COVID-19 has become a major global public health burden, currently causing a rapidly growing number of infections and significant morbidity and mortality around the world. Early detection with fast and sensitive assays and timely intervention are crucial for interrupting the spread of the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2). Using a mismatch-tolerant amplification technique, we developed a simple, rapid, sensitive and visual reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP) assay for SARS-CoV-2 detection based on its N gene. The assay has a high specificity and sensitivity, and robust reproducibility, and its results can be monitored using a real-time PCR machine or visualized via colorimetric change from red to yellow. The limit of detection (LOD) of the assay is 118.6 copies of SARS-CoV-2 RNA per 25 μL reaction. The reaction can be completed within 30 min for real-time fluorescence monitoring, or 40 min for visual detection when the template input is more than 200 copies per 25 μL reaction. To evaluate the viability of the assay, a comparison between the RT-LAMP and a commercial RT-qPCR assay was made using 56 clinical samples. The SARS-CoV-2 RT-LAMP assay showed perfect agreement in detection with the RT-qPCR assay. The newly-developed SARS-CoV-2 RT-LAMP assay is a simple and rapid method for COVID-19 surveillance.