Black Canyon is located south of Hoover Dam and extends approximately 26 miles downstream. With dark cliffs of volcanic rock, which soar above the river's reflective surface, this is an exceptional place to navigate a kayak or canoe, or to be ferried by raft from an authorized outfitter. This is a special place of rugged geology, desert wildlife and a colorful history. Black Canyon was designated as an official Water Trail by the United States Department of the Interior.
While Black Canyon is close to civilization, access can be tricky depending on your goals. From Hoover Dam to Willow Beach there are no direct access via a paved or backcountry road. Willow Beach provides the only access via a paved road and is located about halfway through the canyon on the Arizona side. Visitors can access the Hoover Dam launch area via approved outfitters and a required permit from the Bureau of Reclamation (available from an authorized outfitter). Outfitters also provide return service once you arrive at your end destination. Please contact one of these authorized outfitters for details.
Once you get on the water trail, the cares of life fade away as you meander down the mighty Colorado River. There are no real rapids and the water current is a gentle flow away from the dam.
Human beings have lived along or near the Colorado River for thousands of years. The evidence for this is the hundreds of habitation sites found throughout the Las Vegas, Lake Mead, Hoover Dam and Lake Mohave area, many of which have been dated with radiocarbon, argon or by other measures.
River explorers and surveyors first came in January, 1858, under the leadership of Lt. Joseph Christmas Ives, who came up the Colorado by steamboat from the Gulf of California. He traveled as far upriver as possible to Black Canyon, the eventual site of Hoover Dam. John Wesley Powell and his men floated down the Colorado River, starting on the Colorado's main tributary, the Green River. From Green River, Wyoming, he and his men rowed all the way through the Grand Canyon. Powell made a second trip down the Colorado in 1871.
The river explorers were hoping to find that the Colorado could be used as a route of travel and commerce, but because of the wide fluctuations in the amount of water from season to season, they concluded that it could not.
The dam builders came in 1931. A handful of men did the planning and designing of the dam. There were another 16,000 workers who did the actual building. Many of these men had families, wives and children, who came with them.
Because of Hoover Dam, the Colorado River was controlled for the first time in history. Farmers received a dependable supply of water in Nevada, California and Arizona. Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas and a dozen other towns and cities were given an inexpensive source of electricity, permitting population growth and industrial development.
The Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewell, designated a portion of the Lower Colorado River that flows through Lake Mead National Recreation Area as a National Water Trail, in 2014.
Visitors can access the Black Canyon Water Trail through a guided tour at the base of Hoover Dam or from Willow Beach, Arizona, or near an old mining town in Eldorado Canyon, Nevada.
As visitors travel down the 26-mile water trail alongside wilderness and solitude, they can stop at sandy beaches, colorful caves, plentiful coves and active hot springs. Desert bighorn sheep and other wildlife are often seen on the cliffs along the river. There is also a great deal of history associated with the construction of and research connected to Hoover Dam including the sauna cave, gauging stations, catwalks, trails and building foundations.
Steamy Stop at Sauna Cave
Nearly hidden by a stand of tamarisk is Sauna Cave. Step into the cave's mineral-rich spring water. As you slosh through knee-high water, the water becomes hotter as the cave becomes darker. Inside, breathe deeply and listen to the sounds of dripping water. During the building of Hoover Dam, construction workers started to drill a tunnel in this area. When they encountered the water's high temperatures, they abandoned the site.
Boy Scout Canyon
Boy Scout Canyon, located in the Black Canyon Wilderness, is a popular stop for day boaters, overnight campers and hike-in-and-out adventurers. The canyon offers a variety of terrain to explore and the reward of several hot springs and warm waterfalls. From the river via a wide and gravelly beach, wind your way into the canyon as it narrows and becomes shaded. Soon you're in an enchanted oasis where lush vegetation clings to rock walls and spring-fed pools invite a soak.
Located 12 miles south of Hoover Dam off of U.S. 93 on the Arizona side of the water trail, Willow Beach offers a variety of amenities, including a launch ramp and full-service marina with watercraft, canoe and kayak rentals; a campground and RV park; a store and restaurant. The beach and fishing pier are also popular destinations. The water is a chilly 53° year round. Whether hiking, rafting, boating or fishing, visitors at this part of the Black Canyon Water Trail enjoy sheer cliffs of multicolored rocks, sandy beaches and secluded coves.
The Black Canyon Water Trail ends at Eldorado Canyon, an area known for its mining history, which was active when Nevada achieved statehood in 1864. Steamboats would transport the ore from Eldorado Canyon along the Colorado River down to the Gulf of California. Mine tours are offered daily outside of the park boundaries near the community of Nelson, and vendors offer kayak, paddleboard and hiking tours within the park.
Last updated: July 27, 2016