At a Glance
What is it?
A really big dam. Oh, and the thing that pretty much made most of the American southwest possible.
Where is it?
About 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas.
Is it worth the cost?
Yes – it’s quite impressive from an architectural, engineering, and historical perspective.
What else do I need to know?
Traffic can be bad getting there on busy weekends. Also, if you plan on doing the tours, wear comfortable shoes – there is a lot of walking.
What’s the bottom line?
An important part of American history. And really big, too.
Thursday, September 30, 2010, marked the 75th Anniversary of the dedication of Hoover Dam. Actually, that’s not 100% true — when it was dedicated in 1935 it was most commonly referred to as Boulder Dam. It didn’t officially become Hoover Dam until 1947.
But regardless of what you call it, it is not hyperbole to say that without it, Las Vegas as we know it today, would not exist. The workers brought in to build it helped Las Vegas boom in the early 1930s and the water it brought to the desert region allowed the city to flourish in the decades after.
Hoover Dam is located approximately 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas. Several companies offer group tours with transportation – Grayline is probably the best and most reputable but there are literally dozens so either check with your hotel or simply Google it.
If you’re driving yourself you will take any of the major east-west streets like Flamingo or Tropicana to I-515/93/95 and take that south. That will eventually transition into US 93, which will take you right to the dam. Note that there is a $10 per vehicle charge for parking. You should also note that traffic can be an issue, especially on busy weekends. Allow yourself at least an hour of travel time both to and from the dam on a normal day and 90 minutes each way if it’s a holiday weekend.
You have three options for exploring the dam. The easiest and cheapest is to just go to the Visitor Center. It features displays, photos, maps, interactive exhibitions, an observation deck, and a history of the dam along with theater with a short film that explains why it was so important to developing the American Southwest. Admission is $10 for adults.
But for an addition $5 you can get the Visitor Center and the Powerplant Tour. The 30 minute tour takes you more than 500 feet down into the dam to see how the thing actually operates. It is $15 for adults and includes admission to the Visitor Center.
The most extensive, and expensive, option is the full-on Hoover Dam Tour. This one takes about an hour and will cover the Visitors Center and Powerplant plus additional tunnels and observation areas within and around the structure. It costs $30 per person and is limited to only 20 people per group. Note that there is a lot of walking and climbing, so those with mobility issues should skip this one.
If you are taking one of the guided bus tours from Las Vegas, make sure to understand which parts of the dam you will get to visit and double check to see that all admissions are included in the price you are paying to the tour operator.
The Hoover Dam is open daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas. From Labor Day through Memorial Day, the dam operates from 9am until 5pm and during the summer it stays open until 6pm.