One of the more interesting things to do while visiting Las Vegas is to go see Hoover Dam. I head over to the dam several times a year because it’s close by and it’s just so cool! Also, it doesn’t hurt that it’s a free to inexpensive outing depending on what I choose to do while I’m there.
Is it free to visit the Hoover Dam?
Yes, it is free to visit the Hoover Dam. You can drive or walk across the Hoover Dam and the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge (the bypass bridge across the Colorado River) for free; however, some things, like parking and tours inside the dam, can cost extra but are entirely optional.
Things that do cost are:
- Parking – $10.00 (I’ll tell you where to park for free further below)
- Visitor Center – $10.00 per person
- Power Plant Tour – $15.00 per person
- Guided Dam Tour – $30.00 per person.
If you’re heading to Las Vegas, then the Hoover Dam is a must-see attraction. Below I’ll tell you all about it, how to visit the dam for free, why it’s worth taking a Power Plant tour, and show you some pictures of the sights you’ll be seeing.
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What Makes the Hoover Dam a Must-See Las Vegas Attraction?
Hoover Dam is an impressive, 726-foot tall feat of engineering that draws visitors from all over the world. The dam is an arch-gravity dam, which means that the dam curves upstream towards the water source, which distributes the pressure of the water outwards to the canyon walls. The structure is built in a way that uses the natural structures in the surrounding canyon to compress the dam and help increase pressure. (source)
The Hoover Dam was constructed during the Great Depression and took five-years to build. It was constructed by thousands of workers and ended up costing over one hundred of the construction workers their lives.
Hoover Dam is a hydroelectric dam (powered by the Colorado River) and produces a total output of over 4 terawatt-hours a year. That is over four trillion watts per hour!
The dam spans the Colorado River, creating Lake Mead above the dam, which is one of the largest reservoirs in the country. Numerous species of wildlife inhabit the surrounding areas, including big horned sheep, golden eagles, and many other species native to the area. The views around the area are breathtaking and well worth the trip.
How to Visit the Hoover Dam for Free
One of the nice things about planning a trip to Hoover Dam is it is a great family-friendly activity to do while visiting Las Vegas. You can even visit it for free if you’re willing to make a couple of concessions.
While the parking garage that is closest to the visitor center does have a cost, there is a free public parking lot or two across the dam on the Arizona side, though these may require a longer walk to the dam itself. These are also the only parking areas at the dam that can accommodate an RV.
To visit the dam for free you’ll need to:
- park on the Arizona side and walk back to the Visitor Center area
- be satisfied with seeing the outside of the dam only
The Dam spans the Colorado River which is the border between Nevada and Arizona. There are powerhouses and spillways on each respective side of the river. As mentioned earlier, you can walk and drive across the Hoover Dam for free. You can also walk the areas around the spillways and the powerplant on the exterior of the dam where permitted.
On the drive up to Hoover Dam (google maps), there is a wonderful stop at the Hoover Dam bypass bridge, officially named the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge (google maps). This bridge is an equally interesting feat of engineering and offers some of the absolute best views of the Hoover Dam, the Colorado River, and the surrounding area (a great photo op).
The bridge spans Black Canyon, which was carved by the Colorado River down below. One thing to keep in mind while visiting the largest, arch-bridge in North America is that it can be windy atop the bridge. Also, I must admit that being on this bridge scares me half to death. It’s really, really high above the canyon and I’ve got a thing about heights. My husband Bryan goes out on the memorial bridge all the time and loves it. To each their own I guess:) It’s perfectly safe but be prepared for how high it is.
After a stop at the bridge, hop back in the car and drive another mile or so to the dam. An important thing to keep in mind when visiting Hoover Dam is that you will be walking the length of the dam, which is about half a mile across and back.
With the dam being in the desert, it’s essential to pack plenty of water, snacks, a hat, and sunglasses (these are the highest-rated sunglasses I’ve ever seen on amazon. I love mine!) if you’re planning on spending any time here.
