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