A Secret Vegas Oasis: Kayaking the Vegas Black Canyon

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A Secret Vegas Oasis: Kayaking the Vegas Black Canyon on the Colorado River

People come to Las Vegas, Nevada thinking that the only place to take a dip in is their hotel pool. Well, I’m about to show you a secret side of sin city that most locals don’t even know about.

Forty-five minutes from the Las Vegas Nevada Strip is a paddler’s paradise. Named the Black Canyon Water Trail, this 12 mile stretch along the Colorado River begins directly below the Hoover Dam and is loaded with dramatic desert landscapes, narrow slot canyons, and some seriously awesome hot springs.

Organizing a day trip or overnight paddling trip on the Vegas Black Canyon in Nevada is super easy. I’ve done it twice and both times I used the local company Desert Adventures. They provide both guided trips and boat rentals for a reasonable price that includes round-trip shuttle transportation from the Hoover Dam Lodge.

The Vegas Black Canyon is a paddling paradise 45 minutes from the Las Vegas, Nevada, loaded with narrow slot canyons and some seriously awesome hot springs.

Guided vs. Self-Guided Kayak Tour of the Black Canyon in Nevada

The Black Canyon section of the Colorado River is entirely flat water. There’s not even a hint of rapid. So even if it’s your first time paddling, you shouldn’t really run into any problems doing it self-guided. When the shuttle driver drops you off with your boat at the launch point, they will provide you with a map showing all of the cool spots to check out along the river. There are also mile markers on the river bank, so it is easy to navigate and keep track of your progress.

The Vegas Black Canyon is a paddling paradise 45 minutes from the Las Vegas, Nevada, loaded with narrow slot canyons and some seriously awesome hot springs.

On the flip side, if you are feeling a little nervous about doing this trip self-guided, it’s totally worth inquiring about a guided kayak tour. A tour guide will be able to tell you all about the local geology and make sure you don’t miss the best canyon sites.

Whether you choose an independent or guided trip, Desert Adventures rents dry bags, camping gear, and anything else you might need. Just be sure to wear clothes that you don’t mind getting wet and a good pair of water shoes for hiking up the side canyons. Terrain can be a bit rough, and flip-flops just won’t cut it. It’s also a good idea to bring a small daypack for the side hikes. Some of the hot springs take a bit of scrambling to reach, and you’ll want to have your hands free.

Your kayaking trip also requires a $22 per-person permit from the National Park Service. These permits are in limited quantity in order to minimize traffic in the canyon. So you should call to book your trip as soon as you know the dates you will be in the Vegas area. Desert Adventures will tell you whether there are permits available, and if so, they will handle the whole process for you.

The Vegas Black Canyon is a paddling paradise 45 minutes from the Las Vegas, Nevada, loaded with narrow slot canyons and some seriously awesome hot springs.

When to Kayak the Vegas Black Canyon

The hot springs are what make this paddling trip so unique, so I recommend visiting in the spring or fall when the air temperatures are comfortable and you can actually enjoy them.  Summer is also nice, but as you can guess, the Vegas heat is extremely intense, making a hot spring soak pretty unpleasant from June through September. Alternatively, during the summer months, you can spend more time in the river, where the water temperatures average a very cool 54 degrees.

Black Canyon Highlights

Since rain and flooding can alter the geography of the side canyons, the description and pictures of these sites may change from season to season. For the most up to date information, visit the National Park Service’s Black Canyon Water Trail website.  Additionally, water levels are controlled by releases from the Hoover Dam, and the height of the Colorado River can change drastically from hour to hour. This means that a beach you park on could be under water an hour later. So when you stop to explore the side canyons, make sure to tie up your boat.

Sauna Cave (mile 63)

This is a man-made cave that was originally dug out during the construction of Hoover Dam. Thanks to geothermal activity, this cave is like a natural steam room. You have to do a bit of crawling to make your way to the very back of the cave, but it’s worth it for a good schvitz.

The Vegas Black Canyon is a paddling paradise 45 minutes from the Las Vegas, Nevada, loaded with narrow slot canyons and some seriously awesome hot springs.

Nevada Hot Springs (mile 62.5)

Walk up the Gold Strike Canyon wash to reach a series of beautiful blue springs with temperatures ranging from 85-105 degrees. These pools are also accessible by hiking from the road, so you may encounter larger groups at these pools.

The Vegas Black Canyon is a paddling paradise 45 minutes from the Las Vegas, Nevada, loaded with narrow slot canyons and some seriously awesome hot springs.

Boy Scout Canyon (mile 61.75)

The first pools are located a 1/4 mile walk upstream from the river. If you want to continue further be prepared to do some scrambling using the ropes that have been installed at some of the small waterfalls.

The Vegas Black Canyon is a paddling paradise 45 minutes from the Las Vegas, Nevada, loaded with narrow slot canyons and some seriously awesome hot springs.