This is especially true in the summer months when it feels like an oven out there. The nice thing is with a little preparation and willingness to walk just a bit more; it is possible to visit the Hoover Dam for free.
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From the top of the Dam, you will be able to enjoy breathtaking views on either side of the Dam, as well as view the state line that divides Nevada and Arizona. The state line is one of the most popular photo ops and you’ll find it and a nice plaque along the sidewalk in the middle of the Dam.
(If you want to save money on Las Vegas attractions, you may want to consider picking up the Las Vegas Sightseeing Pass. One price for a bunch of attractions in Vegas. See our full review of the sightseeing pass on our website here)
If you’d rather keep things simple, you can take a Hoover Dam Tour from Las Vegas. For one price, a shuttle tour will include transportation, a tour guide, interior and exterior tours of the dam, and access to the visitor center. All the best parts of visiting the dam without worrying about directions, parking, etc.
What Do You See on the Dam Tour Versus Power Plant Tour
If you aren’t as concerned with visiting the Hoover Dam on a tight budget, two tours are available that will take you inside the giant structure. Both of these tours will allow you access to the Visitor Center and the Power Plant but the Guided Hoover Dam Tour is longer and more in-depth. Both tours offer an inside look at the tunnels and internal workings of the dam.
Many visitors who want to be sure that they can see the Power Plant (this is definitely the highlight of an inside tour) will opt for the Power Plant Tour, for the sole reason that they can purchase their tickets online in advance from the Hoover Dam website.
The Guided Dam tour is available with tickets purchased on-site only and are sold on a first-come, first-serve basis. Tour schedules do fill up when it’s busy so purchasing the Power Plant tickets online ensures that you will be able to get inside the dam.
One thing to keep in mind when deciding between the two tours is that there are age restrictions for the full Guided Dam Tour. Children must be over 8 years old to participate in the Guided Dam Tour, but younger children can go on the Power Plant Tour instead or visit the Visitor’s Center.
The Guided Dam tour will help you view the tunnels and original elevator that are part of the Dam, as well as get views of the Colorado River from the internal inspections shafts. One of the best values of the Guided Dam tour is that it also includes the Power Plant Tour as well. The Power Plant Tours allow visitors to view eight of the huge turbines that create hydroelectric power from the water rushing through the dam.
The self-guided tour of the Visitor Center is included with both tours or is available for purchase separately. We’ve all probably seen Visitor Centers at National Parks and generally speaking, I wouldn’t pay $10 to get into a Visitor Center/Gift Shop so what’s the big deal with this center?
After looking through the Visitor Center and gift shop head out to the Observation Deck where you’ll get an amazing, 360-degree view of the Dam. The deck juts out a bit over the canyon edge giving you an incredible view of the dam, the Colorado River and the surrounding canyon walls.
To find out everything you’ll want to know about visiting Hoover Dam in your own car as well as options for guided tours to the dam from Las Vegas you’ll want to check out our Complete Hoover Dam Guide on our website here.
What Other Things Can You Do Around the Hoover Dam
While Hoover Dam can be visited from the Las Vegas Strip in just 2-3 hours, I suggest making a day trip out of it and seeing some of the other sites on the way to and from the Dam. The area around Boulder City and Lake Mead has a wide variety of activities you can add to your day as well.
Several companies offer a Helicopter tour of the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. You can often find these activities included along with tours of the dam from Vegas. There are also several boat tours around Lake Mead as well that will help give you a different perspective of the area. See our article here for more info about all the things to do around Hoover Dam.
The Hoover Dam is one of the seven engineering wonders of the modern world, and the views and experiences are well worth the short trip from Las Vegas. Since so many things in Las Vegas can be expensive, it’s nice to be able to take a free or inexpensive trip to visit the Hoover Dam.
Since the dam is on the way to the south rim and west rim of Grand Canyon from Las Vegas, it can be a great addition to the drive out to see the canyon. There are several companies in the area that offer combination packages for tours of both like this one.
Whether you experience Hoover Dam on a short day trip or as part of a longer tour, it is well worth a visit and will give you terrific memories that will last a lifetime.