11 Best Sights in Southeast Nevada, Nevada

Hoover Dam

Fodor's choice

Originally referred to as Boulder Dam, this colossal structure, widely considered one of the greatest engineering achievements in history, was later officially named Hoover Dam in recognition of President Herbert Hoover's role in the project. Look for artist Oskar Hansen's plaza sculptures, which include the 30-foot-tall Winged Figures of the Republic (the statues and terrazzo floor patterns were copied at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown Las Vegas).

The tour itself is a tradition that dates back to 1937, and you can still see the old box office on top of the dam. But now the ticketed tours originate in the modern visitor center (or online), with two options. The cheaper, more popular one is the Powerplant Tour, which starts every 15 minutes. It's a half-hour, guided tour that includes a short film and then a 537-foot elevator ride to two points of interest: the chance to stand on top of one of the 30-foot pipes where you can hear and feel the water rushing through to the generators, and the more impressive eight-story room housing still-functional power generators. Self-paced exhibits follow the guided portion, with good interactive museum exhibits and a great indoor/outdoor patio view of the dam from the river side. The more extensive Hoover Dam Tour includes everything on the Powerplant Tour but limits the group size to 20 and spends more time inside the dam, including a peek through the air vents. Tours run from 9 to 5 all year, with the last Powerplant tour leaving at 3:45 pm daily, and the last Hoover Dam Tour at 3:30. Visitors for both tours submit to security screening comparable to an airport. January and February are the slowest months, and mornings generally are less busy. The top of the dam is open to pedestrians and vehicles, but you have to remain in your vehicle after sundown. Visitors can still drive over the dam for sightseeing, but cannot continue into Arizona; you have to turn around and come back after the road dead-ends at a scenic lookout (with a snack bar and store) on the Arizona side.

The dam's High Scaler Café offers fare such as cold drinks, ice cream, and hamburgers.

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U.S. 93, Boulder City, NV, 89005, USA
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Guided Powerplant Tour $15, Guided Dam Tour $30, self-guided visitor center $10; garage parking $10 (free parking on Arizona-side surface lots), Daily 9–5

Mt. Charleston

Outskirts Fodor's choice

Sin City's refuge for hikers, naturalist, skiers, campers and just about anyone who wants to escape the desert valley for the forest, Mt. Charleston is the highest peak in Clark County and it offers year-round outdoor recreation. Trails include a difficult hike to Mt. Charleston peak, the range's high point. Easier trails lead to seasonal waterfalls or rare, dripping springs where dainty columbine and stunted aspens spill down ravines and hummingbirds zoom. Or they might lead onto high, dry ridges where ancient bristlecone trees have become twisted and burnished with age.

Valley of Fire State Park

Fodor's choice

Valley of Fire's jumbled rock formations are remnants of hardened sand dunes more than 150 million years old. You find petrified trees and one of the park's most photographed features—Elephant Rock—just steps off the main road. Mysterious petroglyphs (carvings etched into the rocks) are believed to be the work of the Basketmaker and early Puebloan people, with their occupation in the area estimated from 300 BC to AD 1150. The easy, essential trail is Mouse's Tank, named for an outlaw who hid out here and managed to find water; so will you in cooler months (but not for drinking). It's a short walk with views of petroglyphs and shaded by steep canyon walls. Sci-fi fans also might recognize Fire Canyon as the alien planet in Starship Troopers and several other movies.

The Valley of Fire Visitor Center was remodeled in 2011 and has displays on the park's history, ecology, archaeology, and recreation, as well as slide shows and films, and information about the two campgrounds (72 campsites, 20 of them with power and water for RVs) within the park. Campsites at Atlatl Rock and Arch Rock Campgrounds are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The park is open year-round; the best times to visit, especially during the heat of summer, are sunrise and sunset, when the light is truly spectacular.

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Recommended Fodor's Video

Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum

For its size, this small museum inside the Boulder Dam Hotel is well done. It includes hands-on exhibits, oral histories, artifacts from the building of Hoover Dam, and a glimpse at what it was like for Great Depression–era families to pull up roots and settle in the rock and dust of the harsh Mojave Desert. And don't forget to ask museum staff about the city's audio walking tour of 11 historical sites around town.

1305 Arizona St., Boulder City, NV, 89005, USA
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Free, Daily 10–5

Boulder Dam Hotel

Be sure to stop at the Dutch Colonial–style Boulder Dam Hotel, built in 1933. On the National Register of Historic Places, the 20-room bed-and-breakfast once was a favorite getaway for notables, including the man who became Pope Pius XII and actors Will Rogers, Bette Davis, and Shirley Temple. It's still a point of pride for Boulder City and the heart of downtown. The guest rooms have been remodeled to stay competitive but retain a historic feel. There's also a small art gallery featuring the works of local and regional artists, and you can soothe the skin from the dry desert air with a facial at Healing Hands Esthetics by Jeannie.

