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Lake Mead National Recreation Area - Area Overview
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Overview Getting There Hours Fees Camping Watch Out Rules and Regs
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Boulder Basin (view east)

OVERVIEW

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, administered by the U.S. National Park Service, is located just over the mountains that border the eastern edge of the Las Vegas Valley. The primary feature at Lake Mead is, not surprisingly, the lake. Hoover Dam blocks the Colorado River, forming a lake that floods some 60 miles of the Colorado River Valley (from Boulder City to the lower end of the Grand Canyon. The Virgin River Valley, which comes in from the north, is flooded to near the town of Overton, adding another 20 miles to the lake (referred to as the Overton Arm).

Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Feeding the carp at a marina
Activities at Lake Mead primarily are orientated around the water (e.g., boating, fishing, and swimming). However, the lake only takes up about 13% of the park area, and the remaining 87% is mostly wild land that offers some amazing hiking opportunities. The geology of this sandstone-limestone-volcanic-metamorphic faulted-twisted-contorted-eroded land, while nearly impossible to comprehend in total, is stunningly stark and beautiful, and three of the four North American desert ecosystems (Mojave, Great Basin, and Sonoran, but not the Chihuahan) meet here, providing for a varied and diverse flora and fauna. Ancient people lived here and left their artwork on the rock wall.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Don't move zebra mussels

This is relatively low desert (the elevation of the lake surface is about 1,200 feet), and temperatures often are about 10 degrees higher at the lake than they are in Las Vegas. Thus, dry-land activities at Lake Mead generally are restricted to the cooler months (e.g., October through May).

For more general information, including a variety of maps and images, visit the Lake Mead website.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
See Lake Mead from the air

GETTING TO LAKE MEAD

Link to map.

At the nearest point, Lake Mead (or simply "the lake") is located about 30 minutes east of Las Vegas. There are three main ways to get to western portions of the lake from Las Vegas: Lake Mead Boulevard from downtown Las Vegas, Lake Mead Parkway from Henderson, and Highway 93 from Boulder City. The Gold Butte region is located at the northeast end of the lake, about 3 hours northeast of town.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Lake Mead Blvd Entrance Station (view E)

Getting to Lake Mead From Las Vegas

From the intersection of Interstate-15 and Highway 93/95 (the Spaghetti Bowl; Table 1, Site 800), drive north on Interstate-15 for 1.5 miles to Lake Mead Blvd, East (Site 801). Exit right on Lake Mead Blvd and drive east, over the mountains (passing between Frenchman Mountain to the south and Sunrise Mountain to the north) to the park entrance station. Pay the entrance fee ($5 per car or an annual pass), and proceed to the T-intersection with Northshore Road (Site 653). This puts you on the north side of the lake between the Callville Bay and Las Vegas Wash marinas.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Getting to Lake Mead From Henderson

From the intersection of Highway 93/95 and Lake Mead Parkway (Site 723), wind through the construction zone and drive east on Lake Mead Parkway over the hills to the park entrance station. Then continue east on what is now Lakeshore Road. You will shortly pass the intersection with Northshore Road (Site 654) and arrive at the Las Vegas Wash Marina area (Site 720).

Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Hot spring

Getting to Lake Mead From Boulder City

From the stoplight in downtown Boulder City where Highway 93 turns north (Site 802), drive east on Highway 93 for 3.7 miles to Lakeshore Road (Site 803). Turn north (left) onto Lakeshore Road and into the park. The first building on the right is the Lake Mead (Alan Bible) Visitor Center. However (Site 655), if you are this close to the dam, you ought to drive the remaining 4.2 miles to the dam (7.9 miles from the turn in Boulder City) and check it out (Site 812). The dam is an engineering marvel (726 ft high), a testament to the determination and drive of the bosses who made it happen, and a testament to the desperation of the workers trying to feed their families during the Great Depression. OSHA regulations and labor unions were spawned from projects like this. Be sure to stop at the Hoover Dam Visitor Center to learn about the dam history.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Gold Butte is wild and remote country,
but the entrance road is paved

Getting to Lake Mead in the Gold Butte Region

The Gold Butte region is located at the northeast end of Lake Mead and includes a large block of land outside the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. This wild and remote country offers outstanding wilderness experiences, but make no mistake, this is wild and remote country where you are on your own. Be prepared to take care of yourself out there.

