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It’s hard to believe that there’s a boating oasis without a hint of neon just 30 miles or so southeast of bustling Las Vegas. But Lake Mead’s sparkling blue water, contrasted by the surrounding desert, makes for a convenient boating odyssey--whether or not the neon lights of Las Vegas are part of the trip.

Fall and early-winter provide a perfect time to visit 110-mile-long Lake Mead, which straddles the border between Nevada and Arizona. The grueling desert sun has lost its summer sting and vacation throngs have left, making an already large lake and land mass seem even less-crowded. Anytime of year, most of the crowds head to nearby Hoover Dam anyway (the dam formed the lake), leaving Lake Mead visitors happily lonely.

The best place to start a Lake Mead adventure is at the Alan Bible Visitor Center, located four miles from Boulder City and just 30 miles from the Las Vegas Strip. With helpful staff and great introductory exhibits, the Visitor Center is open from 8:30a.m. to 4:30p.m. every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

The Visitor Center is run by the Lake Mead National Recreation Area (NRA), which is part of the National Park Service. The NRA encompasses all of Lake Mead, as well as Black Canyon and Lake Mohave to the south and all of the land surrounding the water (a total of 1.5 million acres and nearly 1,000 miles of shoreline).

Once past the Visitor Center, where entrance and lake user fees apply, Lake Mead is just two miles ahead at Boulder Beach. Boulder Beach is typical of Lake Mead’s six developed areas for boating, other watersports, and great camping if you so desire (see below). Other options include: Las Vegas Wash (10 miles from the Visitor Center); Callville Bay (27 miles); Echo Bay (49 miles); Overton Beach (63 miles); and Temple Bar (50 miles from the Visitor Center and on the Arizona side of Lake Mead).

All of the developed areas include food services, grocery and gift shopping, fuel, and marinas. Concession-run lodging is also available on the lake, as well as in nearby towns like Boulder City, Henderson, and Laughlin in Nevada, Bullhead City and Kingman in Arizona, and Needles in California.

On the Water

Lake Mead’s boating and other watersports options abound. The possibilities include swimming, boating, fishing, jet skiing, waterskiing, windsurfing, scuba diving, and more. If you don’t bring your own watercraft or equipment, it’s typically available for rental at one of the marinas. Houseboat rentals and a variety of boat tours and rafting trips can also be arranged.

Although Lake Mead is the NRA’s major attraction, it can often seem as empty as the surrounding desert. Sailboats, power boats, fishing boats, and more can all share the water without it seeming crowded.

Boaters will also find they can see and reach many scenic areas that are inaccessible to those traveling solely by car. For example, boats can easily travel up the narrow, steep-walled gorge of Iceberg Canyon in Lake Mead or down the equally spectacular Black Canyon, which leads to Lake Mohave. Boaters can also investigate secluded coves, formed by fingers of the desert jutting out into the water and often making great sandy beaches for beachcombing or backcountry camping.

Underneath the surface, fishermen (and women) are drawn to Lake Mead like gamblers to Las Vegas. Largemouth bass, rainbow trout, striped bass, channel catfish, black crappie, and bluegill are all popular catches. For those who simply want to see the fish, rather than catch them, scuba diving is yet another option.

On Dry Land

Along with great boating, Lake Mead makes land-based activities just as fun as those for the wet set. Some super scenic drives wind through the dramatic desert scenery of Lake Mead country. Towering stark mountains, vertical-walled canyons, plateaus, and desert basins of cactus make drives that follow the Lakeshore and Northshore Scenic Drives along the lake well worthwhile. Another interesting drive takes you through one of the world’s finest Joshua-tree forests on the road to Pearce Ferry.

Picnicking and hiking can both be a great part of these dry land explorations. Just be sure to take plenty of water and, if it gets to hot, just go for the H2O in cooling Lake Mead!


Contact the Lake Mead National Recreation Area (NRA) at 601 Nevada Highway, Boulder City, NV 89005-2426; 702-293-8990; www.nps.gov/lame. In addition, Lake Mead’s marinas, resorts, boat cruise companies, and others have gotten together to form a great website, so be sure to check out www.funonthelake.com before your boating adventure!