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Trip Report: Kayaking the Black Canyon, Hoover Dam to Willow Beach

We kicked off our "year of Nevada" with a trip that I've been excited to revisit with the family. YEAR OF NEVADA: TRIP REPORT of Vegas Paddling Adventure- Hoover Dam to Willow Beach: April 20-24

Pre Trip Travel Day: We spent the day getting down to Las Vegas where we crashed with a friend for the night before the trip started. RIVER DAY 1: Launch

8am: Meet at the NPS Lot to get picked up by our shuttle through Desert Adventures. We pre-booked our shuttles about a month in advance. (You can’t do this last minute as they run background checks on everyone since you’re putting in below the Hoover Dam!)

Shuttle Cost: NPS permit cost $32/person. 

Once boats are loaded up and launched into the Colorado River, you get to look up at the Hoover Dam and Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. This is when the scale of the canyon really sinks in.*NOTE: ANY time you’re leaving your boat, you must TIE IT OFF! There are regular dam releases that can make the river rise QUICK. You don’t want to be caught coming back from a hike to no boat or gear!

sauna cave, hot spring along the Colorado River

Before getting too excited about paddling, we pulled over to check out Sauna Cave! Many people miss this spectacular feature because they don’t want to backtrack. Just next to the “rearrange beach”, up on the hill is an abandoned tunnel that dam workers had attempted to build… until they breached a spring which flooded it with hot water! Today, you can climb in and soak with a picturesque window view of the river below.

Next up: Gold Strike Hotsprings, which is a very popular hike from a trailhead above. We enjoyed a quick soak and snack before escaping the crowds and heading back to the calm of the river The final spring of the day was Boy Scout Canyon. This canyon is nearly only accessible via the river so you’ll have the place to yourself! The further up the canyon you go, the more challenging it is until you reach the spring. There are ropes and waterfalls to “climb” and scramble up. We didn’t get the whole family up to the pools here as we were nervous about water getting in Winnie’s nose while trying to climb the waterfalls!

Then we paddled into a secluded beachy canyon to set up camp for the night. After wading in the river to cool off, we cooked up stroganoff with spinach, broccoli and mushrooms for our evening meal. While munching, we realized the river was rising FAST! We scrambled to relocate our meal up to camp as the river rose almost 7 ft with the dam release.  After dinner, we had a night time dance party with our solar lights before hopping into bed. RIVER DAY 2: We woke up and after a breakfast of apple cinnamon oatmeal, we hiked up the canyon to find ourselves a private spring and waterfall!  After heading back to camp and leisurely packing up, we paddled just “around the river bend” to get to Arizona Hot Springs.

There are 2 pit toilets at AZ hotsprings, so if you gotta poop, save it for here! Within the river corridor, bathroom policy is “the solution to pollution is dilution” when it comes to peeing (go in the river!). All poop must be packed out (we’ll have details on how to build a poop tube in a future post), unless you time your release with your time at the pit toilet.

We were at AZ Hotspring for the hottest part of the day, so we rolled out our sleeping pads to lay in the shade, munch carrots, snap peas and PB/nutella wraps. Winnie’s feet were having shoe issues, so more hiking up wet canyons was out of the picture… but Leah took the jaunt up the canyon to the springs where you ascend an installed ladder to several sandbagged pools within a tight slot canyon.

Once the high sun moved past, we started our paddle to camp 2. We were winging it without a plan… and fighting some wind up the canyon. We scoped out a beautiful future site (that was already occupied), but still found a solid camp. Rusty set up the tent in the flat of the canyon while Leah cooked up a dinner of creamy veggie pasta with shredded carrots, mushrooms and spinach added. We were pooped, so no dance party on Night 2. After hopping in the tent in just our underwear, we realized it was HOT. The location of the tent was in a deep rock canyon that was expelling heat. We relocated the tent out into the open, temps dropped a solid 5-8 degrees and we cooled off with a quick dip in the river.

RIVER DAY 3: For the last morning, we planned an easy breakfast of poptarts since we had to get to take out by 3:30pm. A quick dry breakfast just makes packing up/cleaning a tad easier in the morning, eliminating one task. 

It was WINDY so paddling out was definitely a full time fight. But it's worth stopping and joining the line of “day trippers” at the Emerald Cave where you can soak in the green waters. For the brave of heart, you can also tie off and hike up the hill above to scope out the old cat walk.

We paddled out to Willow Beach (this part of the river is essentially still like a lake, but you battle headwinds the whole way), hugging the sides of the river where you’re able to take breaks from the wind in little coves. At Willow Beach, we hung out and munched icecream from the gift shop while waiting for our shuttle back to the car. Don't forget to tip your shuttle drivers! They did an amazing job of helping us load/unload the boats and gear.

Post Trip DAY. We spent the night with our friend in Vegas, got a tour of her workplace the following day and then began our journey back to Reno!  With a pitstop at Goldfield to stretch our legs and explore the International Car Forest, it was a perfect 4 day getaway.

The first time I did this trip in 2017, I did it as a one nighter. This time, we experienced it as a two nighter. Next time… I’d add on a day 3. Nothing beats exploring side canyons and the peace you find on the water!


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