Updated: Mar 26, 2021
Avid paddlers will be delighted to learn there is plenty of kayaking near Las Vegas. Believe it or not, some of the most beautiful paddling in the state can be found mere miles away. The Black Canyon Water Trail is bursting with small pockets of adventure, whether it be from the caves or the hot springs. The entire 12 mile stretch offers opportunities for day trips or overnight camping, depending on your mood.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area was the first National Recreation Area in the United States. Both the Black Canyon Wilderness and Water Trail are within. If you’re looking for only a day trip, we recommend looking into both Emerald Cave locations. The first is near Las Vegas. The second is a stop on the Black Canyon Water Trail. Both are worthy places to check out.
Coming from Mccarran International Airport (Las Vegas), take the 215 South, then 93 South, It will lead you to to Mike O'Callaghan Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge - The Hoover Dam bypass that separates the border of Nevada and Arizona. Be careful on this drive, crosswinds around this area happens year round. Take your time, play some good music, and drive safely. From the bridge, it'll take you about 30 mins to get to Willow Beach.
Mike O'Callaghan Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
Before you venture into the Black Canyon water trail, know that you will either start at Willow Beach in Arizona or at the Hoover Dam. If you start at the Hoover Dam, you will need to secure a permit in advance. Permits are $22 through the park service. Permits are also limited, so secure one in advance of your trip.
Here is the contact info to get more information regarding the permit.
The Black Canyon trail stretches from the Hoover Dam to Willow Creek. If you put in at Hoover Dam and kayak for the day, eventually you will end up wanting to return to Hoover Dam. In this case, know that there is a shuttle between Hoover Dam and Willow Creek. Shuttle drivers provide you with a map that shows points of interest on this route, in addition to the shuttle service itself.
Due to the Hoover Dam being at one end of this trail, it will cause changes in the water level. These changes can occur as often as hourly. This means that you will need to tie up your boat whenever you venture inland. If the waters rise while you’re exploring your boat will still be there when you return.
Another consideration will be wind. Although the water is flat, the occasional spat of wind will kick up. Sections of the trip will be windy. By bringing a windbreaker and paddling with the current you can navigate the winds without issue. For this reason we also advise against paddleboarding. A kayak will offer much better purchase in the winds.
Guided or Not
You may be wondering whether to hire a guide or not. If you hire Desert Adventures there will be a number of benefits, even if you don’t need the help. For one, the guides will tell you all about the geology of the area. They can also answer questions about the local history, such as history of the Native Americans who used to live there. Another benefit to hiring Desert Adventures is this company rents dry bags, camping gear, and other supplies. Although you can bring them yourself, having them included in the price of a trip is helpful. They will also handle permitting for you, as well as the shuttle service.
The Black Canyon Water Trail, 12 Miles
You can explore the Black Canyon Water Trail alone or with friends, guided or self-guided. Since this river section is entirely flatwater it is usually quite manageable to kayak on. The only areas of concern are the wind and water level. We advise choosing not to paddle board because it can get really windy. We also recommend you get into the habit of always tying up your boat before you leave it on a day hike. Basically, the Hoover Dam Reservoir will cause a change in water level, sometimes hourly. Your boat could wash away if the waters rise and they aren’t tied down.
You may be wondering whether to hire a guide or not. If you hire Desert Adventures there will be a number of benefits, even if you don’t need the help. For one, the guides will tell you all about the geology of the area. They can also answer questions about the local history, such as history of the Native Americans who used to live there. Another benefit to hiring a guide is this company rents dry bags, camping gear, and other supplies. Although you can bring them yourself, having them included in the price of a trip is helpful. They will also handle permitting for you. If you don’t want to buy a permit on your own, these $22 permits will be available through Desert Adventures. Speaking of which, you need to have a permit if you put in at Hoover Dam. Make sure to check this out ahead of time since permits are limited.
Points of Interest in The Black Canyon Water Trail, 12 Miles
One nice feature of this trip are the mile markers. You will be able to find each of these sights by keeping an eye out at different miles. When deciding the time of year to go, the best times will be the spring and fall. This way you can really enjoy the hot springs without the roasting summer heat. Here are our favorite places to stop on this overnight trip.
Sauna Cave, Mile 63
Workers discovered this cave while constructing the Hoover Dam. However, they quickly abandoned it when they were exposed to the heat within. Geothermal currents warm this cave, creating a unique mineral sheen on the walls. Make sure not to touch them so we can preserve the cave as long as possible!
Boy Scout Canyon, Mile 61.75
Between hot springs, warm waterfalls, and lush vegetation, there is a lot to explore in this canyon. It’s popular for camping and hiking, even making a great spot for a lunch stop, too.