To get to the Gold Butte region from Las Vegas (Table 4, Site 800), drive east on Interstate-15 for about 70 miles to Highway 170 (Exit 112 towards Bunkerville) (Site 684), which is shortly before getting to Mesquite. Turn right onto Highway 170 and drive south for about 3 miles to the Virgin River Bridge (Site 461).

Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Most roads at Gold Butte are better driven
in a four-wheel drive vehicle

Cross the bridge and immediately take a hard right turn onto Gold Butte Road (Site 686). Watch for a Meadowland Farm sign. The slope of the road makes the turn look like a pullout rather than an intersection. Follow the paved Gold Butte Road southwest along the river until it abruptly turns southeast and leaves the river (Site 687) just past the Meadowland Farm. Stay on the rough paved road for another 14 miles and follow it until the pavement ends at Whitney Pockets (WP) (Site 462). At Whitney Pockets, the dirt road forks; continue straight on the graded dirt Gold Butte Road (the right fork).

From Whitney Pockets, continue south on Gold Butte Road for 7.0 miles to the Devils Throat turnoff (Site 807). Take the time to go see Devils Throat; it's only 0.25 miles out.

Continuing south on Gold Butte Road, stay to the right (west) at St. Thomas Gap Road (8.7 miles south of WP) (Site 796) and Devils Cove Road (16.2 miles south of WP) (Site 797), and at 19.7 miles south of WP, you will arrive at Gold Butte site and the intersection of Gold Butte Road and Red Bluff Spring Backcountry Byway Road (Site 806).
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
North Entrance (view south)

Getting to Lake Mead from the North

From the north, the Overton Arm of Lake Mead is accessible from Interstate-15 through the Logandale-Overton area and through Valley of Fire State Park.

From I-15, exit the interstate towards Logandale (Exit 93). Drive south on Highway 169 following the road as it winds among farm fields and through rural areas. The road eventually passes out of town and arrives at the North Entrance station. Pay the National Park fee, and continue south into the park.

Alternatively, from I-15, exit the interstate towards Valley of Fire State Park (Exit 75E). Pass the smoke shop and the last of the gas, and continue east to the state park. Pay the entrance fee and continue across the state park. Valley of Fire road eventually dead-ends into Northshore Road; turn right and drive about 100 yards to the North Entrance station. Pay the National Park fee, and continue south into the park.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Hoover Dam

HOURS

The Lake Mead (Alan Bible) Visitor Center is open from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM, 7 days a week except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. There are seven ranger stations around the lake (generally at the marinas), but these seem to be open only when people are working in the office (as opposed to being out on patrol or giving nature walks). The rest of the recreation area is open 24 hours, although some picnic areas are designated as day-use only.

There are a variety of concessions (e.g., food, marinas, and boat tours, but no gasoline for vehicles) in the recreation area. Most concessions are open during regular business hours or longer.

The lake level is extremely low, and many of the marinas and boat ramps have been closed. While this is unfortunate for boaters and fishermen, it is a benefit to hikers because some previously flooded areas are on open to hiking.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Las Vegas Wash entrance station

ENTRANCE FEES

The entrance fee is $10 per private vehicle (Federal Lands Pass and other annual passes accepted). Fees for other than private vehicles (e.g., bikes and buses) are posted at the entrance station.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Camping in the backcountry

CAMPING

Car camping inside Lake Mead National Recreation Area is permitted only in front-country campgrounds and in designated backcountry campsites. However, BLM land borders much of the park, and camping on BLM land is wide open and free. You should, however, choose an existing site and practice Leave-No-Trace skills.

For the most part, backpackers may camp anywhere in the backcountry, which is defined as anywhere farther than 0.5 miles from a designated road. The exceptions are that certain areas are posted "No Camping," and you must stay at least 100 ft from springs or other water sources. Backcountry permits are not required. Plan to cook with a stove, as collecting wood (including dead or down wood) is prohibited.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Railroad Tunnels trail

WATCH OUT

Other than the standard cautions about hiking in the desert, ...this is a pretty safe place, but several people die at the lake every year. Most of these deaths result from mixing alcohol with driving cars or boats. Remember: friends don't let friends drive drunk in cars or boats. Also, Northshore Road is popular place to race high-performance cars and motorcycles, so drive carefully and look both ways before crossing the road.

Much of this land is wild and remote, and even under the best of circumstances, help would be long in coming. Given that, exercise extra caution when hiking and give yourself a little wider margin of safety. Don't push it.

