Thursday, July 18, 2019 | 2 a.m.
It’s the dog days of summer, and desert dwellers may be tempted to stay inside until Halloween. But they’d be missing out on some very cool recreation opportunities. Despite its seemingly endless stretches of desert, Southern Nevada boasts more than one outdoor oasis: Lake Las Vegas, Lake Mead, Lake Mohave and, of course, the Colorado River. If you’re willing to drive a few hours south, that river leads to Havasu Lake in California.
Unless you’re already a lake lover, these bodies of water can be a little bit intimidating. To help, our Weekly guide will tell you everything you need in order to get out of the heat and into the water.
Lake Mead's can't-miss activities
Lake Mead is our country's first and largest national recreation area. Spread across 1.5 million acres, it includes nine access points, thousands of miles of mountains, canyons and valleys, and two large lakes. The recreation area is open 24/7/365.
• Biking: The national park features miles of approved backcountry roads and several dirt trails accessible to mountain bikes. Try the 34-mile River Mountains Loop Trail, which surrounds the River Mountains and connects the national park with the Hoover Dam, Henderson and Boulder City.
• Camping: The Lake Mead National Recreation Area is home to 15 campgrounds, including six RV parks. Camp for free for up to 15 days at Government Wash on the northwest side of Lake Mead near Boulder City. It’s a great site for boondocking!
• Canoeing and kayaking: Explore more than 1,000 miles of shoreline ridged with coves and canyons. Rent kayaks, canoes and paddleboards for the day. At Desert Adventures, 1647-A Nevada Highway, Boulder City, paddleboard rentals start at $50, kayak rentals are $40 and canoe rentals are $55. At Boating Lake Mead in Hemenway Harbor, one-hour rentals of paddleboards and kayaks cost $25.
• Fishing: Popular fish include rainbow trout, catfish, sunfish, largemouth bass, striped bass, smallmouth bass and crappie. Fishing is allowed 24 hours a day from a watercraft, the shore or one of three piers.
Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife
More than 240 species of birds have been documented in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The park is also home to bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, mountain lions, bats, beavers, coyotes, rabbits, snakes and lizards. Never feed, pet or handle wildlife, for your safety and theirs.
• Horseback riding: Horses and pack animals are allowed throughout the recreation area, except in picnic areas, campgrounds and a handful of other spots. Schedule a guided horse tour near Lake Mead. At Vegas Trail Ride, rides start at $50 per person.
• Hunting: Hunting and trapping are allowed in most areas of the park. Visit nps.gov/lake/planyourvisit/huntingmaps.htm for rules and maps.
• Scuba diving: Lake Mead ranks as one of the world’s top freshwater scuba lakes, with options for both beginner and advanced divers. Best-bet spots include Kingman Wash, Cathedral Cove and the Gypsum Reefs-Virgin Basin.Learn about the best dive sites in Lake Mead, then try out your favorite! Prices vary at Online Scuba.
• Swimming: Six designated swim areas are spread throughout the national park. Boulder Beach is among the most popular. Pro tip: There are no lifeguards in the recreation area. Always wear a life jacket and keep a close eye on children.
• Additional activities include hiking, picnicking, rock climbing, scenic drives and wildlife viewing.
Lake Mead by boat
Pets are allowed in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, just not in designated swimming areas. Be sure to keep dogs on a leash no more than 6 feet long at all times.
Boating is one of the most popular activities in the Lake Mead Recreation Area. Visitors can bring their own watercraft or rent one from one of the parkâ€™s many vendors. The Recreation Area includes more than 290 square miles of waterway.
Must-see spots include:
• Pipe Spring: Get lost among Spirit Mountain Wilderness’ 17 million year old granite and metamorphic rock. Hike to higher elevations for a woodland experience among California juniper, blackbrush, yucca and rabbitbrush trees.
• Redstone Trail: Redstone is home to incredible geology — towering cliffs, deep canyons, red sandstone outcroppings, ancient sand dunes and petrified lava flows. Start your tour just off Northshore Road at mile marker 27.
• Black Canyon: The nationally designated water trail offers jaw-dropping scenery and wildlife viewing through narrow canyons and steep cliffs. The 26-mile trail begins at the base of the Hoover Dam and winds through Arizona and Nevada.
Don't pass on an annual pass
If you even halfway like the outdoors, buy an annual America the Beautiful interagency pass. At $80, it gives the bearer unlimited access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites, including Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. With daily vehicle fees to the two Southern Nevada parks at $20 and $15 respectively, visitors will recoup their investment after just a few visits. Not to mention that the pass gets you free access to nearby blockbusters Zion, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.
Additional options: Free annual passes are available for military members, fourth graders and those with permanent disabilities. Americans ages 62 and over can purchase an $80 lifetime pass or a $20 annual pass. For those who stick to one park, Lake Mead offers a $45 annual pass, and Red Rock offers a $30 annual pass.
Rental ideas include:
• A three-hour day trip (including lunch) through Black Canyon aboard a motor-assisted inflatable raft, through Black Canyon River Adventure, 268 Lakeshore Road, Boulder City three hours, costs $114.
• Stay on the lake in a houseboat by Houseboating.org. Models range from very basic to luxury with spas, wet bars and water slides, and can sleep 6-14 people. Prices start at $1,995 for three days.
• Cruise to the Hoover Dam on a Mississippi-style paddle wheel ship by American House Boat Rentals. Prices start at about $2,100 for three days.
