Lake Mead sits on the border of Arizona and Nevada, formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. It’s the largest reservoir in the United States, located about 20 miles from the Las Vegas Strip. Officially known as the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, it is administered by the National Park Service and attracts thousands of visitors from across the country and around the globe each year.
Lake Mead History and Background
Shaped by the construction of the Hoover Dam at the beginning of the twentieth century, Lake Mead provides water to Arizona, Nevada, and California for both irrigation and consumption. It was named for the Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Elwood Mead, who was responsible for overseeing the Boulder Canyon Project. The Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Lake Mead NRA) also encompasses Lake Mohave and the Shivwits Plateau.
The lake itself is actually divided into a number of different bodies of water, such as Boulder Basin (which is the closest segment to the Hoover Dam) and the Gregg Basin, which lies adjacent to bodies of water that flow into the Grand Canyon itself (including the Grand Wash Bay and the Pearce Ferry Bay). A few of the smaller basins – the Muddy River Inlet and the Virgin River Basin – are only filled during periods of high water, which has not occurred since early 2015 due to regional droughts.
What’s at Lake Mead
Lake Mead NRA is the perfect destination for water-loving vacationers. Some of the most popular activities visitors enjoy in the region include boating, kayaking, canoeing, water-skiing, fishing, and swimming. There are several marinas that offer boat and equipment rentals to guests, as well as vessel storage and maintenance for locals. In addition, there are a number of small, rocky beaches for traditional beach activities like sunbathing, Frisbee, beach volleyball, etc. Visitors who want to branch out beyond the water can also partake in the plentiful hiking trails or camping sites. Horseback riding is another favorite activity for guests of Lake Mead NRA.
For visitors who appreciate the plants of the region, the Alan Bible Botanical Garden (located at the Visitor Center of the same name) is a must-see destination. In addition to dozens of different cactus species, guests will also see a wide variety of desert trees and grasses. The Alan Bible Visitor Center also provides valuable services to visitors such as frequent daily showings of the educational film “Life in the Desert,” which highlights the history and current status of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
Lake Mead is also an excellent place for animal spotting, with several majestic and rare creatures calling the water and surrounding desert home. From the majestic Bald Eagles to the intimidating Razorback Sucker fish, a wide variety of desert animals abound in this region. In fact, more than 240 different kinds of bird have been spotted at Lake Mead over the years!
Both fishing and hunting are permitted in Lake Mead NRA, with hunting restricted to certain portions of the park. Maps of no-hunting zones are available through the National Park Service for visitor reference. Fishing is only permitted with fishing licenses from either Arizona or Nevada, with a stamp required when fishing in territory of the other state.
Tips for Visiting Lake Mead
- The best times for photography are the early morning and early evening, when the shadows are more dramatic.
- State-issued fishing licenses are required for anyone interested in fishing parts of Lake Mead.
- There are several popular picnic spots located throughout the region, featuring tables, grills, water, and restrooms. If you choose to picnic on the beach, it is recommended to bring your own source of shade.
- Lake Mead NRA charges entrance and lake use fees. Both can be purchased at any entrance station. Your National Parks Pass will get you in.
- If you are staying in Las Vegas, there are many options to see Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam. Helicopter tours and bus tours are available from many companies such as Papillon and Grand Canyon Coaches.
- Vessel and camping fees are separate from entrance fees. For more information about fees, visit the NPS site.
- If camping isn’t your thing, there are three lodging sites within the park itself: Cottonwood Cove Resort & Marina, Lake Mohave Resort at Katherine Landing, and Temple Bar Marina Resort.
- Pets are welcome, but dogs must be on a leash at all times.
- Looking for snacks or a meal? Visit the Las Vegas Boat Harbor (with the most options), Temple Bar Marina, Lake Mohave Resort, or Cottonwood Cove Resort for the park’s dining options.