Straddled between two states, Arizona and Nevada, Hoover Dam is the most visited dam in the world. Over 7 million tourists visit each year. Most on day trips from Las Vegas, as it’s only 40 minutes away.
Though Hoover Dam is no longer the world’s largest dam, it was at the time of completion in 1935. Even for today’s standards, it is considered an engineering marvel. Using over 5 million barrels of cement and 45 million pounds of reinforced steel, Hoover Dam is the 2nd highest dam in the U.S. at 726.4 feet, roughly 60-stories high.
If you are in the area, this is one of those destinations that should be on your must-see list.
Getting To Hoover Dam & The Security Checkpoint
This was my second time visiting Hoover Dam; the first time was many years ago. However, I never expected a place like Hoover Dam to really change, but it has.
Following the events of 9/11, security around the dam has really beefed up.
- U.S. Hwy 93 no longer goes over the dam. You must exit at Nevada State Route 172, also known as Hoover Dam Access Road, which now terminates just past the dam.
- Through-traffic now goes over the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. You cannot see the dam when driving over, but it offers great views for pedestrians.
- Located about a mile from the dam, all vehicles now go through a security check-point. Some are selected for further inspection. You must consent to get through.
- Vehicles are prohibited from stopping on the dam, not even to let out passengers.
Alternatively, there are plenty of Las Vegas tour companies that run daily tours to Hoover Dam.
Parking At Hoover Dam
There are several parking options, some free and some that charge.
- Memorial Bridge Plaza is the first visitor parking. This free parking lot provides around 70 spaces with pedestrian access to the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. It also has restrooms.
- The parking garage charges $10 (2020) for access to 459 spaces. By far this is the most convenient parking. Not only is it primarily shaded, it’s also the closest to the visitor center, and you don’t have to wait through lines of traffic to get across the dam.
- Parking Area 9 is just after crossing the dam, on the Arizona side. This lot charges $10 (2020), has around 50 shaded spaces, plus over-sized vehicle parking, and a sidewalk to the dam.
- Parking Areas 10 – 13 start just past area 9. They have less spaces and no shade, but are free. There are no sidewalks, and as the numbers go up, they get further and further from the dam. Area 13 provides a great lookout over the facility.
Mike O'Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
Parking and accessing the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge is free. There’s a short walk from the parking lot. You can use the ramp or bypass it with a few sets of stairs. The bridge provides fantastic views of Hoover Dam from above.
It is worth noting that the pedestrian path does not extend beyond the bridge.
Touring Hoover Dam
There are three paid options for touring Hoover Dam.
- Self-Guided Visitor Center Tour – This tour only allows access to the modern Visitor Center, which is more like a museum than visitor center. Plus, the Original Exhibit Building with a giant 3D model of the area.
- Guided Powerplant Tour – Adds a fascinating tour of the power plant, including the generator room and massive penstock high-pressure water pipe. This is the only tour available for purchase online.
- Guided Dam Tour – This tour adds a more in-depth tour of the dam. From the top of the dam to the center inspection tunnels. These tours are only available on a first come, first served basis and can only be purchased on site.
Walking Across Hoover Dam
Though we highly recommend doing a tour of the dam, you’ve already come all this way, it is possible to see it completely free. We already discussed the free parking, and free views from the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, but you can also walk across the dam for free.
Though it is quite the walk, especially in the hot Nevada sun, it is worth doing. Just looking over the edge of this ginormous structure is enough to make your knees wobble. But, the best way to appreciate this engineering wonder.
As we walked across the dam a young boy excitedly called us over to see the Hoover Dam Bottle Trick. With a huge smile on his face, he leaned slightly over the edge of the wall and tipped out his water bottle. As the water started to pour out of the bottle it hovered in the air before flying up and away. It was cute how pleased he was with himself.
The dam causes impressive wind currents which make this anti-gravity trick possible. Unfortunately, our video didn’t come out great, but we found this online YouTube video which describes the phenomenon.
Across from the Visitor Center are the famous Winged Figures of the Republic statues. These matching god-like statues are 30 feet high and flank each side of a 142-foot flagpole. If you’re looking for a little extra luck for your time in Vegas, rumor has it that you just need to give their feet a little rub. You’ll notice their toes are a polished bronze from all the tourist touches.
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