lake mead national recreation area

Visit Lake Mead and Hoover Dam

Known for rugged mountains, slot canyons, and shimmering water, Lake Mead National Recreation Area is the perfect place for visitors to swim, boat, hike, bike, fish, camp, and more. America’s first and largest national recreation area is yours for exploring, boasting 1.5 million acres of space, more than 750 miles of shoreline, and—surprisingly—two lakes.

How Big is Lake Mead?

Lake Mead is the largest manmade reservoir in the United States, spanning more than 110 miles in Nevada and Arizona. When Lake Mead is at its fullest, it: 

  • has a maximum depth of 532 feet
  • has 246 square miles of surface
  • holds 9.3 trillion gallons of water

The lake was formed when the United States Bureau of Reclamation selected the narrow Black Canyon section of the Colorado River for the site of what would later be called Hoover Dam.

Where is Lake Mead, Nevada?

Drive southeast of Las Vegas (about 30 miles from The Strip) and you’ll find Lake Mead—fed by the Colorado River—sprawling along the border of Nevada and Arizona. Boulder City is an even closer access point, as it’s only six miles away from Lake Mead and eight miles from Hoover Dam. The Lake Mead Reservoir provides water to nearly 20 million people across Nevada, Arizona, and California.

Lake Mead was originally named after Elwood Mead, the commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation during the planning and construction of what was then known as the “Boulder Canyon Project.” After construction on Boulder Dam was complete, the Boulder Dam National Recreation Area was created in 1936. In 1947, both the dam and the recreation area got the names we know them by today—Hoover Dam and Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

can you swim in lake mead
mead bike tour

Lake Mead Activities

With 1.5 million acres of striking and varied landscapes to explore, there are plenty of activities visitors can enjoy at and around Lake Mead, Nevada. 

The Historic Railroad Trail is at the top of the must-experience list. This path is beloved by hikers and bikers due to the gigantic tunnels that once housed trains delivering construction supplies to Hoover Dam. Likewise, the River Mountains Loop Trail covers 34 miles and showcases beautiful panoramic views of the Las Vegas valley.

Naturally, boating is a wildly popular thing to do at Lake Mead. Choose from going full throttle on the open water or relaxing in a private cove. The fishing here is also fantastic, with folks reeling in rainbow trout, catfish, sunfish, crappie, and a variety of bass. You’ll likely be having too much fun to stay for just the day, and with more than 900 camping and RV sites, you’ll have tons of options for lake and desert views. And yes, of course you can swim in Lake Mead! 

Activities aren’t limited to Lake Mead, either. Lake Mojave is at the southern end of the recreation area and has its own sandy beaches, stunning canyons, and abundant sunshine. Willow Beach and  Cottonwood Cove are two local favorites. From hiking trails that lead to hot springs (like Gold Strike Hot Spring and Arizona Hot Spring) to scuba diving sights of a crashed World War II Boeing B-29 Superfortress and a sunken city that sometimes reveals itself, the largest reservoir created by humans truly has outdoor recreation opportunities for any interest.

Travel Nevada Pro Tip

Launch ramp conditions can change quickly with the weather, as can trail accessibility. To stay updated on any closures, visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area’s website before you go.

Lake Mead’s Natural (And Not So Natural) Features

The magnificent scenery of Hoover Dam and nearby Boulder Basin beg to be explored and photographed. This spellbinding landscape is also a junction of three of the nation’s four desert ecosystems: the Mojave, Great Basin, and Sonoran deserts. This means that Lake Mead National Recreation Area is home to a variety of plants and animals that simply can’t be found anywhere else in the world, including the razorback sucker fish, which is native to this area. A whopping 41 species of reptiles and 12 species of amphibians have been recorded at Lake Mead, accompanying a large population of desert bighorn sheep, bald eagles, mountain lions, and other desert-dwelling critters.

What is the Distance Between Lake Mead & Las Vegas, Nevada?

Depending on where you depart Las Vegas, Lake Mead is just under an hour away from the city. The Lake Mead Visitor Center is four miles southeast of Boulder City off of US 93, and there are nine access points for getting into the recreation area. Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a great source for maps and GPS coordinates.


Lake Mead National Recreation Area is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Occasionally, temporary emergency closures may be in place. Please check the National Parks Service’s Alerts & Conditions page before visiting.


Admission fees for Lake Mead National Recreation Area are $15 per person, $16 for daily boating vessels, $20 for motorcycles, and $25 for vehicles. These passes are good for up to seven days. Campgrounds are $20 per night.


As of January 1, 2024, Lake Mead National Recreation Area has transitioned to a cashless fee collection system. Only electronic card payments are now accepted for entrance, lake use, and campground fees. Entrance stations will continue to sell passes but will no longer accept cash for payment. Get the most detailed fee information, as well as dates for fee-free days, from Lake Mead National Recreation Area’s website.

This Location:

Southern Nevada, Nevada


Southern Nevada