A bridge as an adventure… Oh yeah!
When researching Hoover Dam for our spring break road trip, I also discovered that the best view of Hoover Dam isn’t from the Dam itself or even the Visitor Center, but from a giant nearby bridge that rerouted US 93 traffic away from Hoover Dam.
The Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, also called the Hoover Dam Bypass and the Colorado River Bridge, provides stunning views of Hoover Dam before only seen by helicopter — and it’s free to park and walk across the bridge!
Located 1,500 feet south of Hoover Dam and rising 890 feet above the Colorado River, the bridge is the first concrete-steel arch composite bridge and the second tallest bridge in the United States. It is the world’s tallest concrete arch bridge and the 1,060 foot long, 277 foot deep twin-ribbed arch is the widest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.
Walking Across The Bridge
After visiting Hoover Dam and walking across the dam, we hopped back in the truck to head over to the parking lot for the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge — it’s not a huge parking lot, but it was later in the afternoon, so there were plenty of spaces available.
From the parking lot, you have two choices:
- Take the stairs up to the bridge.
- Take the accessible paved trail that switchbacks up the hill.
We took the stairs because it was hot and faster and at the top of the trail, surrounded by curved concrete walls and mountain, is an interpretive plaza with commemorative plaques and information about the bridge construction. After walking through the plaza, you reach the side of the highway and the end of the bridge, and a public walkway along the Hoover Dam side. You can walk all the way across the bridge (then come back the way you came), but really you only need to walk to the center of the bridge to take in the incredible view.
Standing dead center on the walkway of the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge gives you the best views of Hoover Dam, Hoover Powerplant, Lake Mead, and the Colorado River below. But if heights aren’t your thing, I maybe wouldn’t lean over the rail to peek at the river 890 feet down!
If you’re planning a visit to Hoover Dam, this is something you MUST add to your itinerary!
About The Hoover Dam Bypass Project And The Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
As early as the 1960s, officials identified the US 93 route over Hoover Dam to be dangerous and inadequate for projected traffic volumes. From 1998–2001, officials from Arizona, Nevada, and several federal government agencies collaborated to determine the best routing for an alternative river crossing. In March 2001, the Federal Highway Administration selected the route, which crosses the Colorado River approximately 1,500 feet downstream of Hoover Dam.
Construction of the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge began in 2003 and was completed and opened in 2010 to reroute US 93 from atop Hoover Dam and remove several hairpin turns and blind curves from the highway.
With 30,000 cubic yards of concrete and 16 million pounds of steel, the bridge consists of four lanes and alleviates a number of problems associated with the old US 93 that passed over Hoover Dam:
- The narrow, winding two-lane road could no longer handle the 14,000 cars that passed over the dam daily.
- With two hairpin turns, blind curves, and pedestrian traffic, the road was dangerous.
- Loaded trucks and buses with luggage couldn’t pass over the dam due to restrictions.
- Since 9/11 trucks and other unauthorized vehicles had to go through Laughlin, NV to cross over the Colorado River.
The Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge speeds up travel across the Colorado River and provides a safer route for travel. This bridge however was only one part of the Hoover Dam Bypass Project, which also included a 900 foot bridge on the Arizona side and six new bridges on the Arizona side. There is also a nearby parking lot, an accessible switchbacking trail, an interpretive plaza, and a pedestrian walkway on the bridge that provides spectacular views of Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, Black Canyon, and the Colorado River from high above.
What I found really interesting is that a series of wildlife-only overpasses and underpasses were also created to protect the nation’s largest herd of endangered desert bighorn sheep from the heavier volume and faster speed of traffic on the new highway. Officials used radio collars and GPS to track the migratory patterns of sheep and other wildlife to identify optimal crossing points.
Naming The Bridge
The Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge stretches 1,905 feet to connect Clark County, Nevada and Mohave County, Arizona and is named in honor of a notable figure from each state:
- Mike O’Callaghan was a decorated Korean War veteran, Governor of Nevada from 1971–1979, and former executive editor of the Las Vegas Sun.
- Pat Tillman was a football player who left the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the United States Army and was killed in Afghanistan by friendly fire.
Know Before You Go
- The Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge is part of US HWY 93 in Boulder City, Nevada. It connects Clark County, Nevada and Mohave County, Arizona and sits within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area approximately 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas and 1,500 feet south of Hoover Dam.
- The bridge is 1,905 feet long and rises 890 feet above the Colorado River. It was dedicated in 2010 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Hoover Dam.
- To enjoy the view of Hoover Dam from the bridge, you have to park below the bridge and walk up. You can’t see anything while driving across the bridge as the sidewalls are tall to to keep drivers focused on the road and prevent accidents.
- There is no shade and the entire walk from the parking lot across the bridge is in full sun. Be sure to wear sunscreen and bring a hat and water.
- Consider visiting in the morning to beat the heat!
- Parking and access is free. Restrooms are available in the parking lot.