A Need for Mead: Floating Above Hoover Dam

Take a break from the Vegas Strip and jet ski, fish or simply kick back and relax with a houseboat rental on nearby Lake Mead.

A mere 45-minute drive from the Las Vegas Strip, the Lake Mead National Recreation Area provides a surprisingly scenic escape to nature. But it is an escape with benefits: You can enjoy Lake Mead from a houseboat with all the luxury of a casino hotel, minus the slot machines. I spent a recent weekend boating the Lake Mead reservoir above Hoover Dam, exploring what its many coves had to offer.

My first evening, I sat in desert silence, watching the moon rise over rocky cliffs reddened by the setting sun. An eagle circled silently high in the sky. The view reflected off of water as smooth as black glass. I was alone in the high desert. Alone, that is, aside from my 75-foot houseboat equipped with two jet skis, speed boat, big-screen plasma TVs, a seven-person hot tub and five bedrooms filled with friends.

At Carville Bay, my group boarded the top-of-the-line houseboat we had rented from Forever Resorts for the weekend. It was more like a small apartment building, floating without a ripple in the quiet water. We stocked up the fridge with supplies, then lounged on the wraparound couch to watch evening sports and movies on the jumbo satellite TV.  

Newbies Welcome

Operating the huge houseboat was quite simple, and at an 8 mph maximum speed, you’re not going to hit anything. More than half the people renting the boats are first-timers, so the Forever Resorts’ staff is experienced in getting newbies up to speed. With five bedrooms (each with its own TV and large bed), a large kitchen, lounge area and a deck, there’s plenty of room for a couple of families to relax in their own space. The roof area has a massive hot tub, its own TV/video/stereo system, a wet bar and a waterslide, if you need to escape in a hurry. Needless to say, we weren’t roughing it.

The plodding houseboat put-putted along a bit too slowly for full lake exploration, so like many others we towed a tethered power boat from which to launch tours. We motored near the top of Hoover Dam, amazed to be floating 500 feet above the old canyon floor.  

Space for Everyone

Lake Mead has more than 550 miles of shoreline, so there’s space for all kinds of activities. As we toured the reservoir, we saw sport fishermen casting lines in quiet reed-filled shallows and families camping on small beaches with toddlers playing in the water. In one bay, teens had constructed a 50-foot downhill slip-and-slide with a ramp on the bottom to launch them into the lake. On the open water, wakeboarders cut high-speed turns while packs of jet skiers cruised between each other like spray-soaked biker gangs. Park Service Rangers regularly patrolled the waters for safety, ensuring things stayed under control.

We anchored the houseboat in a cove, cooling off during the hot fall day by jet skiing and wakeboarding. I’m all for reflective desert silence, but I couldn’t help but shout out a big “yeee-haaa” as I cranked the jet ski up to full speed skimming across the reservoir with a big grin on my face.  

Campfire and a Waterslide

Our day concluded with barbecue steaks on the houseboat deck, followed by s’mores over a campfire on the beach. The stars came out above us like a million city lights as the fire crackled at our feet. Climbing to the top deck of the houseboat, I once again enjoyed the peace of the desert, feeling like one of those old miners who first explored the area for hidden treasures. With the small exception that not many miners were able to cap off their evening with a midnight waterslide.  

If You Go Essentials

Houseboat Rentals

Houseboats dock at marinas on Lake Mead in Carville Bay and at Lake Mohave at Temple Rock.

Colorado River Trips

Guided tours depart beneath Hoover Dam.

Official Lake Mead Recreation Area Web site: www.nps.gov/lame

Destinations: Las Vegas

Activities: Boating