Historic Railroad Trail, NV
Trail Rating: Easy
Distance: Approximately 7 miles roundtrip
*Update 2-1-19* - Tunnel 3 is closed. You can hike or bike up to Tunnel 3 but you can’t go past it.
Notes: Hands down, one of our most favorite trails within an hour of Las Vegas, Nevada is the Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail near Hoover Dam. With its panoramic view of Lake Mead, this trail is unique because it takes you through 5 historic train tunnels that were over-sized allowing for the transport of large equipment used to build Hoover Dam.
The trail is fairly flat and easy for anyone of any ability to travel on. (However the last mile has a gradual downhill slope and it’ll be uphill on the way back.) Whether you are on foot, on a bike, in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller, this is a trail you definitely want to put on your bucket list! The trail is about 2.5 miles from the parking lot to the 5th tunnel, but if you follow the trail another mile, you'll end up at the Hoover Dam parking garage and can then go on the Hoover Dam tour or just explore on your own. They don't allow bikes in the parking garage, so be sure to bring your own locks and secure your bikes in the rack at the end of the trail prior to walking down the ramp towards the Hoover Dam. (Don’t take your bikes down to the parking garage. Security will escort you out. They don’t allow bikes past the bikes racks at the end of the trail.)
Now the part that makes this trail so unique is its history. So listen up. Here's the scoop on how it came to be...
Back in 1931, almost 30 miles of railroad were built that connected Las Vegas to Boulder City to Hoover Dam. The route from Boulder City to Himix (the concrete mixing plant on the rim of the Black Canyon overlooking the dam) was just over 6 miles, but dropped 1,100 feet in elevation so they had to build ten miles of winding tracks to keep the grades from being too steep. Because Hoover Dam was in such an isolated location, the concrete used to build the dam had to be manufactured locally. The concrete was made by mixing sand and crushed rock with cement and water. To prevent the concrete from dying during transportation, the mixing plant was put as close to the river as possible. Trains hauled tons of gravel to a screening plant on the other side of the river 24-hours a day and ran from 1931 to 1961.
The Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail that we ride/walk on today was known as Lawler Junction, a busy railroad switch yard. If you look closely, you can still see remains of the railbeds. The crazy thing is that this trail is the only remaining section of the Hoover Dam Railroad system that's not under water or severely disturbed. All 5 of the tunnels are about 300 feet long and 25 feet wide. You'll find benches along the trail, so be sure to take some time to sit and enjoy the majestic view of Lake Mead and soak up the history of the railroad tunnels that you walk through. It truly is a sight to see.
The Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail is accessed near the Lake Mead Visitor Center or from the Hoover Dam Parking Garage.
Trail conditions are always changing, so be careful out there and TREAD LIGHTLY. Leave no trace. Pack in. Pack out.