Paddling Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Bring your boat and your boots—you'll need both for this trip.
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Lake Mead

Paddle flatwater on this relaxed trip near Las Vegas

I’m only 30 miles from the neon lights of Sin City, but this strip is better. Instead of skyscrapers, sienna sandstone walls tower 800 feet overhead, contrasting with the blues and greens of the Colorado River. We put in below Hoover Dam and navigate flatwater the entire 11.6 miles through Black Canyon in a wooden canoe. The easy going means we can load our boat with luxuries like homemade lasagna and stop often, enjoying watermelon and mixed drinks on rocky beaches. We check out caves and soak in hidden hot springs and cold pools before spending the night on a sandy shore beneath a three-tiered, 105°F soaker. The light from the low-hanging sun plays off the cathedral’s rock walls, creating yet another new shade of color on our trip: this time, a deep honey. It’s not the Bellagio,
but it’s definitely five stars

Turn by Turn from the Hoover Dam

After securing access to the restricted area below the dam (see Do It for details), launch from the west (Nevada) bank of the Colorado River near the Bureau of Reclamation office and head 3.8 miles downstream.

Pull ashore on the Arizona side (east) just past the large mile marker 60 to make camp slightly upriver from Arizona Hot Springs .

Put in and continue 8 miles down the Colorado to the marina at Willow Beach on the Arizona side to find your car or pick up your shuttle.

Campsite: Arizona Hot Springs (mile 3.8)

Most people who do this trip will camp just after the mild Ringbolt Rapid, where there’s a privy; instead, secure solitude by pulling ashore on the Arizona side just before. There’s a quiet beach (make camp above the high-water line) near an unnamed, reliable stream. From here, it’s about .1 mile downriver to the slot canyon, where 130°F water collects and cools in three separate pools called Arizona Hot Springs. (Sites are free; first-come, first-serve.)

Natural sauna

Just after launching from Hoover Dam, reward yourself with a celebratory soak in 50-foot-long Sauna Cave, a rock tunnel filled with warm water. Find it .2 mile below the put-in on the Nevada side. (Pull ashore onto a gravel spit.)

Side trips

On day one, budget time for Nevada Hot Spring (west side), Palm Tree Hot Spring (east), and Boy Scout Canyon Hot Spring (west), in that order. Day two brings easy-access caves, including one containing arches and falls near mile marker 59 on the Nevada side. (Scan for desert bighorn sheep on rocky ledges.)

DO IT Shuttle car 35.869925, -114.659363; 25 miles southeast of Boulder City, NV, on Willow Beach Rd. Trailhead 36.010962, -114.743206; 36 minutes north of Willow Beach off NV 172 Season September to May Permit Required to overnight in Black Canyon ($22); obtain from National Park Service. To gain access to the Hoover Dam launch (and a shuttle), you must use a private vendor (starting at $180). Custom map ($15)

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