Packrafting Black Canyon


Jul 21, 2014
Not the Gunnison (unfortunately), but the stretch of the Colorado below Hoover Dam in Nevada/Arizona that is commonly referred to as Black Canyon. Some friends and I did this as a three day trip, using the river as a base to explore a bunch of side canyons.

We started by entering via Secret Canyon, on the Arizona side.


Secret Canyon is technical, with two rappels. Both are bolted and easy. The narrows near the river are very scenic as well, though the hot springs have silted in. Nothing like rappelling with a sixty pound pack filled with technical gear and rafts to start the trip off right!


We launched our packrafts from the mouth of Secret Canyon. The nice thing about this is that the permits for Black Canyon only control launches from below the Hoover Dam, within the dam's security area. If you launch from a side canyon, like we did, no permits are required.


A short distance below Secret Canyon, we beached in order to explore up Boy Scout Canyon. This side canyon has some beautiful bedrock narrows and waterfalls, which are warm because of hot springs.



If I were going to do this trip again, I'd consider camping at the mouth of Boy Scout, rather than Arizona Hot Springs, where we did camp. AZ Hot Springs is trail accessible, and also well known to boaters who are coming up from the bottom with motorized boats. So it gets a ton of people, and there are ringtails and mice that can get into your food.

When we returned to the mouth of Boy Scout, one of the boats we had left on the beach was missing. A quick look determined it had floated downstream. We didn't do a good enough job securing them. We moved a pack off of one raft, the paddler missing a boat hopped on the bow, and we took him downstream to his raft. Raft, pack, and paddle were all recovered safely, and we paddled on down to AZ Hot Springs canyon for the evening.


The next morning, we went only a half a mile downstream before pulling over and hiding our gear in the bushes (securely this time!). Our plan for day two was to ascend the narrows of Bighorn Canyon, and complete a technical descent of Weeping Springs Canyon. We made our way safely up Bighorn, which had a few tricky climbs and the nicest set of sustained narrows we saw the whole trip.


We then made our way down Weeping Springs. Weeping springs features half a dozen rappels, most of them big, up to about 150 feet, often off of "interesting" anchors. The canyon is scenic and extremely remote feeling.



The final rappel delivered us back to river level.


We inflated the packrafts we had carried through the canyon, and paddled back to Bighorn beach to pick up our stashed overnight gear. From there, it was just a half a day of paddling to our next camp at Crane's Nest Canyon. Unfortunately, thanks to the impending Lake Mohave downstream, the current mostly dies out below Bighorn, and paddling gets more difficult. With a headwind, this day was a struggle, but we finally made it to the beach at dark.


The next day's goal was Ringpin Canyon, a technical canyon downstream from Crane's Nest. To avoid having to carry overnight and paddling gear through the canyon, two of our group paddled a quarter-mile downstream to stash our gear again, then paddled back upstream.


A quick walk up Crane's Nest Canyon, and we crossed over the divide between Crane's Nest and Ringpin.


Ringpin turned out to be a wonderful canyon. The pools described in the "Las Vegas Slots" book have silted in, but there's still a wonderful set of reddish narrows to be seen. The rappels are short, but there's some natural anchoring challenges and awkward starts to keep things interesting.


Below Ringpin, we put back in on the water for the three mile float to Willow Beach. At this point, the water is flat and the paddling is effortful. There's some scenery to see, the most interesting of which was Emerald Cave. But all of us were glad to finally make landfall at the car on Willow Beach.


All in all a great trip. This is a highly recommended trip for newbie packrafters in this part of the country, since the water is flat and there's a ton of interesting wilderness along the river to explore. If you're not a technical canyoneer, you could simply hike down the standard route to Arizona Hot Springs before putting in. You'll need to pay an entrance fee (or better yet, use an American the Beautiful pass) to access Willow Beach, but otherwise no permits are necessary.

Really good route information here:

Video here:
Very cool! Thanks for sharing.

I like that you said "Not the Gunnison (unfortunately)". I've looked into that and it looks fun and rowdy!
Coowelll !

Do you plan on floating the Black Canyon of the Gunnison too? TR if you do and especially if you climb out!
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