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Colorado River, Arizona
Report by Marc W. McCord
with significant contributions by Helen Howard

Hoover Dam to Davis Dam
~ 63 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Colorado River is a major water source for the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, California, Arizona and Nevada, draining a significant amount of snowmelt water all along the western half of Colorado. The river begins at an elevation of about 10,000 feet MSL in the Rocky Mountains of Grand County, Colorado near Silver Creek on the western edge of Arapaho National Recreation Area northwest of Denver. From its headwaters the Colorado River flows west through Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction, into Utah then down to Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border, where it begins to cut the Grand Canyon. The river then flows through the Grand Canyon to Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada border before heading south along the Arizona-California border to its mouth at the Sea of Cortez. Along the way, the Colorado River flows more than 1,400 miles, mostly through three deserts.

Below Hoover Dam the Colorado River is nothing like itself through the Grand Canyon section above. For starters, there is almost always adequate water for paddle strips beginning in Black Canyon between Hoover Dam and the Town of Willow Beach, then continuing to Davis Dam. This reach of the river starts just below Hoover Dam, then flows through Willow Beach down to Lake Mojave, ending above Davis Dam and the cities of Laughlin and Bullhead City. Secondly, the river is rated Class I on a flatwater reach, with none of the big water hazards found between Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Trips are much shorter than the shortest Grand Canyon adventures. The Mojave Desert setting is pure wilderness though a few signs of civilization are to be found along the way due to casinos, marinas and other recreational facilities developed for tourism around and below Hoover Dam, Bullhead City and other places in this area. The river flows slow and wide on a very shallow gradient of 1 fpm. Hot springs are all along the first 12 miles (Black Canyon), as well as numerous gorgeous side canyons worthy of exploration.

Paddlers should plan on 1-6 days for this run depending upon distance paddled, stamina, time available, preparation for desert paddling close to the infamous Death Valley and exploration of side canyons with their hot springs. A cave with a sauna-like characteristic is located only about a quarter mile below the put-in on river right, where many paddlers choose to make their exploration stop. This very scenic trip invites photography, so be sure to come prepared with camera and film, but carry them in a water-resistant case such as a drybag, Pelican case, etc., or use a waterproof camera.


Mojave County, along the Arizona-Nevada border near the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Las Vegas and Boulder City are very near the start of this run, and Bullhead City is just below the take-out. The Black Mountains run alongside on river left.

Distance from major cities

Durango miles; Grand Junction miles; Denver miles; Salt Lake City miles; Albuquerque miles; Phoenix miles; Oklahoma City miles; Dallas miles; Austin miles; San Antonio miles; Houston miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

The Colorado River flows clean, clear and cold from Lake Mead. Flow is almost always adequate for great paddle trips year-round.

Best time to go

This is a year-round trip that can be taken anytime weather conditions permit. Winters can be cold, even in the desert, and winter nights WILL be cold. Summer days will be very hot and sunny. Wear appropriate clothing for the conditions you will encounter.

Hazards to navigation

There are no significant hazards on this section of the Colorado River other than summertime high temperatures and cold water. The river is rated Class I along this flatwater section. Being prepared for desert paddling conditions avoids most problems. Be sure to take along plenty of drinking water (the general recommendation is one gallon per person per day.)

River Access Points

Hoover Dam access at 0.0 miles; Willow Beach Access at about 12.0 miles; Cottonwood Cove on river right at about 31.0 miles; Katherine Landing just above Davis Dam at about 63.0 miles. There are no other access points on this section of the Colorado River.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Numerous natural campsites can be found along the way, but most are on private or Tribal land where advanced permission and/or permits are required for access. Cottonwood Cove, at the midpoint of this reach, offers tent camping, a motel and RV Park, as well as many other amenities. Remember to take only photographs and leave only footprints!

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are several known liveries or outfitters operating along or very near this section of the Colorado River offering rentals of canoes, kayaks and rafts, shuttles and other services, as well as motorboat and personal watercraft rentals.

Reviewer's comments

While not as majestic as the Grand Canyon, this section of the Colorado River has its own defining characteristics. Black Canyon is at the top of the run, and many natural hot springs can be found, both on the river and in side canyons. Places to explore off the river, but very nearby, are plentiful. There is little to remind you of the "civilized" world that is not far away, but a world apart. Paddlers can gamble in Las Vegas, go paddle the river, then gamble some more in Laughlin or Bullhead City at the end of the run. Supplies, accommodations and gasoline are available at either end of this trip which ends near the junction of California, Nevada and Arizona. This is a laid back trip for lazy paddlers who just want to enjoy the handiwork of Mother Nature on a more relaxed section of the river. Almost anybody who can withstand desert conditions can paddle this section in canoes, kayaks or rafts. Several outfiiter operating along this reach of the Colorado River offer rentals of canoes, kayaks, rafts, personal watercraft, pontoon barges, houseboats, cruisers and other forms of water transportation for your pleasure. Cottonwood Cove, in the middle of this reach, offers tent camping, an RV park, a motel and many other amenities to make your visit comfortable and convenient.

Technical Data
Class Rating I (Flatwater)
Length 63 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Below Hoover Dam
Lat/Long 36.0115013 / -114.743103
Last Take-out Katherine Landing
Elevation msl
Gradient 1 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Lake Mohave
Boats Rafts, Dorries, Kayaks, Canoes
Season Year-round
Permits No

Willow Beach take-out photo courtesy Desert River Outfitters
Willow Beach take-out photo courtesy Desert River Outfitters

Colorado River between Hoover Dam and Davis Dam

Canoeman River Guide Services offers river trips, trip planning and instruction on rivers in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Central Arizona Paddlers Club

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Colorado River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

Colorado River
[ Colorado River Homepage ] [ Glen Canyon Dam to Lee's Ferry ] [ Grand Canyon ] [ Bullhead City to Topock ]
[ Topock to Lake Havasu S.P. ] [ Parker Dam to East Blythe ] [ East Blythe to Imperial Reservoir ]

Little Colorado River
[ Winslow to Leupp ] [ Leupp to Cameron ] [ Cameron to Colorado River ]

[ Bill Williams River ] [ Santa Maria River ] [ Havasu River ]

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