In case of emergency, contact any ranger, call the 24-hour emergency number 702-293-8932, or call 911. Cell phones work in some parts of recreation area, and there are pay phones at the marinas.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Sandstone outcrop

SOME RULES AND REGULATIONS

This is a National Recreation Area, which is almost like a National Park. One obvious difference is that some hunting is allowed here. Other than that, act as if you were in a National Park. Do not collect or otherwise disturb plants, rocks, fossils, or artifacts, and do not disturb the wildlife (except during hunting season with the proper license). Pack it in, pack it out.

Drive only on designated roads. All motor vehicles, including off-highway vehicles, must be street legal, and all drivers must have a valid license in their possession.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Road Runner

Pets are allowed, but not on designated swimming beaches or in public buildings. Pets must be on a leash (six-foot maximum) and under physical control at all times. Never leave pets or kids in a vehicle because temperatures inside a car parked in the sun can exceed 120 degrees in just a few minutes, quickly cooking them.

For details on these issues and other information, visit the Lake Mead website. Maps are available online.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Teddybear Cholla near Cottonwood Cove, Lake Mojave
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Stark scenery with bold colors
Lake Mead National Recreation Area Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Lake Mead National Recreation Area Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Lake Mead National Recreation Area Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Lake Mead National Recreation Area Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
See Lake Mead from drive-up overlooks
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
See Lake Mead from walk-up overlooks
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Canoeing down Black Canyon
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Hiking by a waterfall

Table 1. Highway Coordinates: Las Vegas to Lake Mead (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site # Location Latitude (°N) Longitude (°W) UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (feet) Verified
653 Lake Mead Dr. at Northshore Road 36.1434 114.8880 690025 4001715 1,390 Yes
800 I-15 at Hwy 93/95 (Spaghetti Bowl) 36.1743 115.1538 666038 4004658 2,040 Yes
801 I-15 at Lake Mead Blvd, East 36.1959 115.1380 667415 4007077 1,950 Yes

Table 2. Highway Coordinates: Henderson to Lake Mead (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download GPS file (see link above).

Site # Location Latitude (°N) Longitude (°W) UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (feet) Verified
654 Lakeshore Road at Northshore Road 36.1095 114.8987 689139 3997939 1,545 Yes
720 Lakeshore Road at Las Vegas Wash Marina 36.1199 114.8611 692499 3999163 1,157 Yes
723 Hwy 93/95 at Lake Mead Pkwy 36.0338 115.0131 679014 3989319 1,866 Yes

Table 3. Highway Coordinates: Boulder City to Lake Mead (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download GPS file (see link above).

Site # Location Latitude (°N) Longitude (°W) UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (feet) Verified
655 Allen Bible Visitor Center 36.0099 114.7958 698654 3987093 1,650 Yes
802 Hwy 93 at Buchanan Rd
(downtown Boulder City)
35.9742 114.8453 694284 3983031 2,460 Yes
803 Hwy 93 at Lakeshore Road 36.0091 114.7989 698377 3987000 1,700 Yes
812 Highway 93 at Hoover Dam 36.0163 114.7364 703994 3987925 1312 Yes

Table 4. Highway Coordinates: Gold Butte Region (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download GPS file (see link above).

Site # Location Latitude (°N) Longitude (°W) UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (feet) Verified
461 Hwy 170 at Virgin River Bridge 36.7341 114.2188 748351 4068775 1,459 Yes
462 Gold Butte Rd at Whitney Pockets 36.5231 114.1390 756178 4045577 3,013 Yes
684 Hwy I-15 at Hwy 170 36.7706 114.2337 746902 4072795 1,804 Yes
686 Hwy 170 at (Meadowland Farm) GB Rd 36.7318 114.2172 748500 4068528 1,444 Yes
687 Gold Butte Rd leaves the Virgin River 36.6719 114.2891 742272 4061700 1,384 Yes
796 Gold Butte Rd at St. Thomas Gap Rd 36.4135 114.1229 757984 4033458 2,411 Yes
797 Gold Butte Rd at Devils Cove Rd 36.3132 114.1545 755475 4022241 3,497 Yes
800 I-15 at Hwy 93 95 (Spaghetti Bowl) 36.1743 115.1538 666038 4004658 2,040 Yes
806 Gold Butte Rd at Red Bluff Spring Backcountry Byway (Gold Butte Townsite) 36.2809 114.2002 751475 4018543 3,705 Yes
807 Gold Butte Rd at Devils Throat 36.4325 114.1430 756117 4035512 2,244 Yes

Happy hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 130307

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