Established in 1931 to house the builders of Hoover Dam, Boulder City, Nevada now brims with cute shops, killer cafés, and an Art Deco aura. Fewer than 30 miles southeast (but an entire world away) from Las Vegas, this charming southern Nevada burg is a hub for history and adventure at Hoover Dam, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the Colorado River, and beyond.
Boulder City, NV: The Historic Heart of Southern Nevada
Though it’s less than 40 minutes away from Las Vegas, the two cities couldn’t be more different. Boulder City, Nevada is a spot overflowing with history that brings the small-town charm along with a side of eclectic vibes. Just minutes from iconic spots such as Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Black Canyon, and Hoover Dam, Boulder City is a can’t-miss jumping-off point for some of southern Nevada’s best natural views. Explore Boulder City’s rich heritage in the Boulder City Historic District and the Boulder City / Hoover Dam Museum, adventure on challenging hiking trails nearby, or explore boutique shops, fresh food, and local favorites in the city.
Where is Boulder City?
Boulder City’s location is simply the best of all worlds. This picturesque, tree-studded Clark County town sits just inside southern Nevada’s border with neighboring Arizona. You’ll find Boulder City, NV practically next door to Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the largest manmade lake in the U.S.—after all, Boulder City’s first residents moved there to build a famous architectural wonder by the name of Hoover Dam on the Colorado River.
Boulder City to Las Vegas
The driving distance between Boulder City and Las Vegas, NV is 26 miles, which makes for a roughly 30-minute road trip through southern Nevada. The easiest way to go from Las Vegas to Boulder City is to take I-515 South and I-11 South (or north if you’re traveling from Boulder City to Las Vegas). You’ll pass the Nevada State Railroad Museum when heading into Boulder City. Drive a few more miles to the northeast and you’ll run smack into Hoover Dam. When you’re this close to serious outdoor excitement, a weekend in Boulder City may be exactly what’s in your cards.
Boulder City History & Culture
Boulder City is hot on history and knows how to show it. Decades after their construction, over 400 vintage structures still stand in painstakingly preserved glory (even the 1940s-built bowling alley feels like a time capsule, highlighting this town’s time-warp essence).
In 2018, the original 1930s route of the Nevada Southern Railway—the line that delivered the bulk of materials used to construct Hoover Dam—was restored, reconnecting Boulder City to Henderson, Nevada for the first time since 1985. Today, at what is now the Nevada State Railroad Museum—Boulder City, you can marvel at original locomotives and rolling stock, check out artifacts and rotating exhibits, and take a scenic train tour along the route. Or you can literally ride the rails on two- or four-person pedal-powered rail bikes.
One of the best ways to take in the past is to walk among it. Take yourself on a self-guided tour highlighting 67 murals and sculptures, illustrating the community’s colorful history on walls, at street corners, and outside shops all throughout Historic Downtown Boulder City. Download a guide here.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
Boulder City Historic District
Built in the 1930s for Hoover Dam construction workers, Boulder City Historic District is home to more than 400 buildings of significance. Today, much of the area is dedicated to shopping and dining.
Modern-day visitors can step back in time at the colonial-style Boulder Dam Hotel. This opulent, 1933-built, Colonial Revival-style gem—the go-to for Hoover Dam mucky-mucks and Hollywood celebrities—houses the fascinating Boulder City / Hoover Dam Museum. Featuring interactive exhibits and authentic artifacts that illustrate the building of what was then called Boulder Dam, you’ll get a sense of the everyday lives of workers, their families, and the social forces that brought them here. Also worth a look is the historic Boulder Theater, which dates back to the town’s earliest days.
Things to Do in Boulder City, NV
Want to kick things up a notch? Boulder City is the launchpad to some thrilling outdoor action on land, water, and even in the air.
On the Historic Railroad Trail, hike or bike a paved, easygoing 3.5-mile jaunt through five 300-foot-long tunnels, which were originally used by trains hauling materials and supplies to Hoover Dam. For a more advanced excursion, surefooted scramblers can descend two miles down the rope-lined walls of Gold Strike Canyon for some rewarding hot springing at the edge of the Colorado River.
