Historic railroad trail: 6 reasons to hike (and a few not to)

Lake Mead seen from Historic Railroad Trail
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Historic Railroad Trail Hike Stats

Round Trip Mileage~7.5 Miles
Average Time2 – 4 Hours
DifficultyEasy
Entrance FeesFree
Rating4 Mooses

Know before you go

  • The trail is wide and mostly flat until the last mile or so, then there is some elevation depending on if you take the “shortcut” or not.
  • The trail is accessible to bicycles. A road bike would not be advised, however, a hybrid or mountain bike would work as the path is gravel/dirt.
  • Bring plenty of water. There is no water on the trail and little shade throughout the hike (except in the tunnels).
  • The trail ends at the Hoover Dam. They do have a gift shop if it’s open where you could get water/snacks.
  • If you only want to do half the hike, park one car at the Hoover Dam and one at the trailhead parking lot.
  • Pro-tip: If you’ve already seen the Hoover Dam, consider turning around after the tunnels and heading back. You’ve seen the most scenic part of the hike already!

Need more tips? Jump to the FAQ section for directions and much more!

6 Reasons to Hike the Historic Railroad Trail in Boulder City, NV

1. The scenic views are amazing

We read online before we went that the views on this trail were amazing. The trail did not disappoint!

Sweeping views of Lake Mead and cool tunnels await.

Lake Mead see from historic railroad trail hike with marina in the background
Sweeping Views
Lake Mead seen from Historic Railroad Trail
Views of Lake Mead

2. It’s fun to walk though the tunnels

Tunnel carved in the rock on the historic railroad hiking trail
One of the 5 Tunnels

This is one of the most fun parts about the trail. Taking a walk through the 5 tunnels takes you back in time to when the Hoover Dam was being constructed. You imagine what it was like to blast through the mountainous rock and transport the necessary materials to build the mammoth Hoover Dam.

Tunnel entrance along railroad trail
Railroad Trail Tunnels
Tunnel on railroad historic trail
Tunnels at Railroad Historic Trail

3. You end up at the Hoover Dam

Not many hiking trails can boast ending up at one of the most magnificent feats of engineering in history.

Man walking towards Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam is just around the corner

The trail dead ends into the start of the Hoover Dam parking area. There’s a place to lock up your bikes and a small picnic area for a quick bite to eat.

Trail sign at Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam Main Parking Lot
Hoover Dam seen from visitor parking lot
Hoover Dam as seen from the Parking Lot on the Nevada side

Check out our complete review of the Hoover Dam here.

4. The trail is full of history

The trail is full of various sign boards explaining the history behind the trail.

Railroad historic trail sign
Historic sign boards along the trail

You can view remnants of the Concrete Plugs that were originally used as placeholders on the floor of the Hoover Dam. They were later removed when the turbines were installed.

Concrete Plugs on railroad trail hike
Concrete Plug Remnants use to help build the Hoover Dam

5. It’s kid & dog friendly (mostly)

The trail is wide, well maintained and contains little elevation gain. This makes it a prime spot to take your kids on a great adventure. The only downside is the trail is long (just under 4 miles one way). We saw many parents having to carry both their kids (and pets) just a few miles into the trail. We even saw one loving parent carrying their kid’s bike out when he got tired. Plan accordingly as the trail gets really hot and is long.

6. It’s free

No passes are required to park at the trailhead.

7. It’s close to the Las Vegas strip

Located around 30 miles from the Las Vegas strip, you can drive to the trailhead in about 35 minutes. This makes it a perfect spot to do a half-day or full day trip out to do some hiking, see the Hoover Dam and check out Lake Mead up close.

Reasons Not to Visit the Historic Railroad Trail in Boulder City, NV

1. Weather

In the summer, temperatures soar well over 100 degrees. You might die.

Heat Kills Sign on Historic Railroad Trail warning not to hike Jun - Sep
Heat Kills Sign on Historic Railroad Trail

Ok, that’s a little extreme, you’re probably not going to die. Seriously though, it’s a long trail and there’s no water to cool you off. There’s little shade (except in the tunnels) and clocking in around 7.5 miles round trip, you’re bound to get a little tired (even if it is mostly flat).

If the heat isn’t enough for you, the winds tend to pick up a lot in the late afternoon and kick up swirling dust clouds on the trail. They looked like little baby tornadoes.

