Paddling down the Colorado River from the base of the Hoover Dam in a kayak, stopping in at all the various natural hot springs, beaches and caves, is one of the most AMAZING adventures that can be had anywhere…..and it’s all within an hour of Vegas! If you’ve never done this trip, check it out…it’s a really, really amazing adventure.
If you don’t like to read, here’s a video I made about the trip:
Otherwise, here’s a rundown:
The trip starts at the Hoover Dam Lodge around 8am (!!), where an outfitting company shuttles you and your gear down to the base of the Hoover Dam. You have to pay the outfitters for the ride, and also apply for a government permit, because the area around the Dam is US Gov’ment property with a high(ish) security clearance. But the total cost of the permit and shuttle ride was only around $37 per person, so it’s not that bad.
We saved some money because we didn’t sign up for the return shuttle — normally, the outfitting company picks you up downriver at the takeout spot, Willow Beach, the following afternoon. But we wanted to spend two nights down there and take our time, so we arranged ahead of time to park our own vehicle at Willow Beach. Also, we saved money by bringing our own kayaks and gear — you can rent those also, but then your costs go up. Out total cost on this trip was $37 per person, plus food/booze/drugs/gas money. What a deal!
Once the outfitter drops you off at the base of the Dam, you have something like 10 minutes to load up and GTFO of there — they’re very strict about it! They encourage you to just throw everything in your vessels and then paddle downriver a bit to this sandbar that is not on government property….where you can spend as much time as you like sorting out and packing your gear into everyone’s boats.
This sandbar is a good place to stop, anyway, as it’s near the first point of interest on the trip — a sauna cave! This long tunnel bores way back into the cliff face on the Nevada side of the river, and a hot creek runs through it, turning the entire tunnel into a hot, steamy, pitch-black wonderland. The floor is gravelly, and the walls are covered in mineral buildup; it’s really fun to walk all the way to the back without using a headlamp or flashlight — just your sense of touch and your ears! My friends and I went all the way to the back of the cave and sat there in the darkness humming “OMMMMMMMMM” all together, until the entire cave felt like it was vibrating. It was awesome!
The sauna cave doesn’t have a very big beach, and depending on the water level at the time of your visit (they periodically release water through the Dam, so the water levels on this part of the river fluctuate greatly), you might have to tie up to a tree and just wade to and from your boat.
From the sauna cave, it’s a short paddle of a few minutes to the next point of interest — Goldstrike Canyon hot springs! These are a fabulously beautiful series of natural hot springs in a semi-lush, almost tropical canyon, and there’s almost always plenty of gravelly beach to drag your kayaks up onto while you hike up the canyon to soak. You could easily spend an entire day soaking here, but my friends and I only stayed an hour or so, as there were more sights we wanted to see before reaching our camp spot for the night.
From Goldstrike, we paddled along with the current, stopping in at several “rain caves” — huge, dripping caves lined with tropical moss and ferns, all along the Nevada side of the river (there are some on the Arizona side as well). Some of these caves are seriously tropical in feel, like a little piece of Hawaii bizarrely transplanted outside Vegas. In a kayak, you can just paddle into the cave and sort of hang out — my friends and I used these opportunities to smoke a bowl 🙂
The next beach we came to was Boy Scout Canyon — a good-sized beach and a great place to camp, if inclined. Similar to Goldstrike, a hot creek runs down through a slot canyon, and is shored up in places to create little soaking pools. Because they are less frequently visited, these springs are generally not as well-maintained as the ones at Goldstrike — at the time of our visit, there were one or two pools that were OK to soak in, but not as picturesque/not as hot water as with Goldstrike. Still, it was a great stop and a nice way to stretch our legs.
