The Black Canyon, a portion of the Colorado River, was named as the United States’ 16th nationally dedicated water trail in 2014. The Black Canyon National Water Trail is the first water trail that flows through a desert and the first located in the Southwest.

Enjoy the unique scenery and solitude along this 30-mile-long stretch of river, located entirely within Lake Mead National Recreation Area and downstream of the Hoover Dam. Your eyes will constantly be scanning the cliff walls to look for majestic desert big horn sheep, falcons, eagles, vultures and osprey. Local guides educate paddlers on geology, plant life, animals and historic remnants along the river that date back to the 1920s, as well as stories and facts on the building of the Hoover Dam.

Find out how to experience your own paddling adventure on the Black Canyon Water Trail below.

What you’ll experience

Shuttle down the historic Lower Portal Road, the same road that delivered Hoover Dam workers to their job site in the 1930s. As you round a corner through the red volcanic cliffs, to your left is a view of a lifetime: the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. This is one of the most unique and restricted launch sites to begin a kayak adventure in the Black Canyon.

The river here is moving water through colorful, towering volcanic walls. Short hikes into side canyons lead to natural hot springs and waterfalls. Hike into Sauna Cave, an exploratory tunnel dug near the Hoover Dam and abandoned when a hot spring was reached. Don’t miss a paddle into the shimmering green glow of the Emerald Cave.

Fly to

Las Vegas, Nevada. Drive or shuttle to Boulder City, Nevada (30 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip).

Where to stay

For guided trips, outfitters pick up at hotels in Las Vegas. For those driving to the river, camping is available in Lake Mead National Recreation Area and hotels are available nearby in Boulder City, Nevada.

Watch out for…

Be prepared for cold water and extreme weather conditons, including heat and wind. Summer temperatures can reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit in the canyon. The Colorado River below the dam averages 54 degrees Fahrenheit, posing a danger to paddlers who are not proficient with rescue skills.

Don’t go without…

Adequate clothing for sun and immersion protection, plenty of water, sunscreen and food. Also do not launch without checking the weather forecast for the conditions on the day of your trip.

View of river with cliffs on either side
Year-round paddling on the Black Canyon Water Trail. | Photo: National Park Service

Access points

Hoover Dam

The road leading to this launch site is heavily restricted. If you have your own paddle craft you want to take down the river, you’ll need to reach out to a local outfitter and inquire about having them transport your boat to the launch site. You’ll need to pay a $12/person launch fee and $10 National Park Service entrance fee, plus whatever the outfitter charges for transport.

The best way to paddle out from the Hoover Dam is by taking a tour with an authorized outfitter. There are both self-guided and guided tour options available from the outfitters below.

Willow Beach

Launch and take-out for free at Willow Beach, located 14 miles downriver from the Hoover Dam. This is the preferred place to start if you wish to paddle to Emerald Cave, which is located 2 miles upriver. There is a full-service marina, store and restaurant onsite.

Eldorado Canyon

Eldorado Canyon marks the end of the Black Canyon Water Trail. It is necessary to walk a quarter-mile up a desert wash to reach the vehicle parking area.


Hoover Dam Rafting Adventures

  • Six- and four-hour rafting tours
  • Launch from Hoover Dam

Blazin’ Paddles

  • Half-day, full-day and twilight guided kayak tours
  • Launch from Willow Beach or the Hoover Dam

Blue Waters Kayaking

  • Four-day guided canoe tour
  • Launch from the Hoover Dam

Breakwater Expeditions

  • Seven-day guided canoe tour
  • Launch from the Hoover Dam

Desert Adventures

  • Full-day guided kayak tour
  • Launch from the Hoover Dam

Evolution Expeditions

  • Half- and full-day kayak tours
  • Launch from the Hoover Dam and Willow Beach

Jerkwater Canoe Co.

  • One- to three-day canoe trips
  • Canoe rentals
  • Launch from the Hoover Dam

Kayak Lake Mead

  • Half- and full-day kayak trips, plus other adventure packages
  • Lake Mead

Las Vegas SUP & Kayak Club

  • Guided and self-guided kayak tours
  • Launch from Willow Beach and the Hoover Dam

River Dogz

  • Guided kayak and paddleboard tours
  • Launch from Willow Beach and the Hoover Dam

Vegas Glass Kayaks

  • Guided and self-guided glass-bottom kayak tours
  • Launch from Willow Beach and the Hoover Dam

Venture Out Vegas

  • Guided kayak tours
  • Launch from Willow Beach and the Hoover Dam

Willow Beach Harbor

  • Kayak and canoe rentals

Black Canyon Water Trail map

Find a map of the Black Canyon Water Trail here.

See sights seldom seen. | Photo: National Park Service


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here