Kayaking the Other Side of Hoover Dam – Down Black Canyon
One of the man-made wonders of the world, the Hoover Dam remains high on the list of America’s greatest engineering triumphs 75 years after the Colorado River was plugged in Black Canyon. The 726-foot high Hoover Dam is still the second highest dam in America and the river backs up 110 miles behind it to create Lake Mead, the country’s largest man-made reservoir. Lake Mead is a renowned water playground but what often gets overlooked is fabulous stretch of river that flows out the bottom of the dam through Black Canyon.
Thirty miles of the Colorado River, beginning at the base of the Hoover Dam and continuing through Eldorado Canyon to Lake Mohave, has been designated a National Water Trail. These waters are almost universally glassy smooth and a delight for kayaking, especially for families and novice paddlers. No special skills are required for Four Season Guides kayak tours, other than an ability to swim.
After a heart-in-the-throat descent 1,110 feet down Lower Portal Road, kayak tours begin in the shadow of the iconic dam itself where you can ponder the 29 million acre-feet of water trapped on the other side. The river flows through a harsh desert landscape pocked with slot canyons, sandy beaches and beckoning caves. Bighorn sheep and curious eagles often gauge your progress from rocky promontories as the canyon walls rise 2,000 feet above the water’s edge.
There are frequent stops to exit the languid waters and explore side canyons with names like Gold Strike, Lone Palm and Boy Scout. These short but adventurous hikes require sturdy-soled footwear that are a must for these kayak tours. Some of these slot canyons can scrunch down to passageways merely a few feet wide as you scramble across the rugged terrain.
Unique rock formations like Balance Rock and Dragon’s Back loom above the river. A ringbolt left in the canyon wall is a souvenir from the time this stretch of water was known as Ringbolt Rapids and was the wildest stretch of one of America’s wildest rivers.
While the chilly waters of the Colorado River seldom get above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, swimming opportunities abound in the Black Canyon. Frolic in the spray of a hidden waterfall or soak in natural hot springs that range in temperature from 85 degrees Fahrenheit to 120. At popular swimming holes like Arizona Hot Springs, the National Park Service helps out with an installed 20-foot ladder in the rock face to reach the best pools.
Four Season Guides will make certain none of Black Canyon’s signature stops are missed along the way. Sauna Cave is actually man-made, dug during the construction of Hoover Dam. Today, the area’s geo-thermal activity has transformed the grotto into a natural steam room. Downstream, paddlers can explore Emerald Cave, where sparkling hues dance across the shallow water. Nearby, an historic catwalk and cable car can be seen that were used to measure the turbulent river’s flow in the days before the dam.
Willow Beach, a centuries-old Indian camp, makes for a convenient take-out spot twelve miles from Hoover Dam. Four Season Guides takes two days to get there, stopping for a night of beautiful beach camping. The National Park Service limits permits to the Black Canyon National River Trail and the $17 permit fee is included in the Four Seasons package.