One glance and you just know that Boulder City is special. It’s got that small town charm and oodles of history because after all, Boulder City is known for being the city that built the dam. Yes, that dam – the Hoover Dam.
If you are a lover of southern Nevada like I am, visiting Boulder City offers a chance to learn more about the construction of the dam and how that event shaped the future of the area.
Things to do in Boulder City
Before it was Boulder City, it served as the housing area for the workers involved in the construction of the dam. At the height of the project, approximately 7000 people lived there. Nowadays it’s about double that but Boulder City remains a close-knit community.
Just 25 miles from Las Vegas, Boulder City is easy to get to and once there, it’s very walkable. In fact, the best way to explore is on foot. Grab a coffee and peruse the welcoming downtown with its shops, public art and antiques.
Everywhere you look in Boulder City you’ll see pride in the part they played in the dam construction. and there’s no shortage of those reminders all over town.
1. Visit the Boulder Dam Hotel & Museum
Start your Boulder City visit at the Boulder Dam Hotel and Museum. Not only is the hotel pretty famous for its celebrity clientele but the museum onsite offers a glimpse into what life was like in the desert during the dam construction.
The goal of the museum is to share the stories of the unique individuals that participated in the project.
With mostly men involved in dam construction, it’s easy to forget about the families – the women and children who played a supporting role. What they lived through and put up with in this harsh environment is an accomplishment in itself.
Through photographs, artifacts and oral history, the museum takes you on an eye-opening journey through the project and you’ll leave wondering how in the world this group of people accomplished what they did. The sheer will and determination is inspirational.
With a restaurant and bar onsite, the hotel is a convenient place to stay if you plan on overnighting in town. The museum is open to the public every day, 7am to 7pm, 7 days week, 365 days of the year.
2. Tour Hoover Dam
After you’ve learned a bit about the individuals who participated in the dam construction, the next thing to do in Boulder City is visit the dam itself. Completed in 1935, Hoover Dam is still one of the most impressive engineering feats of our time.
Built to harness the waters of the Colorado River and stop dangerous flooding down river, the dam took five years to complete and was actually finished ahead of schedule.
Named for Herbert Hoover, the 31st president of the United States, who “as President, took an active part in settling the engineering problems and location of the dam in Black Canyon“, the dam is unbelievably impressive in person.
There are a couple of ways to see the Hoover Dam. The fast and free option is by parking in one of the public lots in Arizona and walking the short distance to Nevada and the dam. Along the way are places to snap photos, see the intake towers and the spillways that were last used in 1983.
To get full front view of the dam – like in the photo above – visitors can visit amd walk the pedestrian walkway alongside the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge that crosses Black Canyon.
For a more in-depth tour of the turbine room and other inner workings of the dam, the Bureau of Reclamation – the government agency that manages the dam – offers tours daily.
There are three different options you can choose from. I highly recommend taking a tour with a guide for additional information you can’t get on your own.
The Bureau of Reclamation’s website (below) has all the up to date tour info and you can also book a tour in person at the dam.
3. See the Trains at the Southern Nevada Railway Museum
There were no major roads or interstates at the time of the dam construction so the project relied heavily on trains to bring in materials and supplies. The Nevada Southern Railroad was actually built in 1931 for this purpose.
Once the dam was completed and the lake filled up, the need for the railroad line diminished. Parts of it actually disappeared underwater. Seeing a piece of history slipping away, a effort was made by volunteers and the state of Nevada to save what was left of the old line.
In time, portions of the tracks were restored and a railroad museum was founded. Later on, a collection of vintage train cars were added.
Visiting the Southern Nevada Railway Museum gives you the chance to tour some of those historic locomotives, cabooses and my favorite – a railway postal car. The museum even offers train rides on the very same tracks that were installed in 1931.
Visit the museum 7 days a week (closed on Nevada holidays) from 9:00am to 3:30pm. Check their website below for an event schedule including Christmas and holiday happenings.
