Flat Water Rafting in the Desert

by Sandra Scott

Rafting near the base of the Hoover Dam.


When most people hear of the word Las Vegas they think of gambling and the over-the-top glittering Strip, but there is more to do in Las Vegas besides gambling. Few people realize that Las Vegas is an excellent hub for exploring nature. Vegas is in a desert where exploring the colorful rocky terrain of Red Rock and Valley of Fire are great activities but there are also lakes and rivers to enjoy. Houseboating on Lake Mead and Lake Mohave and white water rafting on the Colorado are wonderful experiences, but one of the best ways to get up close and personal with nature is on a flat water rafting trip.

The motorized-assisted raft can hold about 35 people and is suitable for all ages.

The motorized-assisted raft can hold about 35 people and is suitable for all ages.

Only 30 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip in Boulder City, flat water rafters check in at the Black Canyon/Willow Beach River Adventures desk located in the Hacienda Hotel. Rafters put-in on the Colorado River at the foot of the massive Hoover Dam, at a place where only rafters are allowed. The motorized-assisted raft can hold about 35 people and is suitable for all ages. It can even accommodate people with limited mobility. The trips are year round but fewer trips are run during the winter season.

Hoover Dam is a destination unto itself but rafters see Hoover Dam as few others see it - from the bottom. The dam looks big from the top but from the bottom it is even more impressive. The guides share fascinating stories dealing with the construction of the dam and point out various aspects of it not visible from the top. The dam is 726.4 feet from the foundation rock to the roadway on its top, and the towers add another 40 feet. The amount of concrete used to build the dam could have paved a highway 16 feet wide from San Francisco to New York City. Two canyons nearby are canyons no more, as they were filled to the top with the rock excavated to create the dam. When it was completed in 1936, it was the world’s largest hydroelectric power generating station and the world’s largest concrete structure. Currently they are constructing a new bridge across the span because traffic backups on the only road that traverses the dam are frequent.

The Colorado River twists and turns through 12 miles of Black Canyon, surrounded by majestic 2000-foot rocky walls.

The Colorado River twists and turns through 12 miles of Black Canyon, surrounded by majestic 2000-foot rocky walls.

Climbing on the rocks. If it is too cold for swimming there is time for climbing the rocks.

The Colorado River twists and turns through 12 miles of Black Canyon, surrounded by majestic 2000-foot rocky walls. Many people consider rafting on this portion of the Colorado River below the dam more scenic because the canyon is narrower than it is above the dam. All rafters and the guide are ever vigilant, looking for desert wildlife such as cormorants, great blue herons, bald eagles, and Bighorn Sheep. Along the way the guide shares information on the area’s geology, and miners, along with their personal boating and hiking experiences.


The pontoon raft puts ashore at Swim Beach for lunch, which is provided. On a hot summer day it is the perfect spot for swimming but if it is too cold for swimming there is time for walking on the beach, climbing the rocks, and basking in the sun.

With luck the raft can put into Emerald Cave.With luck, the raft can put into Emerald Cave.

With luck the raft, depending on the water level, can put into Emerald Cave. Every trip is a new adventure.

There is no paddling on this basically dry trip. About three hours are spent on the river, and upon reaching Willow Beach Marina there is time for shopping before heading back to the starting point at the Hacienda Hotel in Boulder City by van or bus. Black Canyon/Willow Beach River Adventures will also provide transportation from the Strip. For more information check www.blackcanyonadventures.com

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You might also be interested in: 4 day trip down the Colorado River through Canyonlands NP and the whitewater of Cataract Canyon ending Lake Powell
(From the DUSA Forum)


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Videos Video available on this subject.

The coyote

Houseboating on Lake Mead Video available on this subject.
In October of 2009, DesertUSA rented a houseboat to explore the western part of Lake Mead. Our first stop was the Hoover Dam off the Boulder Basin. Without Hoover Dam, Lake Mead wouldn't exist today. Come along with DesertUSA staff as they explore Lake Mead and check out Hoover Dam. Take a look at the cove where we camped, and the Bighorn Sheep encounter we had there!

Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock CanyonVideo available on this subject.
Red Rock Canyon is less then an hour's drive west of Las Vegas and has many significant geologic features. The area is a good place to kick back and just enjoy nature's wonders. Take a look at the many interesting features of this Nevada State Park - it just might lure you away from the blackjack tables when you visit Las Vegas!

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