Hike: Historic Railroad Trail

Hike: Historic Railroad Trail

When doing research about Lake Mead National Recreation Area, we had read that there were many dog friendly hikes. The one that was at the top of our list was the Historic Railroad Trail, because the trail looked well groomed (meaning blind-dog Stimpy could walk it) and it was our best chance of seeing the dog-unfriendly Hoover Dam.

In mid-April, the average daytime temps here have been in the low to mid 80's. The trail is 3.7 miles one way, so we knew we'd probably need to turn back early, to keep the dogs from overheating.

We packed the following:

  • Lots of water for us and the dogs
  • Dog bowl for water
  • Dog and human snacks
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Layered clothing
  • Offline map
  • Poop bags
  • Stimpy's sling for when he gets tired

(We didn't pack hats, but you may want to.)

Sunrise was shortly after 6am, so we woke up at 5:30 and drove the short distance from the Boulder Beach Campground to the Historic Railroad Parking lot. (An alternate, but slightly further parking option would be the visitor center.)

We were the 4th car in the parking lot and started our hike around 6:40 am. You are warned as soon as you leave the parking lot that this hike gets HOT.

"Do not hike Jun-Sep HEAT KILLS"

One of the first things we came across was this large gate, with another warning sign, at which point I worried we might be entering the desert version of Jurassic Park!

Gate used to block trail access

Jurassic Park gate

Ok, we're committed now!

Going through the gate

Since we started so early, the sun was still behind the mountains. Combined with a light breeze, that made for a nice cool start to the hike.

Walking toward the first tunnel

There are a total of 5 tunnels and you'll see all of them within the first 2.2 miles. If you want to make this a short hike, you could just do one or two tunnels and turn around. Our dogs were truckin' full speed ahead so we kept up with their pace.

The tunnels are so cool! Way bigger than they seem in the distance.
Big tunnel or miniature Ane? You be the judge.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Reinforced tunnel mouth

You'll also be treated to some amazing views of Lake Mead. There's several benches along the way if you want to stop and enjoy the view.

Lake Mead, with a marina visible

Lake Mead, with more Hoover Dam powerlines

Once you exit the last tunnel there's a bit of a treat! A bathroom, picnic table with shade, water fountain, and to Tommi's liking, a trash can to deposit the Lily poop he'd been hiking with.

Make poop not firearms

Once we entered the Bureau of Reclamation Property, the rest of the hike was mostly in direct sun. It was still early but heating up, so if you or your dogs feel hot at this time you should seriously consider turning back.

"Entering Bureau of Reclamation Property"

This part of the hike felt a lot more like a hike than the beginning. There were inclines and declines and the lack of shade made it more challenging. We were so close though and the dogs were still happily exploring so at this point we decided to try to get to the very end, even though we weren't sure if we'd really even be able to see the dam at all.

No Dam Dogs!!!
"No Dogs On Dam" sign

You know you're getting close when you start to see all the power lines. They're everywhere and really hit home how much power this dam produces.

Towards the very end, you'll see this sign. We took the shortcut because of the heat. The 12.5% grade wasn't challenging. If you've made it this far you'll be good! (Both trails meet at the other side of the hill, so whatever you choose you'll still stay on-track).

Choose Your Own Adventure inspired sign

Eventually we got to the paved switchbacks leading down to the top level of the parking garage! So close, but would we be able to see anything?

Hoover Dam parking garage

We knew that dogs weren't allowed anywhere near the dam (and you're not allowed to park your car in the garage if you have animals with you), but so far we hadn't seen any "no dogs" signs so we walked to the edge and caught a glimpse!

Hoover Dam

We took the stairs one level down to get a slightly better view:

Hoover Dam

We felt that this was the best we were going to get with the dogs. We knew that if we went to the walking area below we would be told to leave. I (Ane) had been to the Hoover Dam before and can say that the view from the parking lot is not great and that since you can't see the bottom you lose feeling of grandeur you can get as a pedestrian from street level. However, if you love a good hike, and taking your pets along - this was pretty great.

Trying to get a 50+ lbs dog and the dam in the photo at the same time

The dogs rested, drank water and had some thnacks.

As usual, someone spilled the water

Lily's souvenir t-shirt would read, "I went to the Hoover Dam and all I got were these belly rubs!"

Belly rubs

Ok, time to head back! This is the view from the top level of the parking garage. Pretty hard to see there's even a walkway there:

Walkway up from the roof, maybe

You will see this informational sign at the start of the switchbacks. I suppose some people start this hike from this parking lot but keep in mind you wouldn't be able to bring your dogs (since they won't be let into the parking structure). You'll also have to pay the $10 parking fee, and although the tunnels are cool, we thought having the dam as the "finish line" was a way better payoff. For these reasons we'd suggest starting at the Historic Railroad Trail parking lot.

Welcome sign

On the way back, we met an adorable dog named Ryder! Lily says he's possible boyfriend material, and they touched tongues in the water bowl. Pretty sure they're an item now.

Ryder & Lily initial greeting

As we were returning to the car, we encountered more and more people. Some running, biking, families hiking together. If you want the hike to yourself like we had it, wake up early -- it's worth it!

After all was said and done, from the "Jurassic Park" entrance gates to the Hoover Dam parking lot and back, we clocked 8.56 miles! Lily Goodgirl happily walked the entire way (luckily for Tommi!) and Stimpy walked about half of it, alternating between walking and being carried in his sling.

GPS track of our route

Good job puppers! You definitely earned your Lake Mead Adventuredog badges today!
Lily & Stimpy in front of a tunnel

But for now, some well earned, awkward naps...

Lily fell asleep in the doorway

Stimpy slept all twisted up