3 days kayaking adventure on Colorado River
So there we were, sitting at the base of the Hoover Dam ready to plunge into the water. We had planned this for months, prepared for years even. My buddies and I had heard of how a friend went kayaking the Colorado River solo, and we decided we would also do that. We tried to do it the previous year, but differences in our schedules didn’t allow us. So getting together for the first time in a long time, especially to kayak was a big deal. My friends and I, all expert kayakers in our own right were accompanied by three mutual friends who were recently introduced to kayaking, so we had to pick the right spot, perfect for both beginners and challenging enough for the pros.
Hoover Dam to Davis Dam: about 65 miles.
Currents at some sections: 2-4 mph.
Winds: after Willow Beach mainly strong.
Whitewater class II
Start Point: Hoover Dam
Day 1 Campsite – Windy Canyon
Day 2 Campsite – Cottonwood Cove
End of the trip: Davis Dam
Make only the trip from Hoover Dam to Willow Beach distance is 12 miles. This route is full of sights and all the hot springs are located on this route you can camp during the route and will be a lot of fun. Use inflatable kayak like FastTrack, it is easy to carry the kayak around and the loading capacity is enough for all the equipment. There is only one easy rapid on the way the Ringbolts Rapids and one sandbar.
Palm Three Hot Spring - Waterfall
Boy Scout Hot Springs
White Rock Canyon
Arizona Hot Springs
Willow Beach Marina
Nelson Landing - Cliff Jumping
Kayaking the Colorado River
The Colorado River is popular for its Grand Canyon rapids, exclusive and expensive excursions; but there is another side to the Colorado River with miles and miles of smooth paddling. This route is called the black canyon. Quite popular and a favorite among kayakers is the Hoover dam to Bullhead city stretch.
Adventurers and thrill seekers from all around the world had chosen kayaking the Colorado River for decades even before the construction of dams that changed the water’s normal course. On the hoover to willow beach run, there isn’t any danger from rapids, but you should know the current is still significantly strong.
The well-known hoover dam determines the flow of the water in this area of the Colorado River. Although the black canyon is not known to have any whitewater rapids, it can still be one of the most challenging runs especially when much more water is being let out of the dam to complement energy demand from cities in Arizona, California, and Nevada.
What should you know as a beginner for kayaking the Colorado River?
So If you’re an amateur paddler, it might be safe to plan this trip between November and February to avoid the hotter months when people are using more power to cool off. The winds are not much of a factor at this time, just the water level could be very low at some locations.
I found that my amateur friends struggled with stopping at intended points and controlling their boats because in some sectors the water was moving too fast for their level. This area might not boast of whitewater, but it has enough power which should be considered when berthing and going camping.
The currents around this side don’t play around. The particular threat that greets newbies is the sudden rise in water level as water is let out of the dams. Don’t underestimate the water. Boats get swept away, and travelers abandoned. Always use the necessary safety equipment like life-vest, etc…
WHAT DO YOU NEED?
The basic things you need for kayaking the Colorado River are the usual tent, first aid kit, camera, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, food, clothes, and cooking equipment. However, here is some other stuff we brought along. You might not be quick to think of them, but you probably would be grateful you brought them along; Sunhat, sunglasses, sunscreen and lip balm, gloves, headlamp and flashlight, extra batteries, firewood, swimsuit and rain gear, portable toilet or waste bags, water shoes, hiking shoes, long-sleeved shirt for sun protection, extra socks and pants, and Beach chair because – why not!
We are awake as early as a 6’o clock in the morning getting ready to load our gear into the shuttle provided by the outfitter we had paid for. We wanted to start our trip at the very base of Hoover dam as this mighty wall is a breathtaking sight. They charge $5 for launching at the base of Hoover Dam. We were assigned our time, and we rendezvoused at the designated spot. We began loading our gear into the shuttle provided by the outfitter, started down a steep, narrow road and dropped us a way down from the water’s edge.
The shuttles won’t drive you all the way to Hoover Dam, so be prepared to make a trip. There are a paved ramp and some steps, from the vehicles to the Water’s edge. We soon discovered that the road that led to the Water edge only looked safe, it was in fact very sloppy and slippery; you need to be careful along this path while carrying your gear. I found that out the hard way (yikes). Luckily, we were down at the water’s edge in due time.
Having a rest on the Black Canyon
HOT SPRINGS OF BLACK CANYON
We launched into a low water, the water for perfect launch at about 2-4 mph current before the wind was at its full strength. There are a plenty of sights downriver almost on every mile you can stop to check some canyon or rocks or hot springs. To Willow beach is some 12 miles distance, but with the help of the current, it is easy even for beginners.
The wind was mild after willow beach, one of the fantastic things about the Colorado River is that no matter how many people have traveled it, some have even tried to exploit and destroy it but still, it remains one of the easily noticed and most attractive recreational sites in the world.
