For those looking to escape the omnipresent dinging of slot machines on the Las Vegas Strip, few attractions will inspire awe like the Hoover Dam.
Completed in the 1930s, the Hoover Dam has stood the test of time and is still recognized as an engineering marvel today. In fact, my tour guide shared that the dam is likely to last 2-3,000 years.
The dam was built by an organization known as Six Companies, a group of six construction firms that worked together on the gargantuan project intended to control flooding, provide a stable source of fresh water, and generate hydroelectric power for residents of the southwest United States.
While official figures attribute 96 deaths to the project, a tour guide was quick to point out that deaths not obviously attributable to construction, like overheating, were not included in that tally. The number is likely much higher. The guide added that “This was not a worker-friendly project”.
Today, the Hoover Dam is managed by the US Bureau of Reclamation and is open for tourists to explore, and even take guided tours if they desire.
I’ll share my experience at Hoover Dam, including highlights of the full dam tour to help you plan your visit.
Hoover Dam Cost
Public parking in the ramp costs $10. Both cash and major credit cards are accepted.
Access to the exterior of the Hoover Dam is free. After parking, you can walk across the dam to Arizona, explore the massive spillways, and gaze at Lake Mead from the dam for a grand total of $0.
Guided tours are offered at an additional cost:
- Power plant tours are $15 per person.
- Full dam tours, which include the power plant, are $30 per person.
- Self-guided visitor tours are offered for $10, but I’d recommend spending up for the full tour.
You’ll want to note that tour tickets for the full dam can only be purchased in person. If a guided tour of Hoover Dam is of interest, I’d recommend getting there early to snag a ticket, as they get booked quickly.
Hoover Dam Tour – Worth It?
I arrived at Hoover Dam prior to 9 am, when tour tickets go on sale. I wanted to ensure that I got an early tour slot, and didn’t need to wait around until the early afternoon for my turn. Highly recommended.
I was assigned to the first tour group of the day, departing the visitor center at 9:30 am.
The tour kicked off with a 10-minute video on the history of the Hoover Dam and how it was constructed. It was both interesting, and a strong pre-cursor for exploring the structure.
Following the video, the first order of business was exploring how Hoover Dam generates hydroelectric power.
Specifically, we learned where water flows in behind the dam, and how it gets to the point where it turns the turbines before continuing down the Colorado River to its next destination.
This tutorial took place in a room that sat above an enormous pipe responsible for delivering water from Lake Mead to turbines on the Nevada side of the Dam. Just look at it.
We also learned about how diversion tunnels and temporary cofferdams were used to divert the Colorado River during the construction of the Hoover Dam, and how a large section of those diversion tunnels are still used today as part of the spillway infrastructure.
For those unfamiliar, the spillways are like the small hole in your sink, that prevents it from overflowing if you leave the water running.
Learning about the “internal plumbing” that makes the Hoover Dam work was one of the more interesting portions of the tour for me.
Next, we made our way down the cavernous room that houses the power generators on the Nevada side of the dam. The room was impressive in size.
Now, if you only signed up for the Hoover Dam power plant tour, this is where you finish. Those of us on the full tour, however, continued onward into the bowels of the Hoover Dam.
Next, we navigated through a small concrete tunnel (pictured below) that cut through the length of the dam horizontally.
Within that hallway, we learned about this metal bar, and two metal bolts in the wall that engineers use to measure any movement or shifting in the dam’s concrete.
There were also markings on the walls that workers used to determine their own location within the tunnel and to communicate to others where issues may exist.
Branching off of the tunnel, was one of the coolest parts of the tour, a ventilation tunnel that they allowed the tour group to walk down which led to an opening on the dam’s face.
As a 6′ 4″ tall guy, I had to crouch to get to the end, as the tunnel wasn’t exactly “tall-guy-friendly”.
Below, is an arrow pointing to the ventilation vent I’m peeking out of in the photos above.
Here’s a view of the ventilation tunnel as I made my way back to the hallway and the rest of the tour group.