4. Gamble at Railroad Pass Casino
The Railroad Pass Casino has been hosting visitors since 1931 and was the third licensed casino in Nevada – meaning it’s one of the oldest in the state.
And it’s the longest running casino in the United States. A favorite for dam workers, a hotel was added to the casino in the 1980’s to attract even more visitors.
Surprising fact – gambling is prohibited inside the city limits of Boulder City. But since the Railroad Pass is actually just outside the city limits – with a Henderson address – you can eat, drink, gamble and sleep your way through this historic stop on this things to do in Boulder City list.
5. Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Once the Hoover Dam was complete and the reservoir began to fill up, a recreation area was created to include the new lake. Lake Mead National Recreation Area – formally known as Boulder Dam Recreation Area – was created in 1947 and is the United State’s first national recreation area.
The park encompasses 1.5 million acres of protected land and is one of the most diverse parks in the park system. You can hike it, fish it, boat it, paddle it or just drive through it to enjoy, in my opinion, one of the most underrated parks in the national park system.
The easiest ways to see a piece of the park from Boulder City is by visiting the Alan Bible Visitor Center and taking a walk on the Historic Railroad Trail that follows the same railroad bed and passes through some of the very tunnels made to carry supplies through the canyon to the dam.
Southerner Says: Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a fee based park but the Historic Railroad Trail is outside the entrance station. To access other areas of the park, the fee is $25 per vehicle per day or free with an America the Beautiful Pass.
6. See Wildlife at Hemenway Park
The Mojave Desert is full of wildlife. Even in Boulder City it’s easy to spot some. Hemenway Park, near downtown, is a favorite hangout for bighorn sheep in the summer and fall.
Not only do you get some of the best views of the lake driving to the park but it’s an ideal spot for taking a break from the desert heat. There’s nothing more fun than watching the sheep hanging out and just living life.
7. Go Mountain Biking
Mountain biking is a big deal in Boulder City. And why not with epic views of the lake from the 34 mile River Mountain Loop Trail? This non-motorized trail circles the River Mountains and connects Boulder City, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Henderson and other areas.
It’s the first endeavor of it’s kind in southern Nevada and offers visitors a chance to take advantage of the gorgeous desert scenery, hopefully see some wildlife and get some exercise all at the same time.
Bring your own bike or rent bikes at an outfitter in Boulder City. All Mountain Cyclery has every kind of bike you could need and the Mountain Rivers Trail can be accessed from right near their store.
You could also drive into Lake Mead National Recreation to access the trail there. Visit the official website for more info and a map of the entire trail.
8. Get Out on the Water
Boulder City’s proximity to Lake Mead and the Colorado River means plenty of opportunity to get out on the water – which I highly recommend if you have the time. It’s the best way to appreciate the lake and see everything from a different perspective.
Boats and a non-motorized boats – are available to rent at Lake Mead Marina on the Nevada side of Lake Mead and kayaks and boats can be rented at Willow Beach, on the Arizona side for paddling on the Colorado River.
Organized Colorado River and Black Canyon tours are available with outfitters throughout the area and a pickup at your hotel in Las Vegas can even be arranged. I’ve linked to some of those high-rated trips below.
Both of these sections of the park are beautiful and have camping, restaurants and other amenities available for a fun day trip or a longer weekend getaway.
Remember to follow all the safety guidelines. Wind and other potentially treacherous conditions can arise quickly on the lake. Stay informed, put safety first and wear a personal floatation device.
9. Buy a Space Pen
Besides the dam, perhaps one of the most unique things in Boulder City is Fisher Space Pen. Twenty years ago, Paul C. Fisher, changed the pen industry when he invented a sealed and pressurized ink cartridge refill. Because it was so revolutionary, the pen was used in space in 1967 and has been on every NASA manned space flight since 1968.
In fact, the Fisher Space Pen even has its own permanent exhibit inside the Apollo Saturn V Center at Kennedy Space Center.
Fisher Pen Company moved its manufacturing facility from California to Boulder City in 1976 and you can visit the factory store and buy a space pen right in Boulder City, Monday through Friday, 7am-4pm Pacific Time.
