Outdoor sightseeing vacations are some of my family’s favorites. We’re close enough to Niagara Falls on the New York side to visit often, but we haven’t yet had a chance to visit the Hoover Dam – though it’s on our list!
If you’re here, you’re stuck between these two destinations for your next family vacation. The Hoover Dam and Niagara Falls are both special in their own ways and should factor into your long-term travel plans if you can swing it.
However, if you can only visit one right now, this guide will help you decide which it will be.
What is the Hoover Dam?
The Hoover Dam is between Arizona and Nevada. Specifically, it’s located in Arizona’s Mohave County and Nevada’s Clark County in the Black Canyon. It’s an arched dam, also known as an arch-gravity dam.
In other words, it has an upstream curvature that narrows to direct water pressure toward the nearest rock walls.
Named for President Herbert Hoover, the Hoover Dam is concrete and was built in the 1930s. It was one of the tallest dams in the world at one point, but today ranks about 20th on the list. However, it’s 726.4 feet tall, so it’s impressive, nonetheless.
Better yet, you can walk around the Hoover Dam for free, so it’s an economical destination for families vacationing around Nevada or Arizona.
Things to Do Near the Hoover Dam with Kids
Visiting the Hoover Dam is exciting but not an all-day affair by any means. You’ll spend an hour to two hours here. A guided tour takes about 60 minutes, and you’d double that if you opt for two tours.
What else is there to do around the area when you’re finished? Let’s explore!
Boulder City is the home of Tom Devlin’s Monster Museum, open daily between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
This awesome museum showcases the history of monsters in film. You and the kids can marvel at costume pieces, creature suits, movie props, and how special effects are used to create movie magic.
Tom is a professional special effects artist with over 20 years of experience, so he knows his stuff. He’s worked on more than 100 feature films and is obsessed with monster movies. The Monster Museum is his chance to share that passion with others.
It’s a fun curiosity that will surely interest your older kids.
Bootleg Canyon in Boulder City is another major attraction. You could always hike the trail the old-fashioned way or zipline down it instead.
Flightlinez Bootleg Canyon is a 150 to 180-minute tour. You’re equipped with a paragliding harness and attached to cable wires. Then you’re unleashed across Red Mountain, where you can reach top speeds of 50 miles per hour.
Your max speed when ziplining is determined by your weight, so smaller kids won’t go fast as older ones, and you’ll travel the most quickly of all, Mom and Dad (if you decide to go, that is).
Part of the tour involves explaining how the zipline works, what the equipment does, and safety rules. Your guides will transport you by van up the canyon, then launch into orientation. You can ask any questions before you begin riding.
The summit of the zipline experience is 450 feet up. It’s a bit scary, but try to enjoy the unique vantage point you’re afforded, as you can’t see the Red Mountains better than here!
Willow Beach’s Arizona Hot Spring Trail is a five-mile trail with an elevation change of 750 feet. I’d recommend this trail if your family is experienced at hiking, as it’s considered very difficult.
The trail takes you across views of Ringbolt Rapid downstream. You can get there from the Lake Mead Visitor Center by driving along US Highway 93 for 8.4 miles east, about 4.2 miles from the Hoover Dam. You’ll see signs for the trailhead.
The Hoover Dam was difficult to build, and unfortunately, 100 people who dedicated their time to constructing it perished. You can learn about that and more at the Boulder City-Hoover Dam Museum.
It’s a fascinating glimpse into the dam’s history and what life was like during the Great Depression. Your family should walk away with a stronger appreciation of the dam after visiting.
The Clark County Museum in Henderson, Nevada is another stop as you visit the Hoover Dam with the kids. It’s managed by the Clark County Parks and Recreation and is 30 expansive acres of exhibits.
The history museum showcases life across the years in Goldfield, Henderson, Boulder City, and Las Vegas.
Lake Las Vegas
You shouldn’t miss a chance to see Lake Las Vegas before you wrap up your trip. This Henderson reservoir is 320 acres surrounded by 3,592 acres of developed land.
The Lake Las Vegas Resort is in the vicinity. You and the family might stay at The Hilton Resort & Spa or the Westin Resort & Spa.
What is Niagara Falls?
