About this Itinerary
If the one-arm bandits, cards and roulette wheels of Vegas don’t thrill you, we invite you to take a spin on bike wheels instead, with a visit to Nevada’s nearby southern desert. Beyond the 24-7 flashing neon, the Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail, and other trails nearby, offers a calmer (some might say more sane) opportunity to experience the natural beauty this area deals out to visitors. Originally built to help construct Hoover Dam, the former railroad corridor links historical Boulder City with the vast, sparkling waters of Lake Mead.
Fly to Las Vegas (LAS) and drive 24 miles to Boulder City, a small community east of the metropolis near the southern shores of Lake Mead. Check into the Boulder Dam Hotel, which is on the National Registry of Historic Places and right in town center.
Rent bikes from All Mountain Cyclery on Nevada Highway, just 1 mile from your hotel.
Important:Except for in the tunnels, there is no shade along the trail. Summer travel is not recommended because daytime highs can exceed 100 degrees F. Use sunscreen, pack plenty of water and wear a helmet with a visor (or hat, if walking).
Begin your day with a complimentary cooked-to-order breakfast at your hotel before your ride to Hoover Dam. There’s no need to shuttle to a trailhead; the round-trip journey from your hotel is only 18.5 miles (1 mile on-road, each outbound and return).
From your hotel, head west on Arizona Street to Birch Street and turn right (north). Cross Railroad Avenue and turn left (west) on Colorado Street. In a short distance you’ll see a bike path on the right along the road; take it. You’ll be going parallel with Great Basin Highway in the direction of traffic flow. The path goes under the highway and emerges onto the River Mountains Loop Trail; go right (north). You’ll now parallel the highway on the other side. Use caution when crossing suburban streets and stay on the path. Once you reach the path, the official start of the Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail is just under 2 miles at Pacifica Way. This is also still part of the River Mountains Loop Trail. After you go under Lakeshore Road, you’ll reach another trailhead on your left. Continue on the main path, past the turnoff to the trailhead. From here the gravel railroad tunnel trail continues another 5 miles to Hoover Dam.
The trail is wide and flat, offering stunning panoramic views of the mountains and Lake Mead. Keep your eyes open for jackrabbits, snakes and lizards. You might also see a band of desert bighorn sheep scampering across the rocks and over hillocks. The sheep are uniquely adapted to the dry conditions, surviving for long periods without much water.
Along the way you’ll also pass through five tunnels blasted into the red volcanic rock, which allowed passage for trains carrying construction materials and equipment to the dam. Tunnel Five is home to a colony of bats. The tunnels are a whopping 25–30 feet in diameter, testament to the large pipes, generators and other paraphernalia transported to the dam. Stop at the various interpretive kiosks to learn more.
When you reach the visitor center, lock up your bikes and spend some time here. The sheer magnitude of the dam—6.6 million tons and 726 feet high—is sure to wow you, regardless of how you feel about dams. Sign up at the visitor center for a tour, choosing from the long or short version. You’ll see how the dam works and learn more about its remarkable construction.
When you get back to town, you have several places to choose from for dinner, all within walking or biking distance from your hotel. For sandwiches, salads, burgers and microbrews try Boulder Dam Brewing Company or The Dillinger. Evan’s Old Town Grill (1129 Arizona St.) serves pasta and an eclectic range of home-cooked food; the portions are big. Check out Milo’s Cellar, a sidewalk café and wine bar serving soups, salads and sandwiches.
Extend your stay and explore the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and other attractions in downtown Boulder City. Visit the interesting Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum, with displays and photos about these impressive feats of engineering; hotel guests can visit for free. You can also ride the Nevada Southern Railway excursion train, which leaves from the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Boulder City. If you’re up for more riding, jump on the River Mountains Loop Trail.; the total loop is 38.7 miles.