• Lake Mead Cruises, in the Boulder Beach area, offers a 90-minute mid-day sightseeing cruise at $28 for adults, $14 for children; a 90-minute Champagne brunch cruise at $50 for adults, $30 for children; and a two-hour dinner cruise at $65 for adults, $40 for children.
• Callville Bay Resort and Marina, 100 Callville Bay Road, Overton, offers two-seat jet ski rentals ($350 per day), 17-foot fishing boat rentals ($40 per hour, $215 daily), 26-foot deck boat rentals ($60 per hour, $325 daily), ski boat rentals ($95 per hour, $450 daily) and patio pontoon boat rentals ($495-$525 per day).
• Lake Mohave Cottonwood Cove Resort and Marina, 10000 Cottonwood Cove Road, Searchlight, offers two-seat jet ski rentals ($75 per hour, $375 per day), 17-foot fishing boat rentals ($40 per hour, $210 daily), 26-foot deck boat rentals ($60 per hour, $325 daily), patio pontoon boat rentals ($495 per day) and paddleboard rentals ($55 for three hours, $80 for eight hours).
Kick back and Willow Beach
For millennia, Willow Beach has been a destination. Artifacts show that it was likely a prehistoric trading center, according to the National Parks Service. Around 250 B.C. the beach served as a campground for the Basketmaker Indians. And in the thousands of years since, the gorgeous area in the Colorado River’s Black Canyon has drawn visitors, fishers and campers from both near and far.
Fortunately for locals, this spectacular area is only about an hour southeast of Las Vegas, on the Arizona side of the Colorado River. Located inside Lake Mead Recreation Area, there’s enough to do and see at Willow Beach that it deserves its own dedicated trip … or two or three.
Start at the Willow Beach Marina & Campground, a concessioner for the Park service. There, you can rent a variety of boats, from a single kayak ($85 day rate) to a 17-foot fishing boat ($195 day rate) to a 10-person deck cruiser ($325 day rate). Rentals include life jackets and paddles, so it’s truly a user-friendly experience. To ensure the specific boat you want is available, reserve your craft in advance.
For first timers, we recommend renting a tandem kayak ($120 day rate), so that you have two rowers in case somebody’s arms get tired. Paddling is one of the best ways to truly commune with the majesty of nature—there’s no loud motors to scare away a bald eagle. Pack a lunch and enjoy a leisurely picnic on one of the several beaches you’ll boat past. When kayaking, make sure to stop in Emerald Cave, a seemingly nondescript notch in the canyon wall that when entered reveals stunning green colors bouncing off the water and the ceiling. It’s an Instagrammer’s dream. (Ask the folks at the marina for directions.)
Bring some cheese and marshmallows for bait if you want to fish for rainbow trout at Willow Beach. Use the fishing pier or fish from a watercraft year-round, 24 hours a day. Willow Beach has its own fish-cleaning station, so don’t worry about getting fish guts in your car.
If you’re having so much fun that you don’t want to go home, just stay. Willow Beach has 28 full-service RV sites and nine tent camping sites. With tent sites costing $30a night, complete with Wi-Fi, shower, laundry, restaurant, boat launch ramp and convenience store, some might say it’s better than staying on the Strip.
Lake Las Vegas can't-miss activities
This man-made lake and Mediterranean-inspired village sits on 3,500 acres 17 miles from the Strip. The residential and resort destination includes more than 3,000 homes, multiple hotels, a 320-acre lake, restaurants, shops, golf courses and recreation.
Did you know?
Lake Las Vegas was built on the Las Vegas Wash. The flow of the wash was diverted through two large pipelines for construction of the resort in 1990. Lake Las Vegas is filled with 3 billion gallons of water.
• The options at Lake Las Vegas Water Sports, 20 Costa di Lago, Suite 130, Henderson, are extensive—rent a yacht, kayak, water pedal bike, paddleboard or flyboard to take out onto the lake.
For beginners who want to start slow, visit the resort’s cable park—Las Vegas’ first and only attraction of its kind—where an overhead cable system can pull you along on a wakeboard, tube, kneeboard or water skis in a more controlled setting than the open water. For the kids, or kids at heart, check out Aqua Park, a floating, inflatable ninja course. Jump, climb, slide and bounce from obstacle to obstacle, and see if you can stay out of the water!
Flyboarding rentals start at $59 for a 25-minute experience. Paddleboard and kayak rentals start at $30 per hour. A four-person pedal boats rents for $35 per hour, a cable park pass is $20 for 20 minutes, and an hour in the Aqua Park runs $20.
• Spa day: Treat yourself to a day of pampering with a massage, facial or manicure, or a cut and color or makeup lesson from the salon at Spa Ravella at Hilton Lake Las Vegas,1610 Lake Las Vegas Parkway, Henderson. Break a sweat on the treadmill or in a yoga class, then unwind with a visit to Healing Waters and its candlelit whirlpool, eucalyptus steam room and sauna.
• Golf: Lake Las Vegas is home to two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses: Reflection Bay Golf Club,75 Monte Lago Blvd., Henderson, and the private South Shore Country Club, 100 Strada Di Circolo, Henderson. Start your day with a round on the greens; end it watching a concert on the floating stage at Reflection Bay beach.
• Special events: From Whiskey Wednesdays and weekend fun runs to musical bingo and outdoor concerts, Lake Las Vegas hosts an impressive lineup of year-round events. Visit lakelasvegas.com/events for calendar information.
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.