The Hoover Dam is one of the most amazing structural feats in our great country. Chiseled into the middle of desert rock, it holds interest for many more than just the history buffs among us. Unfortunately, there can be lots of traffic on the road getting to the dam, and the accompanying parking lot can be packed. So ditch the car, make a day of it, and access the dam by mountain biking the Old Railroad Trial from Lake Mead. I recently did this ride with a friend late in the afternoon, and we were rewarded with killer views of the sunset on the ride back.
Take Highway 93 from Las Vegas through Boulder City. At the main light in town, the 93 splits right and left. Head left on 93 descending down to the lake. You’ll already catch some of the great views that you’ll see along the ride. At Lakeshore Drive, take a left, then a quick right into the parking lot which is outside the fee area. We packed our camp chairs as well as our bikes and had lunch in the parking lot after our ride. Not only do you not have to pay an entry fee, the lake and mountain view from the parking lot is tremendous.
The trailhead is just behind the bathrooms in the parking lot. At first glance you’ll think your recreational “street” bike tires are legit for this ride, but don’t mess around with the double wide trail. Although flat and easy, the ride definitely calls for mountain bike tires. Front and rear shocks will make the ride more luxurious. I did this ride on a Marin city bike. I was longing for my front and rear suspension mountain bike, but didn’t want to have a better ride than my friend who also rode on a hybrid. We both jolted along on smooth tires without suspension. Be prepared for a rocky yet flat trail.
The Old Railroad Tunnels
Aside from offering some much needed shade (this ride is hot, wide open, and very sunny), these tunnels are just plain fun to ride through. For those who need a break, there are benches placed in between tunnels, each offering an excellent view of Lake Mead. We got a kick out of needing to turn our front bike lights on as we rode through each tunnel.
Descending to the Dam
After passing through the tunnels, all of which are on a flat and well-groomed (but rocky) double wide trail, the final portion of the trail descends through a gate slightly down hill to the Hoover Dam parking lot. At this point, lock your bike (there are stands), and walk down the stairs to the front of the parking structure. The newly constructed Pat Tillman bridge will be visible on your right, while the historic dam will be on your left. Walk to the dam (and across it) by turning left outside the parking structure.
The ride is about 8.4 miles round trip. Add in the walk to and across the dam and you have a pretty nice little “hike and bike” workout. Oh, and don’t forget the stairs down – and back up – through the parking structure to get to the dam. Accessing one of the nation’s great structural feats via mountain bike and on foot is not only fulfilling and inspiring, it is efficient.