Hoover Dam. One of America’s greatest engineering achievements, born of necessity and sheer will and still faithfully serving the Southwest today.
Visiting Hoover Dam is a quintessential summer vacation stop in the United States, for good reason. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a former structural engineer who loved seeing this modern marvel in person!
Here’s everything you need to know about how to get there, where to park, what to do, and more!
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Why You Should Care about Hoover Dam: Quick Fun Facts
- Built in the 1930s to control devasting flooding in California, Nevada, and Arizona
- 726ft tall (taller than the Washington Monument), 45ft thick at the top, and 660ft thick at the bottom (that’s 2 football fields)
- Created Lake Mead, which holds enough water to cover the entire state of New York in a foot of water (when it’s not in a drought)
- Boulder City was started as a company town for workers building the dam
- Sometimes called Boulder Dam, it was officially named Hoover Dam by an Act of Congress after the Secretary of Commerce-turned-President of the United States Herbert Hoover who championed the Colorado River rights negotiations and subsequent dam construction
- Power generated by the dam’s hydroelectric power plant serves 1.3 million people every year
- Completely self-sufficient from tour fees (requires no government budget to operate)
How to Get to Hoover Dam from Las Vegas
Hoover Dam is a straightforward 45 minute drive from the Las Vegas strip.
It’s a super easy day trip from Vegas, one we highly recommend for the cool factor.
Not just because I’m a civil engineer that’s obsessed with these types of things, but because it’s an engineering marvel built in the 1930s that forever changed the American Southwest.
If you don’t have a car available to drive yourself, then take a rideshare.
It’ll be a bit pricey, around $50 each way, but that’s still quite a bit cheaper than a taxi.
We don’t recommend a guided tour to just Hoover Dam from Las Vegas. There’s no point.
Everything you’re going to do at Hoover Dam is easy to do without paying for another guide to drive you there.
Tours do make sense if they include other places in addition to Hoover Dam and you don’t have transportation of your own.
Parking at Hoover Dam
You have two options for parking at Hoover Dam:
- Covered parking garage near the visitor center on the NV side (paid)
- Open parking lots on the AZ side (closer one is paid, further up the hill is free)
Can You Drive Across the Hoover Dam?
Personal vehicles, including RVs, are allowed to cross the Hoover Dam to use the parking lots on the Arizona side.
Security screenings are required well before you get anywhere near the dam.
The Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge was built a short way downstream specifically to get traffic off of the dam.
The new bridge accommodates two lanes in each direction at high speed, whereas the dam is one lane in each direction at ultra-low speed.
You are absolutely never allowed to stop a vehicle on top of the dam, even to take a quick picture. It’s a security issue.
However, you’re free to walk across the top of the dam at your leisure and get all the pictures you want!
What to Do at Hoover Dam
There are actually quite a few things to do at Hoover Dam. Several different views and tours will keep you busy for a full day or half day trip from Las Vegas.
Don’t miss these cool things to do at Hoover Dam!
Take an Epic Picture from the Bridge Overlook
The Pat Tillman Bridge has a protected pedestrian walkway for those that want to walk out onto the bridge and get a phenomenal view of Hoover Dam!
Pro Tip: This path has operating hours, meaning they close it at dusk. We saved this for last on our first visit to Hoover Dam but got there 5 minutes after the last entry to the parking lot…
Check out the Visitor Center Museum
The most comprehensive and informative visitor center we’ve seen in a while!
Take a self-guided tour through the gallery and learn how the massive dam was built and how the power plant works.
Take a Dam Tour
Arrive early in the day and secure a ticket for Hoover Dam’s most in-depth guided tour.
Visit the interior power plant as well as stroll through the inspection tunnels for up-close views of how this behemoth structure was built in the 1930s and is still structurally sound today, 90 years later!
This was the highlight of our visit! Don’t skip this!
Walk across Hoover Dam
Hold on to your phones, cameras, and kids, but enjoy that view!
Looking upstream is one leg of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Looking downstream is the Colorado River.
As you cross the dam, you’re also crossing the state line. There’s a marker so you can get a fun picture of you standing in two states at once! We definitely did.
Visit the Original Exhibit Building
Included in the Visitor Center ticket, this retro building across the street from the Visitor Center holds a 3D terrain map of the area and discusses how the landscape of the canyon has changed with the construction of Hoover Dam.
Workers’ Memorial at Monument Plaza
The Winged Figures are art deco brilliance and memorialize the workers lost during construction.
Contrary to popular rumor, nobody is buried in the concrete in the dam.
Find all the Informational Plaques
Scattered throughout the area around Hoover Dam, the informational plaques tell unique stories for those that haven’t purchased a tour ticket or visitor center pass.
Don’t miss the Dog Mascot plaque, near the stairs down to the tour lobby. He was a good boy!
Stock up on Souvenirs
Get all your dam shirts, dam magnets, dam shot glasses, and other kitschy souvenirs at the on-site gift shop.
There are many jokes to be made, so be prepared for some rude humor, but keep looking and you’ll find some nice souvenirs.
Which Hoover Dam Guided Tour Option is Best?
There are two guided tour options and one self-guided tour option at Hoover Dam. The Dam Tour is our hands down favorite guided tour at Hoover Dam!
It has the most access and information and is the only one that takes you into the dam itself, not just the observation deck for the power plant.
There’s a catch, though! Dam Tour tickets don’t have online reservations. (The other ticket options do.)
