your visit. 

For recreation, there are incredible opportunities available in this town. From kayaking to golfing, visiting museums, and exploring several types of parks, there’s no shortage of fun here. You are also in the perfect location for exploring famous landmarks like the Hoover Dam. 

Boulder City is an ideal home away from home for those visiting Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Its proximity to the park and its incredible opportunities for food, fun, and lodging make the choice of where to settle an easy one. 

Henderson, Nevada

Henderson is located approximately 19 miles from the national recreation area. This city is a great place to make a home base during a visit to this park. It has perfect options for those traveling with family, friends, or solo. 

The accommodations in this town range from luxury hotels to smaller, more affordable motels to 5-star luxury resorts. Whatever budget or type of stay you have in mind, you can find a perfect option for your vacation needs here. 

This city has fantastic restaurants, including pizza parlors, formal dining rooms, authentic cultural cuisine, diners, and cafes. This city has something to offer every palate. 

If you’re looking for fun, this is the right place. Henderson has countless opportunities for outdoor recreation, like hiking, playgrounds, splash pads, skate parks, and bicycle trails.

Bottom Line:

Henderson has everything you could need or want and then some, so a stay in this town is a great idea when visiting this national recreation area.

Where To Eat in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

There are 8 different restaurants within the boundaries of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. These restaurants serve a variety of cuisines and are located in or near the marinas. Here are 2 popular choices.

Harbor House Café and Lounge

The Harbor House Café and Lounge is a floating restaurant and bar right on Lake Mead. This dining option serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks daily. 

The menu seems endless at this restaurant. From freshly tossed salads to stacked sandwiches, breakfast specialties, and fish and chips, there’s something for every palate here. Some of the most popular menu items include the classic club sandwich, buffalo chicken wrap, and the Harbor Burger.

Be sure to stop by this café and lounge when visiting Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Not only will you enjoy a fantastic meal, but you can also take in the gorgeous views of the surrounding slips, lake, and mountains. 

Temple Bar Café

Temple Bar Café is located at the Temple Bar Marina. This restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Breakfast burritos, stacks of fluffy pancakes, signature sandwiches, juicy burgers, and sizzling pizzas are just some of the items on the menu here. Customers rave about patty melt, Rueben sandwiches, homemade biscuits and gravy, and home-cooked weekly specials. 

For a delicious meal in this recreation area, you won’t regret a stop at Temple Bar Café. It’s a great place to rest up and refuel for more adventures in the park.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area Facts

Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Image Credit: Michael Yantis via Unsplash

1. It Was the First National Recreation Area

Lake Mead National Recreation Area was established in 1964. This was America’s first national recreation area. 

2. It’s a Park of Great Size

This park is the third largest area in the National Park Service, other than the parks in Alaska. This recreation area covers 1.5 million acres. 

3. Pueblo Are the Original People of the Park

This area was occupied by desert Indian cultures that existed 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. It’s believed that the ancestral Puebloan people were the first to inhabit this land. These people group hunted game, gathered edible plants in the area, and practiced farming.

4. Lake Mead Was Created by Hoover Dam

Lake Mead is a large reservoir on the Colorado River. This lake was formed by Hoover Dam, located in Black Canyon. Lake Mead is the largest U.S. reservoir by volume, coming in right before Lake Powell. 

5. Lake Mead Has an Abundance of Animals

An abundance of animals call Lake Mead National Recreation Area home, thanks to its diverse ecosystems. These animals have special adaptations that help them survive the harsh environment. Some commonly seen animals here include the Desert Bighorn Sheep, mountain lions, desert tortoises, Gila monsters, and 19 species of bats. 

Final Thoughts

Whether you seek outdoor adventure or solitude in nature, Lake Mead National Recreational Area is a bucket list location. With so many options to hike, fish, boat, view wildlife, attend a guided program, and tour amazing places, it’s easy to spend several days exploring this beautiful park. Book your trip to Lake Mead today and discover what brings in millions of visitors from around the world each year.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area?

A standard entrance pass costs $25 per private vehicle or $15 per individual entering on foot or bike.

How much time is recommended to spend at Lake Mead National Recreation Area?

This national recreation area has so much to see and do. It’s recommended to spend 2 to 3 days, which allows time to hike the trails, participate in some of the guided tours, and take in the highlights of the area.

Is there Wi-Fi available at Lake Mead National Recreation Area?

Public Wi-Fi is available at this recreation area. There are fees associated with using the park’s Wi-Fi that start at $4.95 per day, and it is available at the campgrounds and RV parks.

What is the weather typically like at Lake Mead National Recreation Area?

The weather varies throughout the year at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Summers are typically hot and dry, with temperatures reaching over 100. Winters are mild, with temperatures ranging from the 40s to the upper 60s, with a couple of days of rain each month. Fall and spring are comfortable, with the highest temperatures in the upper 70s.

Amar Hussain's image

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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