Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Southern Nevada

A popular boating, swimming and weekend-camping destination for local residents, it’s less than an hour’s drive from Las Vegas to the most visited northern section of the 1.5-million-acre Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Within this protected area of the almost unbearably dry Mojave Desert are Lake Mead, which extends 110 miles toward the Grand Canyon, 67-mile-long Lake Mohave, which runs along the Arizona–Nevada border, and miles of spectacular desert around the lakes.

While most visitors come to Lake Mead for the water, there is a handful of hiking trails, too, most of which are short. At Grapevine Canyon near Lake Mohave, for instance, a quarter-mile jaunt takes you to a petroglyph panel, but if you want you can boulder-hop further up the gorge, which cups a ribbon-like stream trickling down from a spring. Longer routes include a 3.7-mile trail along a historic railway line with five tunnels that links the Lake Mead Visitor Center to Hoover Dam. The most challenging hike in the park follows a 3-mile trail down 800ft to a set of hot springs in a slot off Black Canyon (this one's not recommended in summer).

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Southern Nevada attractions

2. Hoover Dam

4.49 MILES

At the height of the Depression, thousands of men and their families migrated here and worked in excruciating conditions, dangling hundreds of feet above…

3. Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum

6.46 MILES

Upstairs at the historic Boulder Dam Hotel (where Bette Davis, Franklin D Roosevelt and Howard Hughes once slept), this small but engaging museum focuses…

4. Lake Las Vegas

8.06 MILES

Lake Las Vegas was created by damming the Las Vegas Wash, an intermittent creek that drains the metropolitan area. Fitting for its desert locale, Lake Las…

5. Clark County Museum

9.51 MILES

Amble among re-creations of what the Las Vegas region looked like decades and even centuries before the modern neon-lit era of casinos and hotels. From…

6. Henderson Booze District

12.95 MILES

For connoisseurs of brews and distilled spirits, a visit to the Henderson Booze District is a must. Here beer lovers will find CraftHaus Brewery and Bad…

7. Cowabunga Bay

13.29 MILES

Kids go crazy for this massive, seasonal water park with slides, surfing, swimming, a lazy river, and cabanas for the big kids who paid for the tickets…

8. Clark County Wetlands Park

13.37 MILES

Las Vegas is located in the parched Mojave Desert, but it's not bone dry. Case in point: the wetlands that comprise this oasis-like park. The water that…