Historic Railroad Trail and Hoover Dam

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 Historic Railroad Trail and the Hoover Dam

Boulder City, Nevada

March 31, 2021


 The plan was to head to the Lake Mead Recreation Area in Boulder City, Nevada on Wednesday and drive the Extraterrestrial Highway on Thursday.  I wanted to get to Lake Mead around 9am which is when the visitor center opens.  We arrived at the Lake Mead Visitor Center a bit after 9am, and I made a few purchases and got a guide for the Historic Railroad Trail we were going to hike.  I chose this trail as it seemed to be an area full of history and a very easy hike for us since we are not hikers, and my boyfriend leads a fairly sedentary lifestyle.  The Historic Railroad Trail is approximately 8 miles from Lake Mead to the Hoover Dam, and it is split into two sections.  Most of the trail is on National Park Service land and the Eastern section is on the property of the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation, and it’s very obvious when you have reached the border of these two properties.  There is a rest area just past tunnel 5 with a pit toilet, water fountain and a single shaded picnic table.  This is also where one of the two emergency beacon stations is located. 

Parts of the concrete plugs removed from the Hoover Dam and used to build up the ground for the railroad
More Concrete plugs
One of many views of Lake Mead

The Lake Mead section of the trail is full of beautiful views of Lake Mead and informational signage along the trail.  The weather was perfect for our hike as it didn’t reach the high of 72 degrees Fahrenheit until our return trip back to the Lake Mead Visitor Center where we had parked.  There was a strong and cool breeze while on the lake portion of the trail, and the tunnels were quite cool as well. There are also some unshaded benches along the route to take a rest and enjoy the incredible views. 

 Hiking shoes are not necessary for this hike, but I do recommend I good sneaker with some decent traction.  The trail is pretty well packed dirt, but that is covered in loose gravel and stones.  There is a “shortcut” on the Bureau of Reclamation side where good shoe traction is helpful as it’s pretty steep. 

Tunnel 1 Entrance
Tunnel 1 or 2
Rest area

You can read more about the history of this trail and the various tunnels here or the National Park Service website.


Sign for shortcut to Hoover Dam


Old Turbine from the Hoover Dam

We took the shortcut to get to the Hoover Dam and would take the long way to see the Hoover Dam boneyard on our hike back to the car.  It was a little confusing about whether the trail actually takes you to the Hoover Dam.  It does, but you cross a service road next to a parking lot and there is a bike rack and a picnic table there.  Go past the picnic table and down the paved switchbacks (they’re pretty steep so use extreme caution if you have a stroller, wagon, or wheelchair) which take you to the top level of the Hoover Dam parking structure.  You can see the Hoover Dam from the other side of the parking structure if you don’t feel the need to get up close. 

Go down the switchbacks and across the parking structure to see the Hoover Dam
View of the Hoover Dam from the parking structure

I had never been to the Hoover Dam so we took the elevator down to the Dam area, and it was really crowded there so we didn’t spend much time at the dam itself.  The Hoover Dam visitor center and tours are closed due to COVID, but the café and mercantile (gift shop) were open.  We were going to check out the gift shop, but it was so freaking crowded in there I didn’t go past the doorway.  I really didn’t want to buy anything since I would have to carry it on the hike back, but I wanted to enjoy the air conditioning as it was getting warm and there wasn’t that cool breeze anymore. 

We got back up to the trail and I took a break at the top of the ramp from the Hoover Dam since those switchbacks were harder to walk than the whole trail!  I drank some water and caught my breath before we headed back onto the trail. 

The switchbacks to get back onto the trail

We took the long way so that we could see the Hoover Dam boneyard, and there’s also what looks like a helicopter pad with the other emergency beacon and a bench there. 

Hoover Dam Boneyard

When we reached the “border” there wasn’t anyone there so we took another break at the shaded picnic bench and read the informational signs located there.  Then we head back to the Lake Mead section of the trail where I soon spotted a little lizard.  The only wildlife besides birds that we had seen on our hike. 

Here lizard, lizard.

Even though it was mid-day, it was still much cooler when we got the tunnels and lake section of the trail.  It was uphill from the trail to the visitor’s center where my car was parked.  I had forgotten to get my National Parks Passport stamped at the Visitor’s Center in the morning so I grabbed it from the car and went inside to get the stamp.  I was so happy to finally sit inside my car with the air conditioning blasting.  We hit quite a bit of traffic heading into Las Vegas, and I was so happy to finally get up to our room to take a shower then relax before we headed for an early dinner. 

Eastbound side of Tunnel 3 or Tunnel 4

The Historic Railroad Trail is located just outside the pay station to access Lake Mead so you don’t have to pay for a National Park admission to hike the trail.  There is a dedicated parking lot for the trail, but it’s pretty small so parking at the Visitor’s Center can be a good alternative.  Remember to clean up after your animals and dispose of all trash in the proper receptacles to keep these areas clean for humans and critters alike.