The oasis city of Las Vegas is home to many things, but a lot of water is not one of them. Still, there are plenty of fun paddling trips that you can find within a few hours of the city. With the mighty Colorado River snaking its way nearby and forming the magnificent Lake Mead, some of the best spots are closer than you might think.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at 10 of the best places to kayak in and around Las Vegas to help inspire you for your next trip.
1. Black Canyon, Colorado River, NV
The obvious place for kayaking near Las Vegas is the Colorado River. The world-famous waterway runs out of the Grand Canyon to the east and into Lake Mead.
From there, it then flows south towards the Gulf of California out of Hoover Dam and into the Black Canyon.
The area just downstream from the dam is the top kayaking destination in the area. There are multiple tour operators who offer trips ranging from a half-day to multi-day camping adventures.
There are numerous spots to hop out and go for a hike. Some of the favorite attractions are the hot springs and Emerald Cave. For self-guided tours, check out the 30-mile-long Black Canyon National Water Trail.
Most tour operators are based in Boulder City, just east of Las Vegas on Interstate I-11.
2. Lake Mead National Recreation Area, NV
Any Las Vegas kayaking destinations list would be remiss not to mention Lake Mead.
The massive reservoir on the Colorado River was created when the Hoover Dam was made. It’s the largest reservoir in the US, and its cool blue waters contrast with the desert mountains and steep canyons in just the right way. At some points, the lake is over 500 feet deep!
For rentals and tours, check out Desert Adventures.
Such a large lake has numerous spots worth checking out. There are numerous entrances to the recreation area, and the best resource to plan your visit is the Park Service website.
The lake is most easily accessed via Lake Mead Parkway eastbound out of Henderson. To get to points farther east, take Northshore Road around the north side.
3. Sand Hollow State Park, UT
Due to the narrow point that Las Vegas occupies in the state of Nevada, many other destinations lie quite close while being in other states. For example, just two hours up Interstate I-16 in Utah lies the Zion region, and there are a few reservoirs that are very popular for all types of water sports.
The nearest one is located in the town of Hurricane and is at Sand Hollow State Park. In addition to water sports and fishing on the 1,344-acre reservoir, the park is popular for its offroad ATV trails.
You can take tours or rent boats from either Desert Adventures or BASH (The Beach at Sand Hollow). To get there, head northbound on Interstate I-16 for about 130 miles. The exit is just past the town of St. George.
4. Lake Las Vegas, NV
Lake Las Vegas is a water sports oasis built right outside of town. In a city known for its desert location, the lake provides a much-needed shore-side vibe. Are you looking to rent a yacht for the day? Or perhaps a quiet put around in a Duffy electric boat? Whatever your watery desires are, you can have them fulfilled at Lake Las Vegas. Of course, that includes all sorts of paddling.
Lake Las Vegas Water Sports has paddleboards and kayaks for rent. Resorts don’t completely surround the lake itself. While there are a few golf courses and major establishments like the Hyatt and the Westin, a large portion of the lake has a natural and quiet shoreline. The lake covers roughly 320 acres.
Lake Las Vegas is to the east of town, about three-quarters of the way to Lake Mead. Water from Lake Mead was diverted here to make this reservoir. To get to the lake, head east on State Route SR 564, the Lake Mead Parkway. Then turn north on Lake Las Vegas Parkway.
5. North Fork, Virgin River, UT
If you’re looking for some whitewater near Las Vegas, you won’t be disappointed. But as is the case with most paddling in this desert community, you’ll have a drive a little way out of town to find the water.
For some mountain air and whitewater thrills, you can’t beat the Virgin River. The river flows out of Utah and empties into the northern tip of Lake Mead. The amount of water at the lake end of the river depends significantly on the season. The best paddling, though, is closer to the mountains.
The optimum flow of the Virgin River is about 250 to 350 CFS. But unfortunately, that doesn’t happen for too long, and that means a short paddling season. It usually peaks between mid-April to end of May. Several spots along the river typically have Class III or IV rapids, but during high flow can be V+ and extremely hazardous. So like all backcountry rivers, it’s vital to get condition reports and check flow rates before heading out.
The Upper Virgin River is about 140 miles from Las Vegas. The river starts inside the boundaries of Zion, and that’s where you’ll find the best put-ins. Check out the Temple of Sinawava. Unfortunately, there are no rentals or tours available.
6. Lakes Havasu & Mohave, AZ
As the Colorado flows out of Lake Mead, it winds its way south from the city and forms the Arizona/California state border. There are several other reservoirs and pools to check out along the route. Lakes Havasu and Mohave are two of the biggest and most famous.
