Hoover Dam has often been referred to as one of the engineering wonders of the world, and for good reason: Almost seven million tons of concrete rise 726 feet (218 m) from the bottom of Black Canyon, holding back the 247 square miles (398 sq. km) of water that make up Lake Mead. While tours of the dam are always exciting, those have been curtailed due to post-9/11 security concerns. However, it’s still possible to enjoy the dam’s monumental splendor from the surging water that spills over it by taking a kayak or canoeing tour of the Colorado River. Riding the water surrounding this manmade marvel provides an awe-inspiring, adrenaline-inducing experience that will make your trip to Sin City a one-of-a-kind adventure.
Hoover Dam is just 30 miles (28km) southeast of Las Vegas, but it’s a world away from the flashing lights and bing-bing-bing noise of the Strip’s casinos. Most kayak tour operators will pick up guests right at their hotels. Kayaking tours depart from the bottom of Lower Portal Road at the landing just below the dam; it’s a high-security area, so arrange with a licensed livery service if you’re bringing your own watercraft to the landing, or simply sign on for an organized tour.
The Bureau of Reclamation (the government agency responsible for the dam) dug an exploratory cave before building Hoover Dam; that cave is now known as Sauna Cave for its warm mineral waters. In fact, numerous hot springs and hot waterfalls are located along this stretch of the Colorado River, so bring a swimsuit, as well as other action-ready gear like sunscreen, a hat, and appropriate footwear (some tour operators include water shoes in their package).
Other caves known as “rain caves” are right on the river’s edge; some can be kayaked right into. And there are plenty of narrow slot canyons that make ideal hiking destinations. Whether in the water or on land, keep an eye peeled for the wildlife that frequents this area: bighorn sheep, falcons, bald eagles, and coyotes call this desert wonderland home.
Bureau of Reclamation Lower Colorado Region ( 702 /494-2517; www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam).
Tours: Boulder City Outfitters ( 800/748-3702; www.bouldercityoutfitters.com). Desert Adventures ( 702/293-5026; www.kayaklasvegas.com).
When to Go: Sept–Apr.
Las Vegas (30 miles/48km).
$$ Las Vegas Hilton, 3000 Paradise Rd. ( 800/732-7117 or 702/732-5111; www.lvhilton.com).
$$ Luxor Las Vegas, 3900 Las Vegas Blvd. S. ( 888/777-0188 or 702/262-4444; www.luxor.com).