Lake Mead National Recreation Area provides many routes for scenic drives. The 62-mile Northshore Road offers desert panoramas, colorful sandstone formations, rugged mountains and sweeping views of the lake. The route connects the Las Vegas Valley with rural pioneer-era communities in historic Moapa Valley.
From the Las Vegas Valley, reach the Northshore Road by either of two routes. From northern or central locations, follow Lake Mead Boulevard east through North Las Vegas over the pass near Sunrise Mountain and down to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area boundary. From southern valley locations, follow Lake Mead Parkway from Henderson, passing Lake Las Vegas and crossing Las Vegas Wash. A parking area just past the wash provides access to a creekside trail into wetlands full of birds and wildlife. By either approach, you will enter Lake Mead National Recreation Area, where a $20 entrance fee applies.
Unless you travel in a high-clearance vehicle, stay on the pavement of Northshore Road and related paved access roads. Unpaved side roads wandering off toward the lake are enticing, but may not be regularly maintained. Many such roads are prone to flash flooding. Check National Park Service information and maps before venturing off onto unknown routes.
Northshore Road accesses marinas and other facilities on paved spur roads to Callville Bay and Echo Bay. Several hiking trails of less than a mile start near this highway and from the spur roads, leading to various viewpoints and attractions. Be sure to wear shoes or boots with nonslip soles and carry bottled drinking water even on these short hikes.
A vivid region of sandstone cliffs and canyons, Bowl of Fire, lies at a distance north of Northshore Road. Accessible only by trail, this intriguing landmark requires more time than allowed on a scenic drive. It is a gorgeous region for hikers and horseback riders. Consult maps and local hiking guidebooks before exploring Bowl of Fire.
Although there are cafes at Callville and Echo Bay, it is always fun to picnic along this scenic drive. You can tailgate picnic anyplace you can pull safely off the highway, but there are developed picnic areas at both marina sites, as well as at Redstone and Rogers Spring along the main road. Redstone is a beautiful site named for its eroded sandstone monoliths similar to Bowl of Fire. Rogers Spring and nearby Blue Point Spring are natural warm springs. They form an oasis with palms and shade trees, wading ponds and runoff streams north of the turnoff to Echo Bay. The Redstone and Rogers Spring picnic areas offer short trails for exploring.
Beautiful views of the lake can be seen along most of the drive, revealing a wide white “bathtub ring” left by receding water levels during several years of severe drought. The water has dropped enough to uncover the ruins of old St. Thomas, one of the riverside farming communities that had to be abandoned when Lake Mead waters inundated them 80 years ago. The site has become a popular hiking destination about a mile from the highway near the turnoff to Valley of Fire State Park before you reach Overton in Moapa Valley. For this hike, plan an early start and wear a hat, as there is no shade on the trail.
Although it is still early, travelers on Northshore Road may see signs of emerging plants. Look for that first faint green carpet along road edges and on south-facing slopes. The earliest desert annuals usually start appearing in February at the lowest elevations.
— Margo Bartlett Pesek’s Trip of the Week column appears on Sundays.