Black Canyon – Kayaking in a Vegas Oasis

Black Canyon and Hoover Dam in the Colorado River

If you are a nature and adventure lover you may think that Vegas is not the place for you. But I want to show you a hidden oasis located just under an hour away from the strip.  A place so much cooler than any hotel pool. Get ready for the best adventure you will have in Vegas as I take you Kayaking through the Black Canyon with Blazin’ Paddles. I will be showing you some hidden trails, caves and hot springs that you can only get to by being on the river.

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The Black Canyon an Oasis in the Desert

The Black Canyon is a portion of the lower Colorado river that flows through Lake Mead National Recreation Area. It is a 30-mile water trail that begins at the base of the Hoover Dam and ends at El Dorado Canyon. It is an Oasis in the desert surrounded by towering canyon walls, cool waters, hiking trails, sandy beaches, wildlife and more.

One way to access the Black Canyon is through a guided tour starting at the base of the Hoover Dam. This is a secure area and only special outfitters are authorized to take the road down to the base of the Hoover Dam. Access also requires a special entry permit which the tour operators take care of.

Alternatively you can access the Black Canyon from Willow Beach, Arizona or from an old mining town in Eldorado Canyon, Nevada. Both of these locations allow you to bring your own kayaks or rent equipment from them. It is a less costly alternative but you will be paddling up river and will need to know your way.

Choosing When and How to Tame the Colorado River 

All times of the year are great to be on the river and explore the Black Canyon. Spring and Fall seem ideal with cooler temperatures making it more comfortable to be out.  It also makes the hot springs more enjoyable.  However, summer should not be discounted. It is a great way to get away and beat the heat in the 55 degree Colorado river.

Black Canyon with Blazin' Paddles
Kayaking the Black Canyon with Blazin’ Paddles

Now the question is do you self guide or go with a guided tour? You can certainly rent kayaks and save a few dollars. But be warned this will not get you the best equipment and you will need to secure your own permits depending on where you want to launch from. You will also need to know where to find the best spots. Another issue is transportation from Vegas. To get to the Black Canyon you will need to rent a car if you do not already have one which can be costly.

So for this adventure I decided that a guided tour was the way to go. The hard part was picking which company to go with. All companies provide transportation, arrange for permits, take you to all the cool must stop locations and provide water and lunch.  So how do you chose?

Blazin’ Paddles the Perfect Choice

I did a lot of research before choosing a tour operator. And when it came to decision time for my kayaking adventure Blazin’ Paddles stood out for several reasons:

1 – Their philosophy.

They truly care about our natural resources and are passionate about what they do.  They support the National Parks’ mission which is to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area for the enjoyment, eduction, and inspiration of this and future generations.

2 – Their guides.

Blazin’ Paddles cares about their guides and the experience they provide to you. This means the guides are top notch and well trained. This is not just a job for them. As a mater of fact our guide Seth thanked us for allowing him the opportunity to be a part of our vacation. He was extremely personable and you could really see and feel that he loved every minute of being on the water and sharing his knowledge and passion with us.

BONUS: You will be supporting a small business. I do not make it a secret that I love supporting small business, and I am glad I put my trust in Blazin’ Paddles. With Blazin’ Paddles I experienced outstanding customer service way before I got on the kayak. Communications with owner Ryan are smooth and responsive. He takes the time to answer your every question and make sure you are getting the experience that is right for you. And I guarantee they will do whatever it takes to make this day one you will never forget.

3 – The equipment.

Blazin’ Paddles has brand new state of the art 15 – 17 foot kayaks and paddles. They offer both single and double (tandem) kayaks. Each kayak has a dry area to sore any belongings and they have comfortable adjustable seats and foot peddles. Kayaks even have a back rudder you can operate with your feet making it so much easier to steer and turn in tight spaces.

For more information on Blazin’ Paddles or to book your own tour click here.

