When you think of Nevada you think of the Glitz and Glam of Las Vegas but Nevada offers so much more than just casinos and the night life within the casino walls. We traveled to Nevada on a Wednesday morning in February for a work trip. I have been wanting to do some of the hikes by Lake Mead but not during the summer when we usually go. Since most of the morning was a travel day we decided to make a detour to the one of the trails I had on my list, the Historic Railroad Hiking Trail along Lake Mead to the Hoover Dam.
A little history about the railway. The total railway that extended into Boulder City and Las Vegas, was created in 1930 to move material and equipment to The Hoover Dam while it was being built. The part of the railway that the trail explores has 5 tunnels. The extra large tunnels that were 25 feet wide and 30 feet high were built through red volcanic rock. They needed them larger then normal to move the equipment and material that were larger in size than most material being moved along any railway at that time. There were also some turns they have to accommodate for with these wide loads.
In 1935 The Hoover Dam was finished and for the most part the use of the railway stopped except for a few times to move equipment back and forth. In 1962 the rails were removed and the tunnels were abandoned. And in 1984, the section from Boulder City to the dam, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places with the trail being designated as a notional recreation tail in 2015.
The trailhead is in Boulder City, NV, 26 miles from Las Vegas. If you are on the Great Basin Hwy (the 93) from Boulder City you will turn left onto Lakeshore Road at the corner of the Lake Mead Visitor Center. From here you will follow the road north for .4 miles to the parking lot at the Trail Head. The parking lot is small and on Wednesday at noon it was full. There are clean vault bathrooms and trash cans to keep the area free from litter.
At the west end of the parking lot there is an easily accessible trail start. We entered the trail at the east end following a narrow dirt trail to the main trail. The Historic Tunnel Trail is a total of 4.4 miles round trip but if you want to continue to the Hoover Dam add another 3 to 4 miles depending on what you want to explore at the Dam. We also found if you are staying or playing at the Hoover Dam Casino there is a trail head from the parking lot that will take you down to the main trail. Just note that the part of the trail is steep so when you have to hike back to the Casino you will be hiking up hill.
The trail is wide and flat with beautiful views of Lake Mead. There were many people riding bikes, walking their dogs and pushing their young ones on strollers and the trail was plenty wide enough for everyone to share. Also along the trail there are plenty of places to sit and enjoy the view of Lake Mead and the valley surrounding it.
When you get to the first tunnel you realize how massive the tunnels are.
Once out of tunnel 1 look over the edge of the right and you will see large broken pieces of concrete. When the turbines were installed these plugs were removed and deposed of in this pit along the railway. Look for historical markers along the trail to tell you all about things like this. This will give you a glimpse into the past. At the end of tunnel 2 you will have to walk through a metal structure that will keep you safe from any falling debris, this was due to a fire that was started by an arson in 1990. If ended up burning some of the wood that reenforced the turn closing the trail. It reopened in 1995. Tunnel 5 is the darkest of all the tunnels because it has a turn. Tunnel 5 is also under the Lake Mead – Lakeview Overlook.
Once you come out of Tunnel 5 you have reached the end of all the tunnels at 2.2 miles. You can return to the parking lot with a total of 4.4 miles or you can continue to the Hoover Dam, which is 1.5 miles to the main parking lot, by following the trail the sweeps to the left. The trail at this point isn’t as flat or shaded as the trial through the tunnels. You follow along buildings that are used to maintain the Dam. Then you will come to a Y in the road, you can either for left to the Hoover Dam Boneyard or take the short cut to the right that takes off .1 mile of your route but adds a steep grade down. We ended up going towards the Hoover Dam Boneyard.
Past the Boneyard you will start making your way down the hill and you will come to a small switchback, take this towards the Power Lines. Before you get the road there are some of the equipment that was used along with what they are. Cross the road to a paved walk way. If you road your bike you will have to stop and lock it up here. Bikes are not allowed past this point. You will then follow the paved trail through another series of switchbacks to the top of the parking lot. At this point there is nothing that we could find that directs on which way to go. Go to the North East corner of the parking lot you there will be an elevator that will take you to the actual Dam. Here you can do many things like tours of the dam. Since we saw the Colorado River side of the dam when we kayaked the Black Canyon July 2021 we stayed on the Lake Mead side of the dam to see the intake towers. Once we took in the views of the lake we headed back. Our total milage was right under 8 miles.
Tips and suggestions for this hike. I would suggest hitting this trail in the morning. Coming back to the car in the afternoon was a little warm and we had the sun in our face the whole time. This trail is in the desert and the temperature can reach well above 120 degrees so hit this trail in the winter, but always check the weather. Even in the winter the temperatures can be hot. Come prepared with water. The only water we found was at Hoover Dam in a vending machine for $5. The park still requires masks and we didn’t have any on us to go into the stores. If you want to check out what was on the other side of the Dam in the Black Canyon watch it here Youtube.