Boulder City is your no-hassles gateway to Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, golf, a zip line, nostalgic restaurant, and lower prices than Las Vegas.
In 1997, when we bought a Cessna 210 and based it at Santa Monica, California, we thought nothing of hopping over to Las Vegas: about $35 in fuel, land at Mc Carran and park free, take the fixed-base operation’s free shuttle to town, free shuttle back, and home in an hour. Ah, those were the days. Now, tell approach you’re landing at Mc Carran and you’ll likely be parked in a long hold. On the ground, fuel costs over $8 a gallon, the ramp fee is around $50, buffets are $40-plus, and the rooms go for 10 times what we paid in the 1990s.
Boulder City owes its existence to Hoover Dam, eight miles up the road. Originally known unofficially as Boulder Dam, the concrete-arch gravity dam was authorized by Congress in 1928 to control flooding and provide irrigation water and electricity. At the time, Las Vegas was controlled by mobsters, and the government did not want the dam’s workers or headquarters there. To house the workers and their families, a “model city” was carefully planned under government supervision to be a “clean living” environment. Gambling and alcohol were banned. Generous use of landscaping and parks, in keeping with Reclamation’s goal of “greening the West,” earned it the nickname “Nevada’s Garden City.”
Nowadays, Boulder City is one of only two Nevada cities that still prohibit gambling, though alcohol was allowed beginning in 1969. Kids play in grassy parks, and trees shade rows of neatly kept historic homes. Sometimes as many as 100 wild bighorn sheep show up in Hemenway Valley Park. Antique shops cluster near the town’s center, while its outskirts host a railroad museum that offers scenic desert rides on a vintage train. Special events include art festivals, car shows, barbecues, beerfests, wine walks, and more.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area (LMNRA) offers water sports galore, or, tour the dam to see how Vegas powers all that neon. For the absolute best views of Hoover Dam and the Colorado River, take a river raft float below the dam.
Oh, and did we mention the golf courses right next to the airport and champagne dinner cruises? Who needs fake Roman palaces and Venetian lagoons? But if you still want to go to Las Vegas, you can escape the airport hassles by landing in Boulder City and making the 34-minute drive.
There are two local spots you can gamble, both technically outside the city limits. The Hoover Dam Lodge Hotel and Casino sits on private property within the LMNRA. On the other end of town, the Railroad Pass Hotel and Casino lies within the Henderson city limits. The Railroad Casino is adjacent to trailheads for the paved, 34-mile River Mountains Loop Trail that surrounds the River Mountains and connects the LMNRA, Hoover Dam, Henderson, Boulder City, and the rest of Las Vegas Valley and is perfect for bicycling. Look for Gambel’s quail, bighorn sheep, coyotes, and roadrunners along the way. Rent bikes at All Mountain Cyclery, where you can also get trail info, shuttles, and advice. In Bootleg Canyon, home to another hiking trail, you can also zoom like a bird over the canyon at up to 60 mph on the Flightlinez zip line.
Back in town, the Boulder Dam Hotel houses the interesting Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum. Milo’s Inn at Boulder is a Tuscan-inspired bed-and-breakfast. At The Dillinger restaurant, two shotguns fashioned into door handles set the theme. An ever-changing array of craft beers go down just right with the restaurant’s signature burgers named for thugs such as Al Capone, Baby Face Nelson, and Bugsy Siegel. The Yakuza comes with Asian slaw and a sauce “so secret we’re not even sure what it is.” But no mention of Boulder City is complete without the World Famous Coffee Cup Café, a true original, with an omelet to die for—Guy Fieri proclaimed the Pork Chili Verde Omelet “the bomb,” and I agree. Come on down and try it yourself!
Share your favorite destination in the AOPA Hangar: Places to fly, things to do, where to eat!