Paddle and Camp Hoover Dam to Willow Beach

One of our favorite paddle trips, a place that many have no idea about! A desert metropolis, an isolated canyon with much history, clear cold water, starry skies, and hot springs. The Black Canyon of the Colorado River, the section just below Hoover Dam, is this fantastic place.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area has designated 30 miles of river as a national water trail that is open to recreational and commercial boaters. This is a guide to the most popular section, the 12 miles from Hoover Dam to Willow Beach. Visible signs along the way mark river miles. Hoover Dam is at river mile 64, and Willow Beach is approximately mile 52.

Camping and campfires are allowed anywhere along the river. To minimize impact of at-large camping, be sure to use a fire pan or pre-existing fire rings, camp on durable surfaces, respect plants and wildlife, and be considerate of other visitors. There are toilets at Arizona Hot Springs, but you must pack out your own waste everywhere else.

Highlights of the journey include

  • Sauna Cave: A few hundred yards from Hoover Dam launch site up in the cliff wall on river right is a hole drilled into a hot spring. The cave is filled with hot water and steam. Bring a headlamp for the full experience.
  • GoldStrike Canyon: Less than a quarter mile further down river on the right side is a very hot waterfall that feeds a pool at the river's edge. The mouth of Goldstrike Canyon is a short walk downstream from here, and hiking up the canyon leads to more warm pools and waterfalls.
  • Warm Waterfall: One hundred yards further down and on the opposite side of the river (river left) is a perfect shower-temperature falls that drops out of a palm oasis.
  • Boy Scout Canyon: A third of a mile downstream from mile marker 62 is a canyon with a sandy beach on river right. Hike a half mile up this canyon for hot pools. Another three-quarters of a mile of hiking and scrambling over boulder jumbles leads to a spectacular amphitheater and 300-foot dryfall.
  • Ringbolt Rapid: The swiftest flow is a 100-yard section of river known as Ringbolt Rapid, where steamboats used to be hooked to massive steel bolts in the rock wall and wenched upstream back when this was a wild river. Today the gradient is less and the rapid is hardly noticeable.
  • Arizona Hot Springs: Just below Ringbolt on river left is a calm cove and pebbly beach that leads to enchanting hot springs in a slot canyon. This is the most popular stopover for day trippers and campers alike.
  • Gauging Station: Around river mile 54 is an old gauging station tower, a cable car, and a precarious via ferrata that stand as relics to early 20th-century engineering.
  • Emerald Cave: Just past the gauge tower on river left is a cave large enough to fit several canoes or kayaks. When this alcove fills with afternoon sun, it is truly a spectacle to experience.

The catch is that boat launches at Hoover Dam are tightly regulated, and permits are only available through authorized outfitters. The one that we choose for this trip was Desert Adventures, you can check out their link A launch permit at the dam is $17 per person, and although outfitters may charge additional fees, they typically offer package deals with guided tours, boat rentals, or shuttle services. *Discounts for holders of The America the Beautiful Annual National Parks Pass

Wind forecasts for the days you plan to paddle are also worth checking. Although many days are nearly calm, high winds are common in this part of the country, and the deep canyon acts like a wind tunnel to funnel air currents either directly north or directly south. Winds can switch direction within the same day, and a strong headwind will make paddling exponentially harder, especially if you are traveling upriver.


Safety Precaution: Hot springs in the Black Canyon may contain Naegleria fowleri, a life-threatening pathogen. To avoid contact, keep your head above water, and don't let water get in your nose when in a hot spring. In addition, it is a requirement that PFD are worn at all times, if you are caught without your PFD on, it is not taken lightly and you could face fines and be hauled back to Willow Beach. 


Arizona Adventure Group Photos

March 6th and 7th 2021

*photo credit for those that attended this trip

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