Kayaking the Black Canyon – Hidden Trails, Caves, and Hot Springs

Depending on how much time you have you can chose between a half day or a full day kayaking trip. The full day tour, while more physically challenging, is in my opinion the superior choice. It is a 12 mile (6 to 7 hr) paddle that will test your upper body strength and show you the best sights.

The kayaking adventure through the Black Canyon starts at the base of the Hoover Dam and ends 12 miles later at Willow Beach. The path through the canyon is a  stunning and peaceful journey.

Black Canyon and Hoover Dam
First sight of the Hoover Dam as we drive down the secure area

Equally amazing are the stops for hiking, cave exploring, and hot spring soaks. This is one of best wilderness getaways from Vegas with surprises at every turn. A true oasis in the middle of the desert. And the perfect way to disconnect from the chaos and worries and reconnect to what truly maters.

For a map of the Black Canyon with many points of interest click here 

 

Preparations to Launch and the Mighty Hoover Dam.

Blazin’ Paddles does a fantastic job coordinating pickups and getting you transported safely to the launch location at the foot of the Hoover Dam. The drive is not long and it is a great opportunity to get to know the rest of the kayakers on the tour.

We had a small group of six. A lovely mother and daughter team from Tennessee (Susan and Karen). A young man (Dustin) that decided to make an escape from Vegas on his final day there. And of course, my husband and I and our fantastic tour guide Seth.

Black Canyon group shot
Our group: Susan and Karen, Dustin, myself and hubby Ivan. Tour guide Seth behind the camera.

Each of us was assigned a kayak and shown how to adjust it for comfort and how to operate it once in the water. Once the operational and safety instructions were provided, and everyone was outfitted with a vest, we took our kayaks down to the base of the river.

 

Black Canyon
Testing and adjusting seats in the Kayaks and learning safety instructions

 

Taking the kayaks down to launching site

Here is where I looked up and marveled at the mighty glory of the Hoover Dam that towers over 700 ft above.

Black Canyon and Hoover Dam

And then excited to begin our day we started our journey trough the still waters of the Colorado river. You heard that right, these are no rapids. We had virtually no wind to help push us along what looked like a glass surface. And no sounds but those we made as we plunged our paddles into the water.  It was pure bliss.

Black Canyon and Hoover Dam
View of Hoover Dam from Kayaks as we start out on the journey through the Black Canyon
Note:  Water levels in the canyon change drastically even by the hour. Rain and water being released by the dam will determine what you experience. The amount of wind will also be a player in how easy or difficult it is to paddle.

 

The Sauna Cave – Natures Best Spa Treatment

The first stop was the Sauna Cave. We parked our kayaks on the sandy beach on the Arizona side and made our way carefully up the side to a cave entrance. As you stick your head into the cave the difference in temperature is evident and you can feel the steam start to melt your worries (and your sunblock if you had any on) away.  I am silently cheering as I experience the best natural facial ever – hooray for cleaner pores.

Sauna Cave in the Black Canyon
View from inside the Sauna Cave
WARNING: Do not dip your head into any of the warm spring waters as they may contain brain eating amoeba that could be potentially deadly.  Soak your lower body and don’t allow water to go up your nose.
Black Canyon warning sign outside cave
Warning sign outside the cave

The water inside is a balmy 140 degrees and it took me a little to get used to it. The further you venture into the cave the darker it gets and I quickly came to the conclusion I had seen enough. I preferred to experience the cleansing benefits of the steam while sitting on the entrance ledge where I could see the view.

Sauna Cave Black Canyon
One more look before we leave the cave

I could easily imagine myself lingering at this location a bit more during the cooler months of the year.  But considering I was there in the dead heat of the summer a quick soak was all I needed and I was ready to head back and cool off in the 55 degree river below.

 

Arizona Hot Springs and the Stairway to Heaven 

This was one of my favorite stops. It involved a bit of hiking, climbing ladders and soaking in mineral springs. It could not have been more perfect.

