Overview: Camping Along the Colorado River in Black Canyon
A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of kayaking down the Colorado River through Black Canyon, just down river of the gigantic Hoover Dam!
This trip was a little different then my normal trips I go on, this trip I was guiding with Cairn Leadership:
A community of intentional leaders pursuing excellence through gritty outdoor adventures and rigorous applied study.
If you like the outdoors (Or even if you don't) and are looking to grow yourself as a leader check out their upcoming trips here.
Kayaking or canoeing down the Colorado River starting at the Hoover Dam is an awe filled experience contrasting the immense human engineering with the quiet serenity of being sandwiched between two canyon walls and the beautiful constant sound of the flowing Colorado River.
For this trip we entered in at the base of the Hoover Dam and kayak and canoe down river spending two nights before exiting at Willow Beach.
If you enter at Willow Beach you do not need permits but plan accordingly if you plan on paddling up river the entire way. Ther flow rate of the river constantly changes depending on the amount of power the Hoover Dam is providing. It may look calm and easy and then there could be a release where the current picks up greatly and may be significantly harder to paddle against depending on your experience.
Launching from the base of the Hoover Dam requires permits because it is a security zone. You literally can't drive your kayak there yourself, there is a locked gate at the road to get down to the base of the Hoover Dam. If you would like to Launch from the Hoover Dam you will need to coordinate with one of the pre-approved vendors.
A list of pre-approved vendors that are authorized to drop you off at the base of the Hoover Dam can be found on the Black Canyon National Water Trail website here. For our trip Cairn Leadership partnered with a company called Desert Adventures out of Las Vegas.
ℹ️ Gear Recommendations
If you would like expert gear recommendations for your next adventure check out the Ten Digit Grid Gear Locker. I detail why each item has a spot in my backpack!
Black Canyon Colorado River Camping Maps
The Caltopo map and be viewed and downloaded on Caltopo here.
Arriving at the Hoover Dam
From San Diego it is quite a drive out to the Hoover Dam, so myself and the founder of Cairn Leadership carpooled out the night before. We had to be set up early in the next morning to meet and distribute gear to the amazing Crux Adventure Participants.
We found some BLM land not too far away from the Hoover Dam Lodge and Casino which is where we were all meeting and being picked up by Desert Adventures.
The BLM spot we chose to go to was off of Kingman Wash Access Road heading towards Lake Meade. There are a number of spots you can turn off and set up camp. Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures camping off Kingman Wash Access Road because there was some pretty intense wind that night and we just slept in the car.
The Caltopo map for Kingman Wash Access Road can be viewed and downloaded here.
In the morning we met with the rest of our group, distributed gear and discussed what to expect over the next few days as we explored Black Canyon and dove into deep leadership discussions.
It was a quick drive over to the Hoover Dam where our driver opened the gate and drove down this steep curvy road down to the base of the dam where we would quickly unload all the canoes and depart.
Quickly was not an understatement, we actually were required to unload all our gear, and boats off the trucks then reload all our gear into our boats in the water and depart in under 15 minutes! Due to the Hoover Dam being a security Zone you are only allowed to be at the unload zone for 15 minutes max!
It may be kinda hard to see in the satellite imagery above, but the trucks carrying the boats stop right at the pin, then it was an all hands on deck to unload the boats, and gear. There is a short sidewalk with about four mini switchbacks that lead you down to the launch point. The launch point is not a nice sandy beach, it's all rock. Be careful walking on the rocks as you carry the boats and gear towards the waters edge as it gets slippery towards the bottom.
Once we were loaded up, we were off paddling down the mighty Colorado River taking our last glances over our shoulders at the gigantic Hoover Dam behind us. Since we did not have much time at the boat launch to organize we quickly looked for a spot to pull over.
Just a couple minutes down river from where we entered there was a small rocky island, which is where you would stop to check out the Sauna Cave.
ℹ️ Water Shoe Recommendation
On this trip I wore the Aqua X Sport from Xero Shoes every day on the water. They are a fantastic water shoe because they are lightweight, drain quickly and also dry quickly. The best part about them is the aggressive tread on the bottom of the shoe. The Aqua X Sport from Xero Shoes is great in the water and for short hikes as well!
Our break/discussions were quickly cut short though due to the rising river! As we sat on this small rocky beach the water steadily was rising and we had to keep moving until it was pretty much gone. The lesson here is if you stop by the river’s edge, always be paying attention to the water levels and your gear so you dont lose anything!
