Lake Mead National Recreation Area: Big, Diverse & Extreme

With striking landscapes and brilliant blue waters, this year-round playground spreads across 1.5 million acres of mountains, canyons, valleys, and two vast lakes

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

The Colorado River is dammed on both sides of the Grand Canyon, forming two huge artificial lakes: Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is big, it’s diverse, and it’s extreme. Temperatures can be harsh, from 120 degrees in the summer to well below freezing in winter on the high plateaus.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the mouth of the Grand Canyon, the park follows the Arizona-Nevada border along what was formerly 140 miles of the Colorado River. The main attraction here are the two large lakes: Mead and Mohave.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead is impressive: 1.5 million acres, 110 miles in length when the lake is full, 550 miles of shoreline, around 500 feet at its greatest depth, 255 square miles of surface water, and when filled to capacity, 28 million acre-feet of water.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sixty-seven-mile-long Lake Mohave, formed by Davis Dam near Bullhead City, still retains in its upper reaches some of the character of the old Colorado River. Literally millions of people use Lake Mead National Recreation Area each year with many of these visitors returning again and again to find that special cove, or campground, or just to sit on the shore and enjoy solitude of a quality that only nature can supply.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although much of Lake Mead can only be experienced by boat, a variety of campgrounds, marinas, lodges, and picnic areas around the lake make it possible for non-boaters to also enjoy the recreation area. Most activities are concentrated along the 20 miles of the southwest shore, close to Las Vegas.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Named after Dr. Elwood Mead, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner from 1924 to 1936, Lake Mead began filling in 1935 following the completion of Boulder Dam, later designated the Hoover Dam after the 31st president, across the river at Black Canyon, 25 miles from Las Vegas.

Indeed, it was the construction of the dam and the arrival of thousands of workers which prompted the legalization of gambling in Nevada and the consequent growth of the city.

The scenery is impressive enough—clear blue water beneath gaunt rocky cliffs, but much can only be appreciated using a boat as the majority of the innumerable sheltered coves and flooded canyons, often with clean, empty beaches for camping, are quite inaccessible by road.

Hoover Dam and Lake Mead © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are very few maintained trails though hiking opportunities are numerous. Most are cross-country, off-trail routes—destinations include narrow canyons, rock art sites, springs, and rock formations.

There are numerous access points to the shoreline especially the section northwest of Hoover Dam in Nevada which has numerous beaches, camping areas, and marinas.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Northshore Road (NV-16) parallels the water for 40 miles passing through a colorful and  empty desert environment with numerous side roads leading towards the water of which three are to developed marinas: Callville Bay, Echo Bay, and Overton Beach, though this latter is currently closed due to low water levels.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The surrounding desert is characterized by barren mountain ranges with occasional bright red or orange sandstone outcrops; nearby Valley of Fire State Park is spectacular. Aptly named, Valley of Fire features vivid sandstone cliffs and eroded rock formations in fiery hues.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the most visited section of Lake Mead is that closest to Las Vegas. Facilities include two large marinas at Boulder Beach and Las Vegas Bay, plus campgrounds, beaches, picnic areas, and the main National Recreation Area visitor center.

Lake Mead RV Village at Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead RV Village at Boulder Beach is a full-service campground that provides cable TV. Daily rates range from $34 to $50 plus 12 percent Clark County tax. Back-in, pull-through, and lakeview sites are available.

Lake Mead RV Village at Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The west side of Lake Mead has a number of free primitive campsites along tracks forking off Northshore Road, for example at Stewarts Point, near Overton Beach at the north end of the lake. Here, camping is allowed on a large area of the shoreline, which is flat, sandy, and sheltered.

Lake Mead RV Village at Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A variety of camping experiences are also available around Lake Mohave including Cottonwood Cove, Katherine Landing, and Willow Beach.

Worth Pondering…

A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye, looking into which, the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

—Henry David Thoreau

Plenty of Sand and Amazing Landscapes on this Grand Circle Tour

The American Southwest is famous for incredible scenery, red rock pinnacles and formations, brilliant sunsets, and deep canyons

This is uncommon land, for an uncommon experience.

Get your camera ready for this scenic route from Las Vegas to Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley, Petrified Forest, Grand Canyon, and other scenic wonders of the American West.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hoover Dam/Lake Mead

An engineering marvel, the Hoover Dam tamed the mighty Colorado River to provide hydroelectric power and much-needed water for the parched Southwest, creating Lake Mead in the process. Just 25 miles outside Las Vegas, Lake Mead National Recreational Area offers more than 550 miles of shoreline and year-round outdoor adventure. Whether it’s swimming, water skiing, boating or fishing, it’s all possible in this spectacular setting.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Zion National Park

Unlike most other Utah parks, Zion is a canyon viewed mostly from below. White and vermilion cliffs tower all around, some reaching nearly 8,000 feet. The main canyon was cut by the North Fork of the Virgin River. It is narrow, less than a quarter-mile wide. But it is deep, flanked by towering sandstone palisades 2,000-3,000 feet high that often draw rock climbers to its walls. The six-mile canyon drive ends at a formation known as Temple of Sinawava, where the canyon begins narrowing to a slot only 30-40 feet wide.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Bryce Canyon National Park

Discover a massive array of red rock spires that extend hundreds of feet into the air. Known as hoodoos, these totem-like formations rise in a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters. Explore deep canyons on foot or drive around the high elevation loop road and look out for Bryce’s bristlecone pines, the world’s oldest trees that date back 5,000 years.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Glen Canyon/Lake Powell

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based and backcountry recreation amid scenic vistas and geologic wonders. The second largest man-made lake in the U.S., Lake Powell is without doubt the most scenic, stretching 186 miles across the red rock desert from Page, Arizona to Hite, Utah.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Monument Valley

You’ll marvel at the 250-million-year-old red rock formations, the magical light, the starry night, and the Native American history that infuses this iconic landscape. Drive the 17-mile scenic loop road on your own or hire a guide to delve deeper into the storied region and to access off-limit sites. Camping at The View Campground offers the RV traveler a great opportunity to capture the incomparable sunrise and sunset hues. Don’t forget your cameras!

Hubbell Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hubbell Trading Post, Arizona

The squeaky wooden floor greets your entry. When your eyes adjust to the dim light in the “bullpen” you find you’ve entered a mercantile. Hubbell Trading Post has been serving Ganado selling goods and Native American Art since 1878. Little has changed in more than 140 years at the oldest operating trading post on the Navajo Reservation.

Visitors also can tour the Hubbell house; browse the visitor center (built in 1920 and used originally as a school); and see barns, corrals, wagons, and other historical farm equipment, as well as a variety of farm animals, including Churro sheep.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Petrified Forest National Park

Most visitors come to see the ancient tree trunks, which are preserved by minerals they absorbed after being submerged in a riverbed nearly 200 million years ago. And they’re quite a sight: Over time, the huge logs turned to solid, sparkling quartz in a rainbow of colors—the yellow of citrine, the purple of amethyst, the red-brown of jasper. This mineral-tinted landscape also boasts painted deserts and striated canyons.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Grand Canyon

The Colorado River cuts through the American west to create one of the natural wonders of the planet. A total of 277 miles long and up to a mile deep, it’s a geological masterpiece, with amazing vantage points along both the North and South rims. Over millions of years, the river sliced the landscape into sheer rock walls, revealing many layered colors, each marking a different geologic era.

Worth Pondering…

Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.

—Rachel Carson