Next, we continued to follow the hallway and came across a Geiger counter which senses any seismic activity at the dam site.
At the final stop on the tour, we got to experience one of the cooler visuals. The Hoover Dam has a flight of stairs that spans from the bottom to the top of the structure.
From our viewpoint, we were able to see the stairs both descend and climb into the darkness.
The tour concluded by releasing us outdoors to the top of the Hoover Dam through an elevator lobby that was decorated with green marble from Vermont.
Was the Hoover Dam tour worth the money?
Absolutely. As an information dork, I wish it would have been longer, but it was a fantastic experience that I’d recommend wholeheartedly.
As an added bonus, the guides have fully embraced cheesy “dam” wordplay jokes like those leveraged in the movie “Vegas Vacation”.
Exploring Hoover Dam
After the tour, I walked around and explored the exterior of the Hoover Dam. Here are a bunch of photos of the trouble I got into.
While I’ve been to Hoover Dam numerous times in the past, I never noticed that there are restrooms in the towers above the dam (pictured above) that look authentic to the 1930s.
You enter the tower from the sidewalk atop the dam and enter a lobby with a modern vending machine.
To get to the restroom, just climb the flight of stairs. Pretty cool! And yes, I’m the kind of creep that photographs restrooms.
Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Bridge
Offering a pedestrian walkway, the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Bridge is a can’t miss free attraction in and of itself.
The bridge spans the canyon and provides the opportunity to photograph the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead behind it as if you were airborne.
You’ll run into the bridge’s parking lot on both your way in and/or out of Hoover Dam, and from there, you’ll climb the stairs to the bridge’s scenic pedestrian walkway. There’s also a ramp to the bridge, making it accessible to folks that utilize a wheelchair.
People with a “heights thing” may want to think twice as the 1,900-foot-long bridge is perched nearly 900 feet above the river below. It’s seriously harrowing.
Especially concerning for those anxious about heights is the way the bridge shakes/rattles when semi-trucks pass by. It just doesn’t seem right that the structure can move that much.
Once you make it out to the middle of the bridge, you’ll have one of the best views of Hoover Dam you could ask for.
Point blank, the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Bridge is a can’t miss part of the Hoover Dam experience.
If you’re visiting in the heat of summer, I’d recommend tackling the bridge in the morning as you’ll be exposed to the sun and some pretty epic heat up there.
Lake Mead Marina Nearby
If you’re able to tackle Hoover Dam early in the day, an afternoon out on the lake could be a great option.
Lake Mead Marina is a short distance from the dam. There, you can rent jet skis, boats, and pontoons by the day or hour.
Years ago, my wife and I visited the dam early, and then took a jet ski out for a 4-hour rip on Lake Mead afterward. It was extremely fun.
Personal watercraft rentals start at $250 for 4-hours while pontoons are $75 per hour. You can survey the full assortment of options here, at boatinglakemead.com.
Is Hoover Dam Worth Visiting from Las Vegas?
If you’re at all considering a day trip to escape the city, gambling, and cigarette smoke, then Hoover Dam should be in contention, if not on the top of your list. The size and scale of the attraction and the natural beauty that surrounds it are sure to impress just about anyone.
While I’d argue Hoover Dam is worth a trip even if you’re not planning to do a guided tour, seeing the innards of the dam and gleaning some knowledge from the team of professional guides is more than worth the $30.
Next time you’re in Las Vegas, make sure to put the Hoover Dam near the top of your list!
Related: Need additional ideas for outdoor activities in Las Vegas? Check out our day trips to:
- St. Thomas Ghost Town – Which was flooded by Lake Mead, and recently re-emerged!
I’m a former software salesman turned Vegas aficionado. While the craps table is my preferred habitat, I pull myself away to explore new attractions, shows, restaurants, and outdoor activities around Las Vegas with the intent of sharing my experiences.
Ultimately, I just want to help folks plan a better trip and save a few bucks in the process.
Tuesday 10th of May 2022
Thanks for this great piece. We are planning to visit the dam in July and had no idea about the tour. Will certainly try to take this now.