After walking through some narrow canyons and a series of small springs we arrived at a beautiful waterfall.

Arizona hot springs in the Black Canyon
Starting the trek at Arizona Hot Springs towards the main waterfall

 

Black Canyon and Arizona Hot Springs
Susan and Karen climb up further into the Canyon

 

Hot Springs in the Black Canyon
The water running down comes from the hot springs and gets hotter and hotter the further up we go

 

Arizona Springs and Black Canyon
Looking down the path at the colors of the canyon walls which are so varied and beautiful

 

Stairway to heaven in the Black Canyon
The ladder which I named the stairway to heaven. It leads to the pools where you can soak in the mineral spring waters

The waterfall has a ladder attached to it and it makes me wonder…  In my head I am already singing stairway to heaven. And really what awaits us above is heavenly indeed. Pool after hot pool of blissful heaven and the temperatures get hotter and hotter the further you go.

The climb up and the rest of the crew below waiting their turn

Despite the heat we find the perfect pool to soak our weary bones in. I know you are probably thinking that the heat of the summer is not the best time for hot springs. And although this may be true, I guarantee that after you have been kayaking for miles your muscles will welcome natures spa treatment.  It was a great way to relax and spend some time chatting with my fellow kayakers and our wonderful guide Seth.

Pools to soak in. Natural mineral spring waters which have been stoped from flowing freely by the sand bags to create pools.
More pools that get increasingly hotter in temperature

Black Canyon and Arizona Springs

Beaches, Lions and Sandwiches – Oh My!

The next stop on our paddling journey is lunch at Lion beach. Our guide tells us mountain lions have been seen here and despite the warnings we still want to explore a bit before lunch.  Lucky for us none came out to greet us.

Arrived in Lion Beach for lunch
Exploring areas we were not supposed to go to – shhh… don’t tell.

Once back from our unauthorized explorations, we set up in a shady spot and use our vests as cushions on the ground. I have never been so thankful to see a sandwich in my life.  All those miles kayaking have made me ravenous.  But as hungry as I am, I’m unable to finish the ginormous sandwich they have brought for us.  So it gets packed up with everything else.

Eating the first half of my sandwich. I could not eat the second half as it was way to big.
NOTE: Please never feed any wildlife. Not only is it dangerous to you but they become dependent on handouts and this is detrimental to them as well.  Also, always take all your trash back with you and do not leave anything behind. Lets help keep this place pristine for future generations to continue to enjoy.

 

Emerald Cave – The Jewell of the Black Canyon

Throughout our journey the waters in the canyon were absolutely beautiful. I do not know why but I was expecting the entire Colorado river to be an ugly brown color. But to the contrary, some areas where crystal clear and you could see fish swimming all around. On the other hand some parts were so green they almost looked unnatural.  It was really unexpected and a wonderful surprise.

Colorado River
Incredible green waters in the Colorado river

So when I heard we were visiting the Emerald Cave my imagination went a bit wild.  Especially after being fueled by the beauty I had encountered all day. I was expecting the jewel of the canyon. A cave that would glow and sparkle with the rays of the sun and reflect a beautiful emerald color brighter than any I had ever seen. Needless to say I was excited and really looking forward to this final stop on our journey.

Emerald Cave I the Black Canyon
Inside the Emerald Cave

The reality is I was a bit disappointed.  Not that the place was not beautiful, because it was. The sun did reflect beautifully off the water unto the canyon walls. And the water was an amazing color green. But I did not feel the water was any greener than other parts of the canyon.  Even so, it is a beautiful spot and a welcomed shelter from the sun. And I am certainly glad I experienced it regardless of its level of greeness (yes I realize that is not a real word).

Are we there yet? An Endless Mile to Willow Beach

I won’t lie, the last mile or so to Willow Beach seemed to be endless. We had no current to push us along and no wind to cool us down. We could see the finish line but I felt as though we were the tortoise in the race slowly inching our way to the finish line. You could sense the energy in the group dwindling fast.