Christmas Tree Pass Road

Christmas Tree Pass Road is a dirt road that provides a gorgeous drive through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area to an extensive petroglyph site in Grapevine Canyon. This side route runs 16 miles through a desert landscape sacred to several historical and modern native tribes. The pass cuts through the rough-cut Newberry Range near legendary Spirit Mountain, with several turnouts (but no designated hiking trails) before the Grapevine Canyon trail. It's the kind of drive you imagined when you bought your SUV, one that also should make sedan drivers extremely wary. Sedans can take a shorter, easier route to the Grapevine Canyon trail by instead approaching from the Laughlin side (U.S. 163), which reduces the dirt-and-gravel drive to two of its easier miles. The Grapevine trail has a parking lot with latrines (no running water) and a ¼-mile walk to the springs, which served as the central gathering point for Yuman- and Numic-speaking tribes, whose messages are etched on the canyon boulders. It's a more pleasant walk in the winter, when water is often channeling through the canyon. The trail around the springs also offers a chance to see desert wildflowers and blooming cacti in spring and early summer. The drive reconnects with U.S. 163 15 miles northwest of Laughlin.

Colorado River Museum

Now located in Bullhead City Community Park, the Colorado River Museum displays the rich past of the tristate region where Nevada, Arizona, and California converge. Earnest volunteers guide you through the haphazard array of artifacts from the Mojave tribe and the gold rush era in nearby Oatman. There are also exhibits on the building of Davis Dam, 18th-century explorer Father Francisco Garcés, and the experimental use of camels in the area by a pre–Civil War U.S. Army.

1239 AZ 95, Bullhead City, AZ, 86429, USA
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $2, Closed June--Aug. and Sat.--Mon., Sept.–June, Tues.–Sat. 10–4

Lake Mead

People come to Lake Mead primarily for boating and fishing. Adjacent marinas offer watercraft rentals, restaurants, and paddle-wheeler cruises; the turn-off for them is just past the entry gate. A few cultivated areas allow for swimming but they are not designated swim beaches, so no lifeguards are on duty. In fact, the National Park Service highly recommends wearing life jackets, as high winds come up fast on the lake making for potentially dangerous swimming conditions. The rocky Boulder Beach swimming area is about 2 miles past the visitor center.

A fishing license is required within the states of Nevada and Arizona, so if you plan on fishing Lake Mead, get one.

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10 Lakeshore Dr., Boulder City, NV, 89005, USA
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $25 per vehicle, good for 7 days; lake-use fee $16 for 1st vessel, good for 7 days. Annual pass is $45 per vehicle or $50 per vessel. Regular camping is $20 per site, per night; group camping (12--30 people) is $80 per site, per night

Lost City Museum

The Moapa Valley has one of the finest collections of ancestral Puebloan artifacts in the American Southwest. Lost City, officially known as Pueblo Grande de Nevada, was a major outpost of the ancient culture. The museum's artifacts include baskets, weapons, a restored Basketmaker pit house, reconstructed pueblo houses, and black-and-white photographs of the excavation of Lost City in the 1920s and '30s. To get to the Lost City Museum from Valley of Fire, pass the park's east entrance and head north onto Northshore Drive, which becomes state route 169, toward Overton.

721 S. Moapa Valley Blvd., Overton, NV, 89040, USA
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $5, Closed Mon. and Tues., Daily 8:30–4:30, closed major holidays

Searchlight Historic Museum

Searchlight was once the biggest boomtown in southern Nevada, and some of its rich mining and railroad history is now compressed into a one-room museum inside the local community center. Visitors will find an assayer's office, outdoor mining display, and exhibits devoted to notables with ties to the area, including silent-screen star Clara Bow and early aviation heroes such as record-breaking test pilot John Macready.

200 Michael Wendell Way, Searchlight, NV, 89046, USA
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Free, Closed Sun., Weekdays 9–5, Sat. 9–1

The Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

The Hoover Dam now has sightseer competition from the spectacular bridge that was built to bypass it. The Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge (named for the popular Nevada governor and the Arizona football star who was killed in Afghanistan) is the western hemisphere's longest single-span concrete arch bridge. It runs 1,905 feet long, and towers nearly 900 feet above the river and 280 feet above Hoover Dam. You don't see much by driving over it—scarcely anything from a sedan—but walking it is quite a thrill. A pedestrian walkway is well separated from the driving lanes, the access path to the bridge has informational signage, and ramps offer an alternative to the steps. There are restrooms in the parking lot (labeled "Memorial Bridge Plaza"), where it can be hard to find a parking space on weekends. (If you can't get a spot, drive a few yards past the parking lot entrance and turn left into the lot for a trailhead on the other side of the road.) Bring water and sunscreen for the walk, and be prepared for broiling summer temperatures; there is no shade.

Remember to take Exit 2 if you want to go to the dam instead of the bypass bridge, or you will have to drive across it and turn back to visit the dam.

U.S. 93, Boulder City, NV, 89005, USA