Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Arizona and Nevada is one of the most popular boating lakes in the US. Formed in the 1930’s by the construction of the Hoover Dam, with over 247 square miles of surface area, it’s the largest reservoir in the US. Ever since it’s creation, it’s been home to endless recreational activities: houseboating, hiking, cliff-jumping, water-skiing, kayaking, boating, jet skiing, etc. But all of that is changing.
Over the last 20 years, the water levels of Lake Mead have been decreasing drastically. In 2000, the water level was around 1,200 ft. Today, it’s at 1,041 ft. The lake is only one quarter full compared to what it was 10 years ago. Drought in the Southwest US has caused the drastic change, and there’s no signs of it stopping anytime soon. It’s a change that directly affects many things, from farming to water storage. Equally affected, but perhaps not equally important, is the impact it’s having on recreational activities. So what exactly does the drought and receding shoreline mean when it comes to boating Lake Mead?
All You Need to Know About Boating Lake Mead
Boating Lake Mead looks very different today than it did 10 years ago. A lake once filled with lively houseboats is rapidly becoming a lake filled with memories. While boating Lake Mead has certainly become more challenging, it is still possible, at least if you’re willing to put in a little extra work.
Lake Mead Access
Boat Launch Ramps
One of the biggest challenges to boating Lake Mead amidst the drought is simply boat access to the lake. Launch ramps were originally built to be widely accessible. Getting your boat into the lake was typically a quick and painless process, with little to no waiting. But accessible boat ramps are becoming far and few between. Since 2010, the National Park Service has spent over $40 million trying to keep boat ramps in working condition. Every time the water levels fall 4 feet, it costs them $2-3 million to reconfigure the boat launch ramp. What was once a quick and easy process can now take hours or even a majority of the day if it’s a busy weekend.
Of the 6 major launch ramps at Lake Mead, only 1 (Hemenway Harbor) is open. Careful planning is necessary if you plan to launch here. Avoiding weekends or popular hours (10am to 2pm) for launching is a must. The best place to go for up to date information on lake access is Lake Mead’s official Twitter account. They regularly post about lake levels, launch closures, and busy areas or times.
Lake Mead Marinas
The best way to avoid the long launch ramp wait times is to be lucky enough to have a boat slip at a marina. If you own a boat, getting a marina slip will take patience and persistence. The waiting list can be long, so you’ll want to apply as soon as you can. Each marina is managed by private businesses, so applying can be done through their websites.
Another great way to avoid wait times at launch ramps is to rent a boat. This can definitely be pricey, but if you only plan on boating Lake Mead a few times, the payoff may be worth it. Most of the marinas have boat rentals available and ready to go.
To apply for a marina slip or reserve a rental, head to the NPS website for Lake Mead. Under “Lake Mead Concessions,” you’ll find links and contact info for each privately managed marina.
Another challenge to consider when it comes to boating Lake Mead amidst a drought is the safety. With the water levels changing daily, new hazards are constantly being revealed, or rather, stumbled upon by unlucky boaters. Rocks that weren’t a problem one day can become a catastrophe for an unassuming boat the next day. Islands that didn’t even exist 20 years ago are quickly growing. If you’re not careful, your whole houseboat can get beached and stuck for days.
To help improve the lake safety, many of the navigational structures are constantly being adjusted. This will be a huge help to you in avoiding rocks, debris, and new shallow areas. You can see some of the changes that have been made to these structures here.
A little extra planning and caution can save your trip, and allow you to enjoy the lake all the same. One of the most helpful tips is to approach the lake as if it’s your first time every time. With the water levels changing as quickly as they are, it truly is a different lake each time you enter. Always approach the shore slowly, and keep a keen eye out for submerged rocks or debris. Never assume you know what’s beneath you. As mentioned before, you can stay up to do date on lake closures and safety concerns through Lake Mead’s Twitter account. Be sure to check it out before your next trip!
Let the Good Times Roll
If you’re feeling discouraged about the effects that the changing water levels are having when it comes to boating Lake Mead, let me ease your mind a bit. Every year, Lake Mead has over 8 million recreational visits. The daily boating capacity is set at over 3,000 boats on the water at any one time. And on popular holidays, like July 4th, this capacity is quickly reached. Lake life is booming, despite the receding shoreline. Houseboating, jet skiing, paddle boarding, kayaking, wake boarding, water skiing, tubing, fishing and boating of every kind are alive and well.
So while all of the headlines feel like gloom and doom, the reality, at least for now, is that boating Lake Mead is still a very viable option for your recreational aspirations! Be smart and proactive about your plans. Gather the info you need for a safe trip. And then get out there and enjoy it while it lasts! Let the good times roll at Lake Mead!
A Lake to Remember
Lake Mead is one of the top recreational areas in the US. Maybe it’s home to your favorite family vacation. Maybe it’s your home away from home where you visit frequently and own a houseboat. Maybe it’s your go-to escape for a carefree beach day. Whatever Lake Mead is for you, its memories will last forever.
No matter what lies ahead for the future of Lake Mead, we want to help you cherish those memories. We designed this elegant wooden engraved 3D map of Lake Mead for anyone who holds special memories of its waters. The wooden map can be personalized however you’d like, adding a family name, a favorite quote, or specific dates. We know how fleeting a magical memory on the lake can feel. So let us help you capture the memory forever with our custom map of Lake Mead.
Lake Mead MapProduct on sale$98.00 – $125.00
Here at Whake Studios, we are passionate about encouraging and supporting you in exploring the beauty and magic that nature has to offer! From boating Lake Mead, Lake Powell, or Lake Havasu, to exploring the US National Parks, we’ve got a board to help you remember and track your favorite memories. So get out there and experience the beauty that life has to offer. Stop dreaming, start living!