In light of my exhaustion I became very thankful that I decided last minute to ride a tandem instead of a single kayak. I owe my husband a big one as I let him carry the load and paddle alone while I rested my arms and did nothing but enjoy the scenery around me. And no I did not feel guilty at all.

Once we arrived at Willow Beach the convenience store welcomed us with clean restrooms and cold beverages.  We picked up some necessities (yes ice cream and alcohol are necessities) and sat to relax while our guide loaded the kayaks on the trailer for our ride back into Vegas.

Although exhausted, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. I felt renewed by the energy of a great day on the Colorado river. Feeling blessed to have left the Vegas strip behind for a day of soul nourishment. This was an adventure I won’t soon forget.

 

One Last Surprise

There is lots of wildlife in the Black Canyon, several types of rattle snakes, birds, fish and even bighorn sheep.  And although we did not spot any of the elusive sheep during our paddle our guide surprised us once more and made it happen.

 

On our ride back to Vegas our guide Seth spotted a large group of sheep on the side of the mountain. So we made one last detour to see them up close and personal. And wow it was totally worth it.  Such a fun way to end the already amazing day.

If you are considering an escape from Vegas to reconnect to nature then a kayaking adventure on the Colorado river with Blazzin’ Paddles is exactly what you need. I promise it will be an unforgettable experience and one of the best memories you will have from your trip.

 

Important Details – What to Wear and Bring Along for Your Black Canyon Kayaking Trip

  • Water shoes. Sturdy footwear you can get wet. Do not use flip flops.
  • Long sleeve SPF shirt. This for me was a life saver. Kept me cool and prevented sunburn.
  • Bathing-suit or water friendly clothing. Anything that will dry easy. Try to stay away from cotton.
  • Camera. Bring along your DSLR, phone and or GoPro. There is a compartment to keep everything dry while you are not using it.
  • Sun block. Apply sunblock after the hot springs so it does not melt into your eyes.
  • Hat and sunglasses.
  • ID and money.  You will need your ID at the security checkpoint. Money is to purchase snacks at the end and to tip your guide.

 

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What are your favorite adventure and outdoor activities near Vegas? I would love to hear all about them so please leave me a message below or lets get social on Instagram and Facebook

 

 

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35 Comments

  1. You captured the essence of our kayaking journey beautifully! Thank you for helping to make this experience so memorable for my mother and myself. Amazing pictures!!!

    1. I will be happy to send you some of the pictures if you want them for a memory book or album just let me know. So glad we got to meet here and do this wonderful tour together.

  2. This is so good to know there’s more to Vegas than just the strip! I’m by no means an adrenalin person, but I’d love to do this! Blazing Paddles sound like a great company, and I liked all the places on your trip. Good tip about wearing a long sleeve shirt, I remember the temperatures from when I was in Vegas, and it was scorching hot!

    1. The water is calm so not really an adrenaline rush but it is so peaceful and gorgeous. A great way to reconnect with nature and escape the glitz of the strip. Blazin’ Paddles was fantastic – 5 stars for sure.

  3. If you’ve showed me the photos, I would have never guessed that it’s Vegas! Didn’t know that the Black Canyon is so interesting. Kayaking is one great way to explore the area, that’s for sure.
    It seems that the tour was just lovely, and the landscape is gorgeous! 🙂

  4. OMG! This is so picturesque!!! I’m yet to explore the American continent and Arizona is definitely atop the list with this breathtaking landscapes! I hope I’ll get to visit here myself!
    The clear water and the way the mountains are reflecting is just wow! Nice that they teach on how to work with it. The group size is perfect with six… The hike atop the canyon is awesome as well…

  5. I’ve been to Vegas more times than I can count, and I’m a little ashamed to say that I had no idea you could kayak that close! I’ve totally pinned this for later because I’m always looking for an adventure close to Vegas. Kayaking for that long though is no joke! Glad you had fun!