A few moments after we had set paddles in the water, we came to a place called the sauna cave on the right Nevada side of the water. This site was created when builders were looking for a site for the Hoover Dam; what they found, surprisingly – I might add is hot water of about 132 degrees which means the air in the cave is also hot.
From hoover dam to willow beach, there are also three notable side canyons- Goldsrike, boy scout and white rock canyon that all have hot springs. From waterfalls to pool and creeks, even places that water shoots right out of the floor. Some pools are lukewarm and passive while others can be as high as 104oF. It was so hot at some point that I couldn’t spend up to 3 minutes while I ran outside.
At Goldstrike canyon, there were two ropes already put in place to help hikers easily access the cave. I didn’t go up to Arizona hot springs, because at the time we were there, a ladder that had been installed to aid people were being repaired as the Rangers felt it was no longer safe. My buddies squabbled up there though and said the water temperature was out of this world – Their words not mine.
The Arizona Spring
Arizona spring is located in a slot canyon. The spring forms several pools located around 1000 feet from the water, while the near vertical canyons are about 9 feet apart. At the source, the spring gushes at a rate of 30 gallons per minute, and a temperature of 111oF . Most of the hot springs are within a short hike from the water’s edge, while some require longer treks and even some rope climbing. In some cases, you would need to climb ladders to get to the pools.
There were some notable things I think you should have in mind about the hot springs; for one, warm water cause algae to grow on the rocks which can be very slippery. Also, there is a warning that the warm water may contain an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri which can cause serious problems if it gets in your nose. It’s definitely very rare but it’s something you should be aware of. Just to be safe, keep your nose up.
The next remarkable place, which gives you a boost of wonderful sensation is the Emerald Cave. Just see the picture and you will find out how the name came for.
A couple of miles downriver, we came to a fishing hatchery- one of the largest in the US, run by the US fish and wildlife service. The hatchery produces rainbow trout stocked every Friday morning all year, raising just about a million fishes per year, for sports fishing. The hatchery also raises razorback suckers and bonytail chubs, both of which are endangered species.
Finally after 12 miles from Hoover Dam on the Arizona side of Colorado River is willow beach marina which is awesome for boating, picnicking and fishing. The wind picked up almost immediately after passing willow beach and the current reduced. The wind increased as it slaps around the canyon and the gust was largely unpredictable as it moved around from one side of the canyon to another. The current at this point was so weak that the wind almost controlled our kayak, there were quite large wind waves at this point.
We continued like this for about 8 more miles before reaching a camping spot at the windy canyon. We were a bit sore, but, hey that’s what comes with kayaking on the Colorado River. We settled for a good night rest, some good stories and some marshmallows to go with.
Windy Canyon to cotton cove was different as we headed out at first light. Early enough to paddle in the light water and calm winds. So beautiful, the river so transparent you would think you were paddling on a glass. This made my trip. We left the canyons behind and paddled into Lake Mohave, a widened area of water. It was like paddling on a mirror.
There was also no traffic whatsoever, and for what seemed like a long time we were alone of this large body of water, that had no current; ideal paddling conditions. We stopped at cotton cove because one of my buddies complained of hunger and fatigue, so we had some drinks, and we paid 25 cents for the hot water showers. A good night rest, long day ahead.
Cottonwood Cove on Colorado River
The final day started right at dawn from cotton cove onto a mirror-like lake. Perfect conditions with slightly warmer weather and cloudy skies. It almost looked like there were some ancient markings on the water from its reflection. It was perfect. About 12 miles down the way, it would seem like the water had vexed the wind.
The wide lake was probably responsible for how the wind really took its time to develop and almost enveloped us with a gust of winds reaching 22mph. My beginner friends struggled at this point and almost lost grip but they took control in no time and we were able to maneuver our way around. The wind broke, and conditions got better after that as we were paddling up on our intended stop, Davis Dam.
We made it to the portage of Davis dam at about dusk to a heavy sigh of relief from my beginner friends. Landing at the base of the dam, we offloaded the kayak and hauled everything up a 40 – foot goat path to the top over the fence. We then came to the parking lot where the outfitter- provided shuttle had been waiting on us since noon for an extra fee, of course. We later, realized that we could have parked at the finishing point of the trip to avoid the cost of the extra cost but overall, it was a great way to avoid the stress of driving after all that paddling.
Approaching Davis Dam
Kayaking the Colorado River wasn’t just a perfect trip it was the best we had, overall we were pleased with ourselves, we had that feeling of accomplishment, and my buddies could attest to the fact that it was much more exciting than we had thought. The most some of these guys had gone was 12 miles so if you’re a beginner, don’t get intimidated. Thinking back now, I can say that kayaking the Colorado River also provided me an unprecedented opportunity to bond with friends, see sites and build new and existing relationships. We are now thinking for the next one, the Glen Canyon with the famous Horseshoe Bend and many other sights.