In many ways, the Hoover Dam is an ever-present reflection of the American people. Constructed during the worst economic period, the Great Depression, the dam originally cost millions of dollars, as well as the lives of at least one hundred workers.
Standing tall at a little over 726 feet, this towering monument to the grit and determination of our country truly must be seen. In fact, about one million visitors do just that each year from all around the world. Not only is it listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but also a designated National Civil Engineering Landmark and National Historic Landmark.
At the time of its construction in the 1930s, there wasn’t anything quite like the then-named Boulder Dam. Yes, “dam technology” existed, but not to this scale, nor for its exact technological purpose.
It may sound surprising, but alternative energy sources are nothing new. In fact, electric cars have been around in one form or another since the 1800s, but they just couldn’t compete with the combustion engine.
The Hoover Dam was a huge step towards alternative energy. Taking an existing early hydroelectric plant, the dam was built to provide resources more efficiently, as well as get a struggling workforce back on their feet.
This is an awe-inspiring marvel, especially considering that much of the construction was purely experimental at the time. Today, visitors can take in views of the dam, as well as the surrounding area, from multiple points of view, including from within.
Easy to Drive to
Before, visiting the dam would quickly become congested as all the vehicles were forced to drive across the dam itself. Luckily, there is now a freeway, and it acts as the main accessible way to drive there.
In 2010, the implementation of a new helped alleviate traffic. This was probably for the best; it’s estimated that about 14,000 vehicles were driving across the historic dam every day.
Only some vehicles are allowed onto the dam grounds. While you can still bring your camper/RV, it would be wise to double check if you’re in the clear. Essentially, 18-wheelers, certain buses, and other commercial vehicles are prohibited.
The new overpass can be a bit hairy. Crossing the Colorado River, the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge is 900 feet above the water, making it the second tallest bridge in the U.S. If this is not something you’re willing to drive, you may want to find alternative travel.
Surprisingly Budget Friendly
Chances are, you’re going to wind up making a purchase here, at a minimum, some food, and water. But that’s okay; it is possible to visit the Hoover Dam on the cheap.
Parking is going to cost you ten dollars. That’s fairly responsible, especially if you plan on spending the entire day there. And to be honest, with the dam’s sheer size above and below, you’ll probably need every minute you can get touring.
There are free parking spaces on the Arizona side; however, they do come with a quarter of a mile hike to the dam in the blistering desert sun. It really comes down to how much ten dollars is worth to your feet. The expectation should be that parking is going to be on the limited side.
As you can imagine, this is the most entertainment one can find 30 miles away from the Las Vegas strip. To say that it gets crowded is an understatement.
As with most tourist-heavy attractions, the earlier you arrive, the better. This is especially true for the daily tours. The majority of people are going to be walk-ins, making most tours packed in the middle of the day.
The facilities are open daily except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Their hours run from 9 am to 5 pm. How much you see truly depends on how soon you can arrive.
Pay for the Visitor’s Center
If time does happen to be on your side, it’s worth paying to tour the visitor’s center. While the $10 is only for allowing you to park and walk around, the visitor’s center has plenty to justify the ticket price.
Admission is going to run an additional $15. At the very least, this gets you access to shade and air conditioning, which you are probably going to need at some point. Not only are you in an incredibly dry and hot region, but you also have 3,250,000 cubic yards of concrete baking in the sun. Basically, it’s a really nice desert-powered outdoor oven.
Inside the visitor’s center is a variety of different exhibits to enjoy. There are several short films to watch, and you can find one of the massive pipes feeding the generators to see in person. There are many other historical exhibits to find as well. The Overlook, an observation deck, provides visitors with a panoramic view of the Hoover Dam.
About every fifteen minutes or so, you can find a guide giving a presentation. Not only is this a great way to score some additional trivia and history, but it can also be a quick way to have any burning questions answered.
Research Tours Before You Go
Choosing a tour can be one of the most important decisions of any vacation. Here, the Hoover Dam and the available tours are no different, but this doesn’t always make for an easy decision.
The easiest way to tour the dam is through their own staff. Unfortunately, as it is a government-owned facility, it’s going to be first come, first serve. This means that there’s always a chance that you’re not going to get to tour with a group.
There are many different commercial tours available, however, and if you’re staying in Vegas, your hotel may offer discounts. The best way to travel is to always ask your concierge; not only do they want you to have a good time, but they’re locals and probably know better than anyone.
You may find that you don’t even need a tour at all. In that case, all you would need to do is show up! Tours are nice for the additional information, but it isn’t for everyone.