Exploring A Desert Oasis: Kayaking, Black Canyon
City life: complete with wild parties, provocative clubs and a night sky full of neon lights. Las Vegas has everything a partygoer can hope for, but for the rural adventure-types, there’s more than iridescent neon to attract attention and entertain the masses.
Outside the hustle and bustle of the Vegas lifestyle, lies a desert oasis that cannot merely be seen in order for it to be believed; it must be experienced. The isolation and natural beauty of this 12-mile day trip kayaking down Black Canyon in particular, provides enjoyment of all kinds.
From the kayaking itself to hiking, climbing, hot springs, swimming and sun tanning; there’s a little bit of everything to create the perfect outdoor adventure.
While you can begin downstream at no charge, for this trip I preferred to begin at the top, on the shoreline immediately at the base of the Hoover Dam.
In an effort to monitor the amount of human activity that takes place on this route, this trip requires purchasing a National Park Service permit. Once a permit was obtained and the day trip was booked, I met up bright and early with the group and was shuttled by bus down the restricted, Lower Portal Road at the base of the 727-foot-tall Hoover Dam.
Once launching our kayaks, all the paddlers in the group were pretty much free to enjoy the rest of the kayak trip on our own if we desired. What’s nice about the trip down Black Canyon on this portion of the Colorado River is that both beginner and skilled kayakers can enjoy unique experiences and somewhat hidden places such as Sauna Cave, Gold Strike Canyon, Boy Scout Canyon and Hot Springs, Arizona Hot Springs, Emerald Cave and many others.
A few hundred yards from Portal Road beneath the dam on the Nevada side of the canyon, I started my first adventure, seeking out Sauna Cave. After pulling the kayak ashore, a very short hike on a gravel path leads to a clearing in bushes and the path to a hot lagoon, which spreads throughout a long-abandoned cave. Originally conceived as a tunnel for the dam, this horizontal tunnel was not completed due to the unexpected discovery of hot springs. Now, approximately 130-degrees of heavy mist fills this dark man-made cavern. Forget an expensive day at a ritzy spa, spending just the amount of time it took to walk to the back of the cave, left me feeling refreshed and revitalized, ready to continue to take on the rest of the day’s adventures.
Breaking out of the steamy mist, and climbing back into the kayak, I headed back down the canyon to even more exquisite sites of the river cutting through the extensive canyon. As you head down the river, this is where the waters get a little choppy, and a lot more fun. While water conditions are mostly calm, this was one section that can get choppy and have strong currents and light rapids.
The next stop was Boy Scout Canyon, about a third of a mile south of mile-marker 62.
This narrow canyon is home to several hot springs, and waterfalls that range in temperature. Loaded with slippery rocks, moss covered canyon walls, and waterfalls, this stop is not for the timid, and is an essential detour for any adventure goer. A large hot springs pool sits at the end of this route and to get there requires ascending multiple waterfalls using old ropes that have been adhered to rocks and hang in the waters.
Pulling myself up the waterfalls, there is breathtaking scenery of steep canyon walls that surround you on all sides and eventually my efforts were rewarded with the soothing spring waters.
Back on the river’s current, additional locations throughout Black Canyon offer further hikes, pools of hot springs, spectacular rock formations and waterfalls galore, the Nevada side isn’t the only section with impressive sights and escapades however. Crossing into the Arizona side of the canyon, delivers, not only the ending destination, but also an illuminating grotto.
Emerald Cave, located just past mile marker 54, was hollowed out by a faulting and is a shallow cave that, when exposed to full sunlight during the day, fills the waters with an incredible bright emerald green coloring.
There are a number of additional stops along the Black Canyon waters, however, for this particular kayaking day trip, I was ending things with the initial group at Willow Beach in Arizona, and mile-marker 52, where everything was loaded up and we were all transported back to our morning meeting point.
From start to finish, this Colorado River experience was approximately four to five hours of paddling through Black Canyon, and even longer if multiple stops are made to enjoy the hot springs and nearby hikes.
Not bad for a day trip just outside the city.