Vacationing at Lake Mead: Swimming, Scenery, Serenity

White clouds in blue sky over the red rock mountains of the Boulder Basin at Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Encompassing an incredible 1.5 million acres in two states, Lake Mead National Recreation Area has gained a well-deserved reputation as America’s most diverse national recreation area. It’s a place where rugged mountains, lush valleys, arid desert, and shimmering fresh water come together to provide unmatched opportunities to experience and explore. 

Take to the Water

Of course, capable of holding 28 million acre-feet of water at full capacity, the recreation area’s centerpiece is Lake Mead, a vast man-made reservoir that offers opportunities for every imaginable water sport.

At Lake Mead, swimming is always a popular way to enjoy the water, though visitors should keep in mind that there are no designated beaches or lifeguards. The recreation area also offers several marinas where you can launch a boat, along with plenty of hidden coves to discover via canoe and kayak. Excellent fishing is available for bass, catfish, and other species, and Lake Mead is one of America’s best freshwater scuba diving lakes. 

Hit the Trail

Lake Mead National Recreation Area offers some of the best hikes near Las Vegas, with miles of trails to suit hikers of all fitness levels. The recreation area protects a vast area of the Mojave Desert, and the trails that traverse this rugged landscape offer an opportunity to see a variety of unique rock formations and rare desert animals.

Be sure to check out the National Park Service trail guide to the park, and choose a trail that suits your skill level. Highlights include: 

  • Historic Railroad: This easy 7.5-mile trail traverses the lakeshore and passes through five tunnels to Hoover Dam. 
  • Wetlands: A 1.5-mile trail of moderate difficulty, the Wetlands Trail offers some of the region’s best bird-watching opportunities. 
  • Liberty Bell Arch: This strenuous trail stretches 5.5 miles and covers some difficult terrain, but rewards hikers with excellent views of a natural stone arch and the Colorado River. 

Many trails in the park are open to horseback riding as well, while cyclists will find a wide range of biking routes, including several mountain biking trails and miles of backcountry roads. 

Spend the Night

Lake Mead National Recreation Area includes more than a dozen campgrounds, many of them with easy access to Lake Mead and neighboring Lake Mojave. Primitive tent camping sites are available, as well as full-hookup sites for RVs from park concessioners. You can reserve a site online, but many campgrounds are left open for campers to claim on a first-come, first-served basis. Numerous areas of the park are also open to backcountry camping. 

Bring Your Four-Legged Friend

Pets are more than welcome at Lake Mead Recreation Area. In fact, it’s one of America’s most dog-friendly national parks, so feel free to bring your dog with you to Lake Mead’s hiking trails. Just keep in mind that park rules require pets to be on a 6-foot leash and never left unattended. Also, remember that the temperatures in the dessert climate can soar, leading to heat stroke if your pet is not properly cared for!

Lake Mead National Recreation Area offers countless opportunities for anyone with a thirst for adventure and an appreciation for incredible scenery. Placid blue lakes and the surrounding desserts allow for plenty of outdoor activities and eye-catching pictures. #FindYourPark at Lake Mead National Recreation Area and its nine wilderness areas to see a whole new side of Arizona and Nevada.


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