Located just minutes from Las Vegas, Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a premier destination for millions of tourists and locals looking for a mix of adventure and natural beauty. More than 6 million people visit Lake Mead NRA each year, making it the sixth most-visited unit of the National Park System. At 1.5 million acres, the park is also the third largest area of the National Park Service, outside Alaska.
The lakes provide 290 square miles of water on which to boat, fish, swim, ski, sail and sun. Lake Mead is America’s largest reservoir with depths surpassing 500 feet. Nearly 87 percent of the 1.5 million-acre area of Lake Mead NRA is land, containing a wealth of natural and cultural resources in a setting of rugged mountains, desert washes, sheer cliffs, and colorful soils and rock formations.
Created by Act of Congress in 1964 as the nation’s first national recreation area, Lake Mead NRA stretches along nearly 140 miles of the old Colorado River channel between Nevada and Arizona. It includes both Lake Mead, created by Hoover Dam, and Lake Mohave, created by Davis Dam.
Three of America’s four desert ecosystems—the Mojave, the Great Basin and the Sonoran Deserts—meet in Lake Mead NRA. As a result, this seemingly barren area contains a surprising variety of plants and animals, some of which may be found nowhere else in the world.
Lake Mead is home to desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, mountains lions, coyotes, kit fox, bobcat, ringtail cat, desert tortoise, numerous lizards and snakes, and a wealth of bird species. Threatened and endangered species such as the desert tortoise and peregrine falcon are found here, as well as ancient Colorado River fish species.
A long geological history can be seen from the 1.8-billion-year-old gneiss of Saddle Island to the lava flows capping Fortification Hill formed about 6 million years ago. Archeological and historical sites and remnants are evidence of 12,000 to 13,000 years of human occupation. The western most expansion of the Virgin Anasazi at Pueblo Grande de Nevada, the construction of the engineering marvel Hoover Dam, and the B-29 Cold War remnant are a few illustrations the rich national heritage found within Lake Mead NRA.
Lakes Mead and Mohave offer some of the country’s best sport fishing. Largemouth bass, striped bass, rainbow trout, channel catfish, crappie and bluegill are found in both lakes.
Boating of all kinds is popular within Lake Mead NRA. Water-skiing and personal watercraft use are favorite activities on the broad expanses of open water. Sailboats and sailboards are also popular because of the dependable desert winds. The recreation area has seen increasing numbers of tour kayaks as that sport has grown in popularity. The recreation area provides a popular wilderness paddle experience in the scenic Black Canyon below the Hoover Dam. Swimming is the major form of water recreation during summer months when lake temperatures warm into the 80-degree range.
Nine developed areas are spread along the shores of lakes Mead and Mohave. These developments include a variety of services and facilities provided by the National Park Service and its concessioners, including food, lodging, boat rentals, groceries, sporting goods and more.
Along with the developed trails within Lake Mead NRA, hikers explore the backcountry. Hiking is allowed anywhere in the recreation area, and numerous destination sites and known routes are explored by individuals and active hiking groups in the cooler hiking season from November to March. Although off-road travel is prohibited, 800 miles of backcountry roads offer a variety of access and challenges to backcountry driving enthusiasts.