They sell Dam Tours on-site only, first come, first served. In peak season, Dam Tour tickets can sell out by mid-morning.
What Tours are Available at Hoover Dam?
There are three ticketed options for touring Hoover Dam, increasing in cost as more access is included with each tier:
- The Visitor Center Tour ($10, self-guided)
- The Power Plant Tour ($15, guided)
- The Dam Tour ($30, guided)
The Visitor Center Museum is super thorough with great visual exhibits.
It’s the best place to start, learn about the building of Hoover Dam, how the power plant works, and take in awesome views from the outdoor observation deck.
The Power Plant Tour is a good 2nd best option if there aren’t any Dam Tour time slots left for the day. It still gets you inside the dam for a minute.
This tier includes a brief video presentation about the Hoover Dam before taking visitors down into the dam itself to see one of the penstock tunnels and the observation deck for the Nevada side of the power plant.
From here, the Power Plant Tour guests take an elevator back to the surface. The Dam Tour guests, though, continue further into the dam.
The Dam Tour continues through beautiful Art Deco tunnels, made for the first visitors, and then down another elevator to the inspection tunnels in the heart of the dam.
See up close how this behemoth concrete dam was built, learn how the structure is continuously monitored, and get amazing photos looking downstream at the Colorado River from one of the inspection ventilation shafts in the middle of the dam.
The Dam Tour is the whole dam package, for visitors that want to know and see it all!
Booking a Tour
As mentioned above, Dam Tour time slots are sold first come, first served on-site only and go fast in peak season.
You can always upgrade them to a Dam Tour when you arrive on-site, if there are still Dam Tour time slots available.
Good to Know: National Park America the Beautiful Annual Passes are not accepted at Hoover Dam.
The Bureau of Reclamation, which operates oversight for Hoover Dam and the tours, is one of the six agencies that participates in the pass, but the Hoover Dam site does not receive funding generated by pass sales because it’s completely self-sufficient from tour sales.
Is There a Self-Guided Tour of Hoover Dam?
Sort of. You can’t go inside the dam without a guide, but you can explore everything else at your own pace.
If you don’t particularly care for the history and just want to stop by to get some cool pictures, this can be a quick and free stop on a Southwest USA road trip.
The Visitor Center Museum requires a paid ticket but is self-guided and gives TONS of detailed information on both the construction of the dam and how the dam’s hydroelectric powerplant works.
If you take the time to read all the exhibits, you’ll learn just as much, possibly more, than if you took just a guided tour.
(But you get better anecdotes and random, interesting facts from the guided tours, in our opinion.)
Visitors are also free to explore the area above and around Hoover Dam during normal operating hours.
No ticket is required for any of the following:
- Memorial Bridge Walkway to the Bridge Overlook on Pat Tillman Bridge
- Walking across the top of Hoover Dam
- Admiring views of Lake Mead and the Colorado River
- See Monument Plaza and the Worker’s Memorial
- Find all 12 interpretive plaques around the area
- Shop at the gift shop
Can You Visit Hoover Dam for Free?
Yes, exploring the area around and atop of Hoover Dam is free.
You can even park in the furthest parking lot on the Arizona side of the dam for free.
(Read up on the rules for driving across Hoover Dam before you go.)
But you can’t go inside the dam or even the Visitor Center Museum without a paid ticket.
If you’re not into the history, you should be because this is an impressive engineering masterpiece even for non-engineers.
But if you just don’t have the time or patience for that, you can make a quick stop, take pictures, buy a souvenir, and be on your way.
How Much Does It Cost to Visit Hoover Dam?
Visiting Hoover Dam can be FREE if you need it to be, but we recommend taking at least one of the paid tours. Parking may also incur a fee, depending where you park.
Here’s the full cost breakdown for visiting Hoover Dam:
- Access to gift shop, grounds, memorials, and atop the dam: FREE
- $10 for the garage on the NV side or for Parking Lot 9 (the lowest/closest one) on the AZ side
- FREE parking in the upper lots (Lots 13 and 14) on the AZ side
- The Visitor Center Tour ($10, self-guided)
- The Power Plant Tour ($15, guided)
- The Dam Tour ($30, guided)
Visiting Hoover Dam: Practical Info & FAQs
- Area Hours: 5AM to 9PM PST
- Tour & Visitor Center Hours: 9AM to 5PM PST, last tour at 3:45PM, visitor center last entry at 4:15PM
- Time Zone: The visitor center is on the Nevada side, so the entirety of Hoover Dam operates on Pacific Standard Time.
>> How Long Do You Need to Visit Hoover Dam?
Half a day, minimum, is recommended to explore everything at Hoover Dam, but as little as an hour or two is sufficient for a quick stop just for pictures.
If you take a tour, you’ll likely be here for at least a half day, assuming you don’t have to wait for an afternoon tour time.
>> Best Time of Year to Visit Hoover Dam?
Hoover Dam is in a desert climate, and in a canyon to boot, which basically makes it an oven. Winter temperatures are pleasant. Summer temperatures soar.
Summer is also peak tourist season, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be busy other times of year.
Is Visiting Hoover Dam Worth It?
Visiting Hoover Dam is 100% worth it.
If you’re a history buff, you’ll love it. If you think impressive buildings are cool, you’ll love it.
It’s well-worth a stop on your way to the Grand Canyon or as a half day trip from Las Vegas.
Looking for other things to do in the area near Hoover Dam? Here’s some ideas.
More Southwest USA Ideas
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- Helpful Tips for Visiting Hoover Dam from Las Vegas
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