2. The crowds are horrific

We arrived at the parking lot at around 11 a.m. on a weekday. Granted, it was a holiday week, but the parking lot was already 95% full when we arrived. If you’re planning on going, we recommend getting an early start to try and beat the crowds. There was a steady stream of newcomers throughout the day and it never let up.

Crowds along railroad historic trail
Crowds on the trail
Busy crowds at historic railroad trail hike
More Crowds on the Trail
Bikes on railroad historic trail
People everywhere

3. Views of the highway, maintenance buildings and electricity towers (basically the second half of the trail)

Historic Railroad Trail trail sign at fork
Fork in the trail

Unless you’re a hardcore history buff, you’re likely going to be disappointed in the second half of the Railroad trail. After the last tunnel, you end up passing by a bunch of maintenance buildings and into a long stretch of open desert with no views and only the harsh sun to keep you company. Cars race by on the nearby freeway and in the distance the towering electricity towers fill your view.

Electricity towers on railroad historic trail
Electricity Towers in the Distance

For all the hardcore history buff’s out there. You’re going to enjoy the “Bone-yard” along the trail and seeing various pieces of equipment that were used to build the dam.

The Bone-yard on railroad historic trail
The “Bone-Yard”
Old equipment in bone-yard
Bone Yard on the Railroad Historic Trail
Testing bulkhead along historic railroad trail
Testing Bulkhead along the trail

4. Parking becomes questionable when it’s busy

With popular hikes, parking is probably the number one concern we have when out exploring new places. The historical railroad hike is popular for good reason and that makes the parking situation a bear. The main parking lot probably has enough “marked” spots for around 20 cars. After that, cars begin parking in non-designated spots, including over curbs.

There is an overflow parking lot maybe 0.30 miles away in the Lake Mead Visitor center, but it seems like it’s avoided at all costs. Can’t say I blame anyone, but if you want a real spot, come early or prepare to tack on some extra steps and park in the nearby visitor center lot.

Parking lot at historic railroad trail
Questionable parking in the main lot

The Bottom Line

Rating: 4 Mooses

Despite the crowds, we enjoyed the scenic views and varied terrain of the hike. I don’t think we’d go back and do it again but it was nice half-day activity when you factor in drive time to the lake. This would be a great activity especially if you’ve never seen the Hoover Dam before. It’s a great way to incorporate both a hike and a visit to the Dam. If you’ve already seen the Dam, we’d recommend turning around after you get through the 5th tunnel. There’s not much to see after that.

Verdict: Visit at least once, when it’s not busy.

Ready to visit the historic railroad trail?

Historic railroad trail location

The trailhead parking lot begins at 36.01228, -114.79324 in Boulder City, NV.

Railroad Historic Trail Map
Historic Railroad Trail head Map

The easiest way to the trailhead is to get directions to the Lake Mead Visitor Center. The trailhead is located approx 0.3 miles after the Lake Mead Visitor Center. Make sure to turn into the parking lot. If you keep heading down Lakeshore Road you’ll end up at the pay entrance to the Lake Mead Recreational area.

Historic railroad trail hiking map

The trail is well marked and contains a loop at the end of the trail. The shortcut goes down a steeper grade of 12.5%, but is shorter than going the long way through the bone-yard. We recommend going on the longer route when you’re headed towards the Hoover Dam to check out the Bone-yard. On the way back we used the “shortcut.” We did notice quite a few bikes having trouble getting back up the grade on the shortcut. You’ll probably want to go back by the bone-yard if you’re on a bike. If you’ve already seen the Hoover Dam, you’ll likely want to turn around after the last tunnel.

Hiking trail map for historic railroad hike
Map of Historic Trailhead

Cost of historic railroad trail

The trail is not within the boundaries of the Lake Mead area and is free to use.

This does mean the trail is used by a lot more people and the recommendation is to go early or on a weekday when the crowds are lower.

Can I ride my bicycle on the Historic Railroad trail?

Yes! The path is very wide and bike friendly. It would not be advisable to take a road bike as the trail is dirt/gravel. A hybrid or a mountain bike would work great.

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The information contained on this website is for entertainment purposes only and references only opinions of the author. Nothing contained within should be considered professional advice, including but not limited to, health, safety, financial, legal, or psychological advice.

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