Our first day on the Colorado River was pretty interesting, the winds from the other night had died down a little in the morning but very quickly picked up as we paddled down river. The wind was so strong that there were a few points where there were swells and waves in the river!
White Rock Canyon Camping
Since the wind was pretty challenging and the weather report had the wind dieing down the next day, we started looking for a campsite earlier in the day. If you are in a small group there are a handful of random places you can pull over to camp. Since we had a larger group we were more limited on where we could pull over and camp.
The first large area we found was White Rock Canyon. White Rock Canyon was just under a 4 mile paddle from where we dropped in at the base of the Hoover Dam.
ℹ️ Detailed White Rock Canyon Map
Below is a marked up map to help you plan your stay, but conditions on river camp sites can change very quickly. What I observed during my two nights at White Rock Canyon may be very different than what you experience due to changing river conditions.
White Rock Canyon Map Key:
- Red Circle: This is where we tied up our canoes. There was a nice looking fire pit on this beach which was tempting to stay at. Glad we didn't though this entire beach essentially disappeared and the firepit was under water once the water level rose. Make sure you tie your boats up!
- Green Circles: Different camping areas along White Rock Canyon Beach
- Orange Line: This was a path we used to get from where we tied up our canoes to where we camped. As the water rose this path disappeared underneath the water.
- Dark Blue Line: A second path that we took from where our canoes were tied up to our campsite. This trail was available after the water rose and I would use it to check our boats every so often
We ended up tying our canoes up here on the northern beach at White Rock Canyon. This was an awesome beach to relax at during the day but essentially was entirely under water by night fall. The beach during the day is a bit off the river so the water was calmer here and was a great place to take a dip.
Arizona Hot Springs
Since we had a short day of paddling, we had some extra time to explore and the Arizona Hot Springs is the "hot place" to check out in this area!
There is a much closer beach you can camp on near the Arizona Hot Springs, aptly called Arizona Hot Springs Beach. The Arizona Hot Springs Beach is a popular place to camp overnight due to there being a pit toilet here. Just about every other beach within black canyon requires a Wag Bag (Amazon Affiliate) to carry out your waste. If you are not staying at Arizona Hot Springs, it's not a bad place to take a quick pit stop though if you need to use the bathroom.
Since we were staying at White Rock Canyon Campsite we had a short hike over to the Arizona Hot Springs:
Round trip the hike from White Rock Canyon to the Arizona Hot Springs is about 1 mile. The hike is slightly exposed at times and has soome route finding due but there are some scattered signs and painted arrows if you look closely for them.
This short hike was one of my favorites and honestly not because of the hot springs. The trail connecting White Rock Canyon to the Arizona Hot Springs beach brings you up over the Colorado River just enough for some epic views.
Once you get to the Arizona Hot Springs Trail you should be able to see the trickle of water coming down through the canyon. As you slowly hike up the canyon and get closer to the Arizona Hot Springs the trickle begins to flow more and the water gets warmer and warmer.
One thing to note is that if you plan to go to the Hot Springs, is that you need to be extremely cautious. The small tiny sign above is posted on the canyon wall as you get closer to the Arizona Hot Springs which reads:
⚠️WARNING Do not allow water to enter your nose. Naegleria Fowleri An amoeba common to thermal pools may enter, causing a rare infection and death.
Essentially enter the Hot Springs at your own risk and do not let any of the water enter your nose. Naegleria Fowleri is often referred to as the brain eating ameba... you can read more about it if interested on the CDC website.
After reading the warning if you plan to continue to the Hot Springs there is one more obstacle. Before you get to the nice warm hot pools of the Arizona Hot Spring there is a ladder that must be climbed and is next to a small warm waterfall. Since the ladder is next to the waterfall it is pretty wet and slippery. Take extreme caution while climbing the ladder.
Black Canyon Colorado River Wrap Up
After our Arizona Hot Springs Hike that afternoon we went back to the campsite at White Rock Canyon and continued deep leadership discussions through experiential learning.
The first night sleeping along the Colorado River was fantastic. It was quite and peaceful with only the sound of the river flowing by in the background to sooth you into a deep sleep.
In the morning we woke up to the sounds of birds chirping. We got back into our canoes and explored down river before coming back up to White Rock Canyon for our second night. With our larger group we didn't want to risk not being able to find another large campsite down river to spend one last night before reaching Willow Beach which is where we would be picked up. If you are in a small group there are more options down river to explore.
On our last day down the Colorado River we were lucky enough to spot some goats!