To access Lake Mohave, head to the Cottonwood Cove Resort Marina. They have kayak rentals, and the area is the best place to access the lake. It’s on the western shore, accessed by taking US Highway 95 southbound to the town of Searchlight, NV. Then, take State Route SR 164 east to the marina.
Lake Havasu lies farther south and is the more developed and busy of the two lakes. You can access it from either side—on the west, there is the town of Havasu Lake, NV, while on the east, there is Lake Havasu City, AZ. If you’re looking for a rental boat, Beach Shack Rentals in Lake Havasu City has kayaks and paddleboards.
Lake Havasu is about two and a half hours south of Las Vegas. Head south of town on US Highway 95, then head east on Interstate I-40. You’ll cross the river at Topock, then take the next exit south, which is Arizona State Route SR 95. This will take you into Lake Havasu City.
7. Topock Gorge, AZ
Another don’t-miss spot along the Lower Colorado River is the Topock Gorge. Some have described this part of the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge as a miniature Grand Canyon. It’s only about four miles long, but the scenery and the wildlife viewing in this area are worth the effort to get to.
Wacko Canoe and Kayak Outfitters offers multiple tours of the area. They have shuttle service to some of the most isolated and remote parts of the Topock Gorge. If you’re looking for a completely different experience in this area from the party deck boats of Lake Havasu, these trips are for you. They even offer full-moon trips and winter trips to the Bill Williams Wildlife Refuge.
Trips to the Topock Gorge leave from Lake Havasu City. If you’re on your own, you might still want to check with an outfitter to get some ideas for your trip. If you’re headed downriver, they may be able to offer shuttle service as well.
8. Grand Canyon, AZ
Kayaking the Grand Canyon is a grand challenge. It’s not the sort of place you can drive, put in, paddle, and then drive home. First, the canyon itself is isolated. Beyond that, the river is isolated from all access points. There are no rafting trips or commercial operators in the South Rim around Grand Canyon Village since the canyon walls are so high. With no easy put-ins, only multi-day trips down the river are offered.
But for those looking for a grand adventure, there’s nothing bigger than paddling the Colorado down the Grand Canyon. If you’re interested in a commercial outing, check with Arizona River Runners. They’re based here in Las Vegas, and their three-day/two-night trip is the fastest and best way to see the canyon up-close. Their oar trips down the canyon are six or eight-day expeditions.
The Grand Canyon area offers a wide variety of experiences for every type of paddler. While there are many intense rapids, there are also long river sections with smooth water suitable for out-and-backs. The National Park Service controls trip information and river permits.
9. Lake Powell, UT & AZ
Some of the most famous kayaking and water exploration in the southwest is on Lake Powell. While it’s a bit of a drive from Las Vegas, it’s totally worth the effort to make the trip. You’ll likely find yourself going back again and again. The area is a draw from the Las Vegas area and from the Grand Canyon area as it features some of the same grand scenery as the rest of the Colorado.
Lake Powell is the dammed reservoir that controls the Colorado’s flow into the Grand Canyon. The lake stretches for 186 miles and snakes through the beautiful Glen Canyon and rugged scenery of northern Arizona and Utah. Lake Powell is technically second behind Lake Mead in terms of being the largest man-made reservoir in the US, but due to fluctuating water levels along the river, it has actually surpassed Lake Mead several times in recent years.
The slot canyons are one of the most famous sights along the lake. Check out Lake Powell Adventures in Page, AZ for kayak tours and rentals. It’s a four-hour drive to get to the lake from Las Vegas.
10. Upper Mountain Lakes, CA & NV
If it’s the middle of summer and the sun is beating down, how does shaving a dozen or more degrees off the thermometer sound? Your best bet is to stray a little farther from Las Vegas and get into the mountains! Head northwest out of town toward Yosemite, and you’ll find a trio of lake options for your paddling pleasure.
Nearest to town, you’ll find Walker Lake off of US Highway 95, near the town of Hawthorne, NV. Head for Walker Lake State Recreation Area to put in. Birding and wildlife viewing is popular at this large perennial lake, a rare sight for this part of the state.
A little farther on, you’ll find famous Lake Tahoe near Carson City, NV. The lake sits right on the state line with California at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Just beyond that, you’ll find Pyramid Lake near Nixon, NV.
Once you’re this far into the mountains, lakes start popping up everywhere. If you’re into kayaking and camping, there are plenty of state forests and parks where you can pitch your tent for the night and put in the kayak every morning. It’s a lovely way to get away from the desert heat and find a change of pace.
Summing Up Kayaking in Las Vegas
A lot of things jump to mind when you imagine Las Vegas. There are glittery casinos, pools, fountains, and green lawns. But the oasis city is firmly planted in the desert. While paddling water is hard to find, when you do find it, it is magnificent. With a bit of exploring and a sense of adventure, dipping your paddle is possible even in the desert.