Niagara Falls is all the way on the other side of the continent between Canada and New York. It features the breathtaking Niagara Falls State Park in New York.
The state park affords stunning glimpses into the three main falls: Bridal Veil, American, and Horseshoe Falls. Each is unique. Horseshoe Falls is the largest, while Bridal Veil Falls is nicknamed after the way the water moves, which makes it look like a bride’s veil.
All three falls produce the greatest flowrate of North American waterfalls that drop more than 160 feet. The falls can send out as much as 5.9 million cubic feet of water per minute during peak daytime hours, with Horseshoe Falls producing the greatest flow rate.
That waterfall is 2,590 feet wide. By comparison, the American Falls is 1,050 feet wide.
Things to Do Near Niagara Falls with Kids
You can easily spend all day at Niagara Falls, with six hours recommended to take in the extent of the falls’ wonder. If your family plans to make an entire vacation out of visiting Niagara Falls, here are some more kid-friendly activities and attractions to add to the itinerary.
My family loves the Cave of the Winds. You can see Niagara Falls up close and personal – and yes, that does mean getting wet.
If you visit in the summer, you won’t be left freezing cold after being soaked to the skin. You should also bring another change of clothes and open-toed shoes (sandals over flip-flops), so you’re not shuffling around in wet sneakers all day.
However, be aware that even in the summertime, it’s colder around the falls than you might expect, so wear something a little warmer than you would on an average summer day in New York.
My family has visited in the winter too, and the falls are so serene then, and you have fewer crowds.
Check out our article to read more about my family’s experience at Cave of the Winds, with plenty of photos of the experience!
Who doesn’t love butterflies? The Niagara Falls Butterfly Conservatory is a glass-enclosed exhibit that displays more than 2,000 live butterflies of all sizes, shapes, and colors.
The conservatory has small waterfalls, bright green vegetation, and curving pathways begging for exploration. All along, the butterflies travel freely, and some might even land on you.
The emergence window is one of the coolest parts of the entire experience, as you can see butterflies before they become beauteous creatures.
Sometimes, a butterfly will exit its pupa and spread its wings for the first time right in front of you. It’s truly a wonder to behold.
The Niagara SkyWheel is part of Clifton Hill, a small amusement park in the area. It’s the crown jewel of this park, as it takes you 175 feet over Niagara Falls for an out-of-this-world view you can’t enjoy at any other vantage point.
The SkyWheel is open throughout the year and operates night and day. However, weather conditions can sometimes force closures. The gondolas have heating and air conditioning and are enclosed so you can visit in the dead of winter or the heat of summer and enjoy a comfy ride.
You must pay for each adult and child who goes on the ride, and you can buy tickets ahead of time (which I recommend). The SkyWheel isn’t a thrill ride, so you don’t have to worry about it spinning quickly.
Instead, it’s a leisurely sightseeing experience that will be the cherry on top of your kids’ vacation.
Where can you see Humboldt penguins, invertebrates, marine mammals, seahorses, eels, sea lions, frogs, and turtles all under one roof near Niagara Falls? Why, at the Aquarium of Niagara, of course.
More than 1,500 animals are on display here in recreations of their natural habitats. Your children can see them behind glass and even touch, pet, or feed some of them if you purchase a separate animal encounter ticket.
The available animal encounters include experiences with seals, stingrays, penguins, and sharks. Trained staff will supervise the experience, and don’t worry; your child won’t be bitten by a shark.
Behind-the-scenes aquarium tours are also available, or your child can be a trainer for a day to learn more about what goes into this job.
Hoover Dam vs. Niagara Falls – Which to Take the Kids to?
You’ve learned about the Hoover Dam and Niagara Falls, so which is the better experience for family togetherness?
They both are!
Hoover Dam and Niagara Falls bring very different experiences to the table. The Hoover Dam is a much shorter tour. The surrounding attractions focus a lot on the historical side of the dam for a more leisurely, relaxing tour of the area.
Niagara Falls has more heart-pumping entertainment, from the Cave of the Winds to the Niagara SkyWheel.
Both are a chance to get outside with the kids and experience some of the best wonders the United States has to offer. You can’t go wrong no matter which you choose.