Black Canyon – Kayaking on the Colorado River

Kendall and I drifting down the Colorado River, in Black Canyon

Imagine drifting down the crystal-clear Colorado River, surrounded by the beautiful walls of Black Canyon, thousands of feet tall. The temperature is a perfect 80 degrees, with no wind to be felt and calm blue skies presiding. The only sounds to be heard are provided by the occasional strokes of your paddle, and the occasional variety of ducks slapping the water with their wings as they struggle to take flight. “Sounds awesome”, you may say. Or, you might be thinking that while the setting sounds nice, you’d prefer a few more creature comforts. Fear not, as you have a cooler and a stove strapped to your boat carrying your favorite meal and beverage. Although you’ll be miles away from the closest road, you can camp in relative luxury since you have a boat to bear the load of any heavy indulgences you may want to bring along. The best part? This adventure can be had as a weekend trip from Southern California, Arizona, and much of Utah and Nevada, and on a shoestring budget at that. Kendall and I did just that recently, so here’s what you need to know if you’d like to make this adventure your own.

Like many good things in life, this trip required some work and planning in advance. You’ll need to find an outfitter to drop you off at the launch point (directly below the Hoover Dam), and pick you up at journey’s end. Do this well in advance, as there are a limited amount of permits offered by the Park Service to float down the river on a given day. This same outfitter will set you up with a kayak, dry bags, and any other gear you might need – or you can bring along your own boat and gear if you have it and get a nice discount. We went with Desert River Outfitters. While they were initially hard to get in touch with as their staff is often out on the river, once we got a hold of them they were helpful in planning our trip. An additional plus if you’re bringing your own kayak: they will do a pickup at the take out point, meaning you don’t need to worry about finishing your trip at a specific time to meet a shuttle. You’re journey starts at the base of the Hoover dam.

The launch point, below Hoover Dam

The launch point, below Hoover Dam

It’s a bit of a rushed feeling to get started as many groups will be trying to launch concurrently, but be sure to enjoy the view and grab some pictures. As you start, enjoy the next few river bends worth of canyon – they’re truly spectacular. The river moves quickly up near the dam, so if you’re going for an overnighter I’d hardly recommend paddling at all your first day. With the camp site roughly one third of the total distance down  the river, you’ll arrive in just a few hours with plenty of stops along the way.  Another option would be forgoing the primary camp site (Arizona Hot Springs) and camping on the many other beaches available, but this would mean giving  up latrines and the excellent hot springs available there. On the plus side, this would give you a quieter camp site and allow you to even out your effort between the two days, as the lower section of the river moves noticeably slower.

Me, taking a snooze on one of our many beach pit stops along the river.

Me, taking a snooze on one of our many beach pit stops along the river.

One of the big draws for the trip are the stops along the way. Both the Arizona and Boy Scout hot springs are accessed by trails that wind up side canyons. You’ll walk along through a creek that becomes warmer as you go; this is runoff from the springs. There are ropes and ladders in place to help navigate trickier spots, and as you continue up the canyon you’ll find pools sand bagged off for easy bathing. Generally, the further up the canyon you go the hotter it gets. Another do not miss side attraction is the Emerald Cave, accessible on boat about a mile up from the take out point. Hit it around noon and the name will make sense if it doesn’t already (yup, it glows a brilliant green).

Kendall scaling waterfalls on the way to some of the hot springs along Black Canyon.

Kendall scaling waterfalls on the way to some of the hot springs along Black Canyon.

At this point, I’m hoping I’ve said enough to sell anyone on this trip. If you’re even slightly outdoors inclined, there’s lots to love here. I really think this is one of the most original, exciting, and accessible weekend trips in the southwest. As for Kendall and I, we’re already excited for our next trip out. Spring and fall seem to be the best times to go – will we see you out there?

Me, at the beginning of the trip, with the Hoover Dam bypass bridge in view.

Me, at the beginning of the trip, with the Hoover Dam bypass bridge in view.

3 comments to Black Canyon – Kayaking on the Colorado River

  1. […] were in a relaxing mood for this trip – no roughing it down the Colorado River this […]

  2. […] Have even more time than the three days we did? Use one to get outside the strip/downtown, and check out the beauty of the land in this area. The Hoover Dam is very close by, the less adventurous can explore it by foot, or check out on via kayak like we did. […]

  3. […] was moving slowly. The river is very muddy and looks brown, in contrast to the Colorado through the Black Canyon. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of kayaking but here is our […]

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