After leaving Boy Scout Canyon, our next stop was our planned campsite for the night — Arizona/White Rock hot springs beach (also confusingly called Ringbolt hot springs, because the beach is located across from Ringbolt rapids) (side note: there aren’t any hardcore rapids on this stretch of the Colorado River — it’s fairly smooth and docile the entire length of this trip). This beach is the most popular place for boaters to camp for the night, so it can get crowded — but it’s worth it, since the springs are FABULOUS and there’s plenty of level ground on which to camp. There are even a couple of pit toilets onsite — especially important now that the park service requires all river campers to pack out their solid waste!!
My friends and I rolled into Arizona hot springs beach around 5pm, and we set up camp in a little side canyon straight back from the beach; it was supposed to be kinda windy that night, so we figured we’d be more sheltered that way. Plus, it sort of isolated us from the other, more innocent campers who were there — boy scouts and nice, non-drug-taking-hippie-types. We were doing everyone a favor by camping back there, trust me!
After setting up camp, we went up to the springs themselves for a soak. The springs are off to the left from the beach, up a different slot canyon that also has a hot creek running down it. Follow this creek up the canyon, climbing up some mildly treacherous, slippery boulders along the way, until you finally get to a giant, 20-foot steel ladder bolted onto a steep ledge, over which flows a hot waterfall. This ladder looks SKETCHY AS FUCK, but trust me — it’s securely bolted on at the top, so just go slowly and carefully, and maintain three points of contact the whole way. You’ll be fine! I’ve done it under the influence of all manner of intoxicants, and I’m still here 🙂
There’s also a warning sign here about Naegleria Fowleri — a brain-eating bacteria that can live in warm water. It can only enter through your nasal membranes, though, so just be careful not to get water up your nose — you’ll be fine.
If you survive the bacteria warning and the ladder, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most beautiful, relaxing soaks on the face of the Earth — Arizona hot springs!! The hot creek running down this slot canyon has been dammed up with sandbags to create a series of 4-5 pools, ranging in temperature from HOT to warm, where you can soak in the shade of the steep slot canyon walls. It’s fabulous!!! The pools have nice, clean gravelly bottoms and the water feels very clean due to the rate of flow through. My friends and I soaked here all evening and well into the night — for two nights!!!
One note: my friends and I are mostly nudists, and prefer to soak au naturel; most of the time, this is fine at Arizona hot springs…you just have to suss out the situation when you get there. Obviously, if the pools are full of underage Boy Scouts, you should reconsider…but after dark, it’s basically a guarantee that most soakers are nude. Just use your judgment!
Now, I was lucky; most of my squad had kayaked downriver to the campsite with me, but a few of the others had rented a power boat down at the take-out spot, Willow Beach…so they were able to blast upriver to meet us with all the heavy stuff like water, firewood, etc. But I’ve done this trip before with just kayaks, and it’s just as much fun. Either way, if you can, I recommend spending two nights at Arizona — it gives you more time to just chill out. My friends and I took a lot of drugs (including copious amounts of booze), had some nice campfires, and went on a couple little excursions in the power boat. It was fantastic!
It should be noted that my people and I were sure to pack out ALL our trash; we’re firm believers in the “Leave No Trace” school of ethics, so we even picked up some pre-existing trash from the camp area as well. Also, it should be noted that we saw a couple snakes on the beach, one of which was a rattler! So be careful down there; watch where you step, cuz it’s a looooong way to the nearest hospital!
Anyway, my group and I all packed up to leave around noon on a Saturday. It’s another 8 miles or so to the takeout spot, so we wanted to have plenty of time; we were lucky that day, as the wind was at our back most of the way, and blew us downriver toward Willow Beach…but I’ve also done this with a miserable headwind, which I assure you is NO fun! Along the way, we stopped in a few caves and on a beach or two to smoke more weed and postpone the inevitable…but finally, around 7pm, we hit Willow Beach and took all our gear out. And after packing everything up, we stopped in Boulder City for a delicious burger at Dillingers — we earned it!!
This was the second time I’d done this fabulous trip, and it most certainly won’t be the last! Like I said at the beginning of this blog — it’s one of the best adventures to be had within an hour or so of the Vegas Strip.
DO IT!!!! 😀