Arizona Hot Springs (mile 59.75)

Out of all of the hot springs, these are located in the most dramatic slot canyon with canyon walls that are as narrow as 6 feet apart. Arizona hot springs is especially cool at night! The best hot springs are reached by climbing a 20-foot ladder that has been installed by the National Park Service.

The Vegas Black Canyon is a paddling paradise 45 minutes from the Las Vegas, Nevada, loaded with narrow slot canyons and some seriously awesome hot springs.

Emerald Cave (mile 54.75)

This is a shallow cave on the Arizona side of the river. When the sun hits it at the right angle, the water sparkles like an incredible emerald gem, making for some really cool photographs.

The Vegas Black Canyon is a paddling paradise 45 minutes from the Las Vegas, Nevada, loaded with narrow slot canyons and some seriously awesome hot springs.

Boat Options for Exploring the Black Canyon in Nevada

Desert Adventures rents stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, and canoes. They each have their advantages depending on the season.

Stand-up Paddle Boarding

This past August, I went through the Black Canyon on a stand-up paddleboard and unfortunately, conditions for my trip were not ideal. All day, we were paddling against a strong headwind and the water was relatively rough. I’ll tell you it was fun but tough, and we spent most of our time kneeling as it was more efficient against the gusts….not really the most comfortable for 12 whole miles.  The water in the Colorado River is also pretty frigid, so I would only recommend paddle boarding on a hot summer day with no wind.

Rental price: $60 including transportation

The Vegas Black Canyon is a paddling paradise 45 minutes from the Las Vegas, Nevada, loaded with narrow slot canyons and some seriously awesome hot springs.

Kayaking

In 2011, I paddled this stretch in a single-man kayak over a two-day period, camping at Arizona hot springs. The kayak was efficient and easy to steer. For a single day adventure, I think a kayak is the right way to go. The downside of a kayak if you choose to camp is that you will have to pack light since there is limited space to strap on your gear.

Rental price: $65-$75 including transportation (additional days: $15/day)

The Vegas Black Canyon is a paddling paradise 45 minutes from the Las Vegas, Nevada, loaded with narrow slot canyons and some seriously awesome hot springs.

Canoe

If you have a larger group and are planning on camping overnight, you should consider renting a canoe. A canoe allows you to carry more gear, including coolers. And you know you are going to want that ice cold beer when you get to camp.

Rental price: $55 per person including transportation (additional days: $15 per person/day)

What to Pack For The Vegas Black Canyon

It really depends on whether you are just spending a day in the Black Canyon or camping overnight in regards to what to pack. Also, what clothing you bring depends on when you are going so make sure to check conditions. Pack as you would for a hiking trip. Bring layers and if you are visiting in warmer months, don’t forget a swimsuit.

Day Trip Recommended Essentials

For camping overnight, check out our detailed Lake Powell overnight kayak gear list that can be used for overnights in the Black Canyon. 

Camping in the Vegas Black Canyon

I gotta put a plug in for camping. If you really want to have time to relax in the springs, do an overnight trip. Camping is allowed on any available beach, with portable restrooms located at Arizona hot springs. Fires are permitted, but you must bring your own firewood (another reason to rent a canoe). Please practice Leave No Trace by packing out all of your trash and making sure your food is concealed.

The Vegas Black Canyon is a paddling paradise 45 minutes from the Las Vegas, Nevada, loaded with narrow slot canyons and some seriously awesome hot springs.

So what are you waiting for? Next time you’re in Vegas, get off the Strip! Your Black Canyon paddling adventure will cost you less than a day at the Cosmo Pool, and it’s so close that you can still celebrate your day on the river with a wild night out on the town.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KAYAK THE BLACK CANYON?  LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW, TWEET ME, OR WRITE ME A POST ON FACEBOOK

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There are 38 comments on this post.

About the author

Hi! I'm Kristen....blogger, hiker, sunset-watcher, and dance floor shredder. I feel most alive in the outdoors and created this website to help you enjoy the best that the West has to offer.

38 Comments on “A Secret Vegas Oasis: Kayaking the Vegas Black Canyon

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  1. This sounds awesome! Each time I have been to the Las Vegas area it has been to visit family and friends or to explore the strip. I will be adding this to my itinerary with my next visit. Great info!

      Awesome Daidri! You’re gonna love it! If you have any questions, definitely get in touch.

    I live in Vegas and love the hot springs! They can get really busy during the day, so an overnight trip is the best! I would suggest the Strawberry Hot Springs outside of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. They are my favorite!

      Thanks for the tip Jolene! I’ll have to look up Strawberry Hot Springs next time I’m out in Colorado. For the Black Canyon, I agree camping is the way to go. The first time I did it I camped at Arizona hot springs. What an awesome time! Thanks for sharing.

    Do you think a 2 year old could handle a canoe trip through Black Canyon?

      Brooke – It’s really hard for me to say. Under calm conditions, I would say it’s doable (depending on your kid). That said, the river does move pretty swift and if you end up going against the wind, you’ll need both people in the canoe to paddle.

    I’ve done this trip many times (I live in Vegas). Sauna Cave is a must see, but it can be difficult to find. It’s very close to the location where you get put into the water. I recorded the GPS location at N36.00348, W114.74331.