For a longer cycling journey, bike the 34-mile-long River Mountains Loop Trail on a circuit of Lake Mead and Las Vegas vistas. Mountain bikers will want to beeline it to Bootleg Canyon Mountain Bike Park, an IMBA Certified Epic expanse featuring 24 trails over 35 miles of dusty desert singletrack.
If paddling is more your style, take a guided kayak tour on the Black Canyon Water Trail, which carries you to Emerald Cave, a hot spring soak, and the turf of bighorn sheep, bald eagles, and other wildlife.
Get a bird’s eye view of all of it—Las Vegas, Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, and even the Grand Canyon—if you’re up for it with our pals at Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopter Tours.
Boulder City Celebrations—Our Fave Annual Events
Between food, film, and fun, Boulder City knows how to have a “dam” good time (and make a dam good pun while they’re doing it). BC may love its small-town charm, but that hasn’t stopped it from hosting Nevada’s largest cinematic celebration for nearly two decades. Each February, the four-day Dam Short Film Festival presents nearly 150 short films of all genres at the stunning, 1933-built Boulder Theater, an Art Deco jewel of Boulder City’s Historic District. Meanwhile, more than 100,000 art-inclined visitors pack this town (of 16,000 residents) to feast their eyes on fine arts and crafts from more than 300 artists at Art in the Park. One of the largest juried outdoor art festivals in the southwestern United States, it’s held every October across multiple parks and pretty much the entire town.
Food lovers flock to BC’s cuisine scene year-round, but really pack their appetites for a few big weekends. The Boulder City Beerfest draws a couple thousand thirsty hop-heads every March for more than 30 brewery tents, a dozen or so food trucks, and sud-centric specialty vendors. Meanwhile, carnivores salivate for the Best Dam Barbecue Challenge (May)—which pits 40+ cuein’ competitors against each other’s recipes for smoked and grilled goodness galore.
Boulder City Restaurants
Even with Las Vegas just up the road, Boulder City is something of a culinary capital of Clark County. You can’t really go wrong with most Boulder City restaurants, but we’ll break it down anyhow, starting with breakfast. Slip into the Southwest Diner for spiced-up specialties. If you’re craving a “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives”-certified flavor, the Coffee Cup Café has got you covered (if you’re old enough to be into them, don’t you dare skip their famous Bloody Marys).
If you’re still hungry by midday, book it to brisket-ville at FOX Smokehouse BBQ, or gorge on classics at Chilly Jilly’z. Sure, their menu overflows with homemade pastries, beefy Angus burgers, juicy Broaster chicken, and fresh fruit smoothies. But we gotta be honest—we beeline it straight for their specialty, every time: the Dole Whip floats.
When it comes to dinner, this desert town is magically your oyster. You can’t go wrong bellying up to Boulder Dam Brewing or The Dillinger Food and Drinkery. Locally made craft beers—like the Powder Monkey Pilsner, named after the Hoover Dam workers who packed explosives—pair perfectly with wings and sliders over at Boulder Dam Brewing. Inside The Dillinger, housed in the old Bank of Nevada building and (thus) named after infamous bank robber John Dillinger, gourmet burgers and hearty steak and chicken sandwiches will sate any appetite.
Where to Stay in Boulder City
Boulder City hotels range from delightfully retro (neon and all) to palatial and charming. Motorhomers should park their rigs at Lake Mead RV Village for magnificent views and easy access to Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Hoover Dam Lodge Hotel & Casino offers all the modern comforts, as well as direct access to the Historic Railroad Trail. For a blast from the past, head for the El Rancho Boulder Motel—the classic, original neon sign guarantees you can’t miss it.
Earlier, we mentioned the classic Boulder Dam Hotel which is an ornate gem of a place that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You may find yourself snoozing in a room previously occupied by Bette Davis, Will Rogers, Howard Hughes, or Shirley Temple. In addition to beautiful rooms and suites, the property is also home to art galleries, a brunch cafe, and the Boulder City / Hoover Dam Museum.