There is no question that Las Vegas packs a powerful entertainment punch with its 24-hour casinos, world-class performers, and glittering Las Vegas Strip. But there’s also little doubt that all of that nonstop activity can become a bit overwhelming.
Staying in Boulder City, just a half-hour’s drive from the Las Vegas Strip, not only gives you easy proximity to the Gambling Capital of the World, but it offers a less frenetic -- yet still lively -- setting.
Also, there’s the noteworthy story that comes with the 1930s founding of Boulder City. As the town’s slogan will remind you, this is “the town that built the Hoover Dam.” It was here that the thousands of brave and tenacious Great Depression-era workers lived during the construction of one of the most significant engineering feats in United States history.
Even if your accommodations are in Las Vegas, I suggest adding a visit to Boulder City to your sightseeing itinerary. On my recent Nevada road trip, I combined a few nights in Las Vegas with a night in downtown Boulder City. It was the perfect mix of big-city glitz and small-town fun.
It’s best to avoid Boulder City’s 100-degree-plus weather in the summer months, but the fall, winter, and spring are all great times to visit. For the finest weather, consider visiting in April or October, when average high temperatures hover in the 80-degree range.
Here are 10 reasons to include Boulder City in your Vegas plans.
1. It’s Associated With The Hoover Dam
The claim that Boulder City built the Hoover Dam is backed up by history. The excellent Boulder Dam Museum in downtown Boulder City tells the story of the town’s origin. “Because of the dam’s remote location and difficult terrain, a town had to be built to house the construction companies and their workers,” says the museum’s website.
Boulder City was originally built on federal land, with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (the agency in charge of the dam project) overseeing the town for several decades. After the government relinquished control, Boulder City was incorporated in 1960. Today, it has a population of about 16,000 people.
The confusion over the dam’s name -- is it Hoover Dam or Boulder Dam? -- can be attributed to politics of the 1930s. The museum's website points out that the dam was originally planned to be located in Boulder Canyon, and 1920s-era blueprints referred to the structure as the Boulder Dam. Even though the dam location was ultimately moved to the Black Canyon, the structure continued to be called the Boulder Dam until 1931, when the Secretary of the Interior Ray Wilbur announced that the dam would be named after the president at the time, Herbert Hoover.
But with the incoming administration of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, the new Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, who reportedly disliked Hoover, declared that the dam would once again be called Boulder Dam. It wasn’t until 1947 that President Harry Truman approved a congressional resolution that officially changed the name back to Hoover Dam.
Today, the dam is widely known as Hoover Dam, although many businesses and attractions in Boulder City still use the Boulder reference.
Of course, while you’re in the area, be sure to take in the product of all of that Depression-era work and strife. The Hoover Dam, which is still impressive nearly 90 years later, offers a visitor center and tours, along with stunning views of the structure.
2. It’s Home To The Boulder Dam Museum
For a close-up look at what the workers endured during the construction of the dam, the downtown Boulder Dam Museum is a not-to-be-missed attraction. It features fascinating three-dimensional exhibits that depict workers hanging from cables over the deep canyon, as well as vintage photos from various stages of the dam’s construction.
The museum is free to the public, although donations are welcomed.
3. You Can Hike The Historic Railroad Trail
As part of the work done to facilitate the construction of the dam, a railroad was built to carry the necessary supplies, including huge pieces of pipe and construction equipment, to the Hoover Dam site.
The railroad ceased operation soon after the completion of the dam in the mid-1930s, and the railroad tracks were removed in the 1960s. In 1995, the Historic Railroad Trail opened as a recreational trail and has since become the most popular trail in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
Walkers and cyclists are attracted to the 3.7-mile route for its five massive tunnels that burrow through the rugged volcanic rocks, as well as the lovely views of the electric-blue waters of Lake Mead, visible along most of the route. The trail, which is rated easy, is one of Nevada’s most spectacular hikes.
4. It’s Got A Lively Downtown
In Boulder City’s eclectic downtown, the vintage 1930s architecture has been preserved and converted into a mix of bustling restaurants and bars alongside charming galleries and shops.
With plenty of public parking lots available, it’s easy to park and walk the downtown streets and take in the 90-year-old buildings, the lush landscaping, and the quirky shops
5. You Can See The Bighorn Sheep Of Hemenway Valley Park
In what appeared to me to be one of the best shows in town, the bighorn sheep of Hemenway Valley Park should not be missed on a visit to Boulder City.
Just before dusk on a warm June evening, I joined dozens of other spectators to watch as a herd of 20 or more of the sheep sauntered through the park, nibbling on green grass and bumping and chasing each other as they walked. They seemed virtually oblivious to the crowds watching and snapping photos.
With Lake Mead as a distant backdrop, the bighorn sheep reportedly make frequent appearances in the 10-acre park, coming down from the mountains to water and graze.
6. It’s Just 15 Minutes From Lake Mead
Among the many beauties of staying in Boulder City is that you are even closer to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area than you are in Las Vegas.
While the drive from Vegas will take you nearly 45 minutes via busy freeways, the trip to the lake is a much easier 10-to-15-minute drive from Boulder City. And that means you can be swimming, boating, fishing, or waterskiing in the lake’s cool waters much sooner. You can also have lunch and a beer with a view at the Las Vegas Boat Harbor’s Harbor House Cafe & Lounge.
7. There Are Plenty Of Dining And Craft Beer Options
Walk around downtown Boulder City in the evening, and you’re sure to hear the buzz of diners having a wonderful time in the lively restaurant and bar scene.
For fun craft beer settings, head to the Boulder Dam Brewing Company, which bills itself as “practically a museum in itself,” or to the classy/industrial vibe at The Tap, a brewery and restaurant attached to the Best Western Hotel. Gourmet burgers and craft beer are on tap at the local favorite The Dillinger.
8. You Can Stay At The Historic Boulder Dam Hotel
For a prime location and historic ambience, the Boulder Dam Hotel is a perfect place to stay in downtown Boulder City.
The white colonial-revival-style hotel was built in the early 1930s to house dignitaries who came to see the ongoing construction of the dam. It is said to have welcomed stars such as Henry Fonda, Will Rogers, and Shirley Temple. The Boulder Dam Museum is located on the second floor of the hotel.
9. Hiking And Cycling Opportunities Abound
Aside from the walking and cycling opportunities on the Historic Railroad Trail, the Boulder City area features a host of other trails, as well as convenient off-road paths to get from the downtown area to the trails.
Among the most prominent of the area's trails is the River Mountains Loop Trail, a 34-mile route that connects the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the Hoover Dam, Henderson, Boulder City, and the rest of the Las Vegas Valley. Only fit and experienced cyclists should attempt the entire loop, but trailheads are spaced along the trail, making it easy to do shorter sections. One of the access points to the trail is located at the Historic Railroad Trail trailhead.
10. It’s Got A Rich Railroad History
Southern Nevada train history dating back to the 1930s is available at the open-air Nevada State Railroad Museum in Boulder City.
Not only can visitors browse the historic trains on display, but Nevada Southern Railway excursions are available on which you can be an “engineer for an hour” on the 4 miles of track running from the Boulder City Station to Railroad Pass.
Visitors can also take in railroad models or ride a live steamer. Check ahead for availability.
Pro Tip: Las Vegas has countless attractions on and off the Las Vegas Strip, all of which can be easily accessed from Boulder City. Information about the area’s on-and-off-Strip activities can be found here.