    If I had to pick one canyon to hike up on this trip it would be Boy Scout since you can’t hike down to that canyon. You can easily hike down to Gold Strike or Arizona Hot Springs.

    There are ALWAYS people camping at Arizona Hot Springs, often a huge group of Boy Scouts. Get there early if you want a spot. By Saturday mornings I would expect it to be typically full.

    I’ve gone a couple times when it was really windy and made it a difficult slog getting to the exit point in time. Safest bet is a tandem kayak (Desert Adventures rents them). I can’t believe someone would SUP down for 12 miles, but it sounds cool!

      Thanks for the tips. And yeah it was windy when I did it by SUP. It was a little crazy, but still really fun. Thanks again!

      Hi there, have you done SUP to Emeral Cave? is it far? hard to do in this months? also where do yo launch out from?

      Thank you xoxo

        Yes, I’ve SUPed the entire stretch. Emerald Cave is pretty far down from the launch point which is right below Hoover Dam. Check out the map in the post. If you haven’t done much supping, I’d recommend doing it in a kayak. It’s much more efficient, especially if you run into any upwind.

        If you launch from Willow Beach instead of the base of the dam, Emerald Cave is near the beginning, and easy to reach on an SUP. You are paddling upstream from Willow Beach, but that makes an easier downstream trip back to Willow Beach. We did this exact trip justvyesterday!

      Hey there,

      may u can help us. We are 4 poeple group of german on vacation road trip. We will be in las vegas for 4 days and would kayaking on fr 20.05 from the hoover dam – willow beach. Its not easy for us to find a place to rent kayak. Can u recommend a trade name/link to rent?

      This are the infos u need …

      Hey,
      we would rent for 4 man a one-man sit in kayak, launch at hoover dam and paddle to willow beach on fr 20.05

      1. At which time can we launch there? we are coming from Las Vegas.

      2. Is it possible to pick up from willow beach back to hoover dam or should we use a taxi/uper.

      3. Tax, kayak and permit and what else in total per person is how much?

      Thanks

    This sounds pretty amazing. Going to have to check this out, next time I’m in the area. That view of the bridge looks simply awesome.

    Can we get to Emerald Cove (unguided) with our own kayaks?
    (Free)

      You could, but you’d be kayaking upstream. Also, I’m not sure if that would require a permit from the Park Service. You’d want to double check on that.

      Where you able to kayak unguided?? I’m thinking about doing it this month. Thanks

        Unguided is definitely an option. But you still need a permit. if there are permits available, you can reserve them when you call to rent your kayaks.

    We are heading to Lake Las Vegas and would love to try this trip. We have an inflatable canvas kayak and four small dogs that go with us. Question; where would we launch and can we go up a way and then come back down to our car?

    Thanks

      You launch right below Hoover Dam and take out at a beach 12 miles downriver. You need a permit though to launch there. If you wanted to start at the bottom you’d be trying to paddle up a decent current. I’ve never tried, but I think it would be pretty hard.

    If kayaks are rented and we are dropped off is Emerald cove hard to find? I’d prefer to not go in a tour?

      The river miles are marked on signs on the side of the river, so it’s very easy to find…but I’d recommend bringing a map.

    I live in LA and kayak around her a lot. I had no idea Vegas had this to offer! I usually just come back with a bad hang-over! LOL. Thanks so much for sharing this post. I’m definitely bringing my kayak with me on my next trip to Vegas. Cheers!

      Awesome. You should definitely do this then. It’s a super weekend trip.

    Sound like a plan! Thanks again for the post

    Hi,

    Where can we get more information about camping?

    Where did you find the price of $60 for a kayak? On the website you tagged, the price says $179. Thank you in advance!

      They may have changed their prices? Probably best to call and ask.

    Planning a day trip for this weekend. Can’t decide between kayak or SUP. The weather is supposed to be perfect on Saturday, 79 and sunny, but I am thinking with the water temp being so cold, kayak may be a better bet. Thoughts? Also, is there a time of year when headwinds and chop are less prevalent? Thanks!

      Not sure about the winds and the time of year. I would go in a kayak. The only time I’d do it again on a SUP would be in the heat of summer.Have fun!

    Do you have any info on dogs? Are they allowed down the river or at the campsites?? Thanks!! 🙂

      I did a search and couldn’t find anything that said they aren’t allowed.

    Are dogs allowed?

      James, they actually are! Does your dog enjoy kayaking?

    hey kristen!! Divya here. loved your post and i would love to talk to you about this kayak experience of yours.We are 4 people and we are interested in doing this so can you tell me little more about where do you got your kayak or canoe rental from?

    Great article, thanks for all the advice! I’m heading down to Vegas from Canada in January (for CES) and coming a few days early to paddle this. Are the temperatures and permits and rentals all still a go for that time of year? Hoping to make it a two day and camp assuming that’s still a go also.

      Hey Josh, yes, kayaking The Vegas Black Canyon is year-round!

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