Kayaking the Colorado River

Goldstrike CanyonPhoto by Ellen Ross
Ellen at Gold Strike Hot Springs

I am a river goddess by choice.

Monthly trips to the Colorado River, just east of the city, are a wonderful escape. I now own two kayaks, and head out with friends for river adventures all year. One of my favorite trips is an overnight paddle from Hoover Dam to Willow Beach, a relaxing 11.5-mile trip over mostly flat water.

With a National Park Service permit, you can put in just below Hoover Dam in Black Canyon and explore sauna caves where temperatures reach 165 degrees. From there, it’s a half-mile mile paddle down to Gold Strike Hot Springs, where the delightfully warm spring water empties into the Colorado River. This is Nature’s spa at its finest. The mix of hot and cool water is re-energizing. The upper pools and small waterfalls are also great for the body and soul.

Put-in on the riverPhoto by Mark Sedenquist
Put-in on the river just below
Hoover Dam

Push off again in your kayak and stroke 1.75 miles downriver to Boy Scout Canyon. The canyon has geo-thermal waters with small pools and an amazing water wall of green algae just hot enough to soothe a tired back. Aaah! Boy Scout Canyon also makes an ideal location for camping. Make sure all kayaks are secured, though – water levels dip at night and rise early in the day when the power plant at Hoover Dam is generating electricity.

Two miles downriver on the Arizona side is the secluded Arizona Hot Springs. The large cove is sandy and offers ample space for mooring and kayaks. This location also boasts two classic yet clean outhouses. A quarter-mile walk deep into the canyon and up the old ladder will bring you to several sand-bagged hot springs. Wonderful warm water bubbles up from below the canyon floor.

Back at the campsite, you will sleep amazingly well at the river’s edge after a full day’s adventure paddling and hiking in the canyons. The warm, soothing hot springs, a starlit sky, a slow-burning campfire, and the gentle lapping waters of the Colorado River will take you into a deep, magical sleep.

Put-in on the riverPhoto by Ellen Ross
Breaking camp on the river

Start the next day with a brisk dip in the Colorado River followed by a hearty Southwestern breakfast and strong coffee. Now you are feeling like a pioneer or that great pathfinder John C. Fremont, ready to explore and study the landscape. With paddle in hand, you push off into historic waters. Early steamboats carrying miners and supplies traveled up the river from the late 1850s to the turn of the 20th century. Later, in the 1930s, the Black Canyon became home to the Hoover Dam.

As you float and paddle south you will pass by the tank of the old river gauging system. Access to the tank, which measured the water level, was gained by cable car and a catwalk, which is still visible high on the canyon walls. The final stop east of this area is the former gauge house overlook. The watchmen in prior days lived on this part of the river.

Sheep on the riverPhoto by Ellen Ross
Kayaker looking at mountain sheep
on the Colorado River

Another half mile of paddling brings you to Willow Beach, your final destination; with luck you won’t encounter headwinds. Past the fish hatchery you’ll see tall palm trees standing at the entry to the beach. Paddle to shore. You made it!

Now back in civilization, head for the concession stand for some beer or some ice cream and take some time to savor your river adventure. You deserve it. Kayaking on the river will be the source of many original stories, and maybe the river will call you to many more river adventures.

If you go
If you don’t have a kayak, you can easily rent one from one of the area’s outfitters or tour operators. Two of my favorites are Boulder City Outfitters and Desert Adventures.


8 responses on “Kayaking the Colorado River

  1. That sounds fantastic! I used to kayak off Catalina and the other Channel Islands in the Pacific. Thanks for the itinerary, Ellen! Is now through October about the best time of year to go?

  2. I’m in! I’ve never been Kayaking, but I love white-water rafting. I hope to take a trip through the Grand Canyon someday. Meanwhile, the sauna caves sound pretty cool. Well, maybe not cool, exactly. . .

  3. In 1980 I spent an entire month inside the Grand Canyon — three weeks of it was on the Colorado River. I’ve kayaked the Main Salmon, the Cal Salmon and several other rivers in the west. But it’s been a long time — too long, in fact. Those hot springs sound mighty enticing to me as well.

  4. Hi I like your trip and would like to camp along the river, where can I rent gear for that or is there a place already set up?

  5. Hi Anna,

    If you call Desert Adventures to set up your trip, you can rent all camping equipment at a reasonable price from Desert Adventures, along with your choice of kayaks or canoes. Check out their website for prices, a link is included in the article. Also, if you’re new to the sport and looking to meet other local kayakers of all levels, sign up for free to join the Las Vegas Kayak Meetup group. http://www.meetup.com/lasvegaskayakers/ See you on the water!

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