    1. Rachelle it was an incredible full day. If the full day seems daunting a half day is available. It is such a great experience and I highly recommend it.

    1. It requires special permits but it is certainly a fantastic experience and worth doing. Glad you like the pictures and hope you can visit in person one day

  6. Once I have done kayaking and it was real fun. Kayaking in Black Canyon is so beautiful journey because of passing through natural red rocks. I would like to wash my face at Natural Spa as you said – water is good for skin and a best facial. Nice pictures and tips!

    1. You need to be careful at the natural springs because of the amoeba so I would not recommend dunking your face it in. But the waters are great for soaking your body and the steam alone is great for the face.

  7. Wow..a canyon in Vegas? That was a new information for me. I always thought that Vegas is a bustling city with casinos and bars. Will definitely visit Black canyon next time in Vegas. Thanks for sharing

    1. If you venture a bit outside there is much to do to connect you to nature. Glad I was able to provide a nice alternative for you.

    1. Yes I also did another trip that I will share soon that he would have been over the moon with. This entire Vegas experience he would have loved.

  8. This sounds and looks like the perfect trip for us! A bit of nature, a bit of adventure, and a bit of animals 😉 Will add this to our USA road trip itinerary ( hopefully next year )

    1. Many outdoor and nature people skip Vegas but there really is so much near by that is perfect for us outdoor and nature aficionados. This is a great tour and hope you get to experience it.

  9. Vegas has been a dream. I am more interested in the landscapes than the party capital that it is. I am an adventure and outdoor enthusiast and love places like this. Who would believe it is so close to Vegas.

    1. Yes I am also an adventure and outdoor enthusiast and finding and sharing these gems with others makes me happy. Hope next time you go you can take advantage of the beautiful outdoors and this magnificent place and tour.

  10. This guide is well-written and provides a comprehensive detail of each activity/place as you kayak the rivier. The photos showcase the area. I would be too afraid to venture into the water that may contain the brain eating bacteria – eww.

    1. It really is not as bad as you think. They just have to put the warnings out there. As long as you do not put your face in the water you should be good.

  11. I flew over this area in a helicopter and thought how beautiful it was.
    You must get to see so much more whilst kayaking through. The Hoover Dam much seem so huge from below! There are some useful tips at the bottom, I would have probably gone in my flip flops.

  12. This looks like quite a fun adventure! It is not what I imagined Vegas to be. It can be a pain to drive and take care of all the little details on your own so the guided tour sounds like the way to go!

    1. In this case at least for me the guided tour was the solution and I had such a great experience I would not hesitate to recommend the tour and this company. Top notch for sure.

  13. This is exactly the kind of trip I love! Impressive untouched nature and some outdoor sports. I had never heard of the Black Canyon before, and I didn’t know anyone could paddle at the bottom of the Hoover Dam, you must feel really small. It’s amazing to find hot springs there. It looks like there is a really endless list of incredible natural places in the US, I really hope to visit this part of the world one day and I will put this Black Canyon on the to-do list!

    1. If you ever get to this part of the USA you should definitely look into going on this kayaking adventure. I believe you would love it. There is much to do in nature in the surrounding area as well.

  14. This post definitely showed me something so different about Vegas. I would love to do kayaking but I am not an adept at it. The pictures made your experience look absolutely amazing. Why only party when you have so much more exciting to do in Vegas?

    1. You learn pretty quickly I promise it is not hard. If I can do it you can do it. And I agree why not do more than just party.

  15. Jo this is so incredible! I had no idea you could do this so close to Vegas, if I ever head back I’ll definitely be looking into it! The scenery is absolutely amazing and I love the fact that you ended the day by spotting the bighorn sheep, they’re so gorgeous! <3

    1. Priti – it was an extraordinary adventure. I always try to get out into nature wherever I go and this was a great choice. You should definitely take advantage when you return to the area.

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