10. Meet a Monster at Tom Devlin’s Monster Museum
I’ll admit, I had never heard of a monster museum before but Boulder City has one. Tom Devlin’s Monster Museum is a museum with everything from scary art and creature suits to vintage cars and custom pieces featuring monsters and props from horror movie history.
The museum is a must stop for anyone who enjoys a a bit of a fright. It’s open 7 days a week from 10am-6pm and if you happen to visit in October, check out their special Halloween events.
11. Sip Craft Beer
Located on historic Main Street in downtown, Boulder Dam Brewing Co. is a great choice for relaxing after all your Boulder City sightseeing.
The brewery has both indoor and patio seating and serves a variety of beers ranging from stouts and pale ales to my favorite, a refreshing German hefeweizen served with its own juicy orange.
Stop in for a delicious meal or sipping the afternoon heat away. If you are in town on the weekend, the brewery usually has live music on the patio.
12. Go Antiquing
As you stroll though downtown Boulder City you might notice all the antique stores and vintage shops around town. Here’s your chance to take home a piece of dam history or a special item.
Goatfeathers Emporium, with their huge selection of vintage items, memorabilia and gifts is a good place to start your quest.
The Boulder City Co Store is another terrific stop to browse for clothes, trinkets and dam souvenirs. Housed in a historic refurbished building downtown, you can shop and enjoy an expresso while you’re at it.
13. Search for Public Art
Boulder City celebrates the dam and its past with an abundance of public art. You’ll find murals and sculptures dedicated to that history strategically placed all around the downtown area.
There’s nothing more fun than just happening up on a surprise mural painted on the side of a building or a sculpture tucked away somewhere unexpected.
For sure, don’t miss the official “Greetings from Boulder City” mural (pictured in the cover photo) and the colorful dam and Lake Mead mural on the Sands Motel building. For even more public art, there’s a Boulder City’s Public Artscape walking trail that features more thirty sculptures located throughout town.
14. Eat a Delicious Meal at Coffee Cup Cafe
One of the things I love about a small, community focused town is that there are always plenty of local restaurants. You’ll see a few well known fast food chains around town but the majority of Boulder City restaurants are locally owned. And there are so many to choose from.
Take your pick from dozens of outstanding eateries like The Dillinger, with the best burgers, Southwest Diner and their pie, and my favorite – Coffee Cup Cafe.
Serving all day breakfast and lunch, the Coffee Cup is the perfect early or mid-morning stop before a visit to the dam.
Their omelets and breakfast tacos are out of this world. The menu also includes burgers, milkshakes and adult beverages. You really can’t go wrong with anything you order.
15. Walk Across the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
To get picture perfect views of Hoover Dam, the best place is at the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.
As the second tallest bridge in the United States, this remarkable bridge was constructed to bypass the old narrow highway across the Hoover Dam from Nevada into Arizona.
Not wasting the opportunity, the bridge was built with a pedestrian walkway alongside for the optimal vantage point of the Colorado River and the dam. Don’t miss this fabulous sight and one of the best things to do in Boulder City.
The bridge is free to visit and there’s a free designated parking lot available for visitors to safely leave vehicles.
Things To Do in Boulder City Round-Up
So, there you have it – my list of the best things to do in Boulder City. This doesn’t mean that there are only 15 things to do in this fun little town. Check out Visit Boulder City’s website for more events and seasonal celebrations happening all the time.
A Google Map of these the things to in Boulder City can be found here. Add it to your own Google account by clicking the star at the end of the title. The includes layers with driving directions as well as the restaurants mentioned here and a few others I really like.
Thanks to Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority for hosting me on some of these activities. As always, even though I was hosted, the experiences and opinions are entirely my own.
In full disclosure, my daughter lives in Boulder City, so I know it pretty well. It’s one of my favorite places to spend time and I think you’ll enjoy it too.
See you on the road!
This article contains affiliate links. That means I may earn a commission, at no cost to you, if you book or buy something from a link share. This keeps Southerner Says online and on the road. Thank you for your support.