Willow Beach, AZ: Arizona Hot Springs and Emerald Cove

 Did you know:  There are hot springs in Arizona!  There is bright emerald green water in Arizona!  And after two months away, Charming Adventures is back in Arizona!  All of these things are true!

Willow Beach is about 2 miles south of the Hoover Dam, just across the Nevada border.  It’s a popular marina, campground and launching spot for kayaking day trippers, primarily brought here in droves by outdoor tour companies from Las Vegas.

With 235 miles of shoreline, smooth glassy water of the Colorado River, and few (if any) motor-powered boats, it has the best possible kayaking conditions … meaning, very little effort required.

Emerald Cove can be reached by a 2-mile paddle north from Willow Beach, through the Black Canyon, a 22-mile long gorge.  

The small size of Emerald Cove itself was surprising; it’s really just a crack in the shoreline.  

We weren’t actually even sure it was the right place, except for the many kayakers huddled around the entrance, waiting for the magic hour of around 1:30 PM to strike to maximum color effect.

When the sunlight hits the water just right, the water turns a unbelievable emerald green, a reflection of the sun against the cavern’s yellow-brown walls combining with the blue of the sky!

Important fact, in the day of digital enhancements:

none of these photos were color enhanced in any way!

That’s really what it looks like!

Because it’s small in there … really small! … only about 3 or 4 kayaks at a time can fit inside.  Everyone patiently lines up outside and takes turns inside, where you really only need to spend just a few minutes anyway.

Across from Emerald Cove is the river gauger’s station, and the rickety cable car he takes to get out to it … would you ride in that, hundreds of feet above the water?  

It was suspended up above the river in the center, no doubt to keep crazy fun-loving people from taking a joy ride. I’m not sure how it is summoned back to the side when needed by authorized personnel.

It’s not just the cove with the beautiful colors.  All along the paddling route, a leprechaun’s shiny green dream come true!

Leaving wet and shiny behind, we transitioned to dry and dusty with a 6-mile round-trip hike to Arizona Hot Springs, requiring patience, leg strength, and LOTS of water, no matter what time of year.  

It gets hot here, in fact, that they close the trail from May 15 to Sept 30 each year, to save stupid hikers from themselves, and diminish their need for multiple heat-related rescues.  You start out in flat desert ….

… gradually transition to rocky mountainous paths …

… on to the sandy wash canyons, some as narrow as 6 feet across …

… getting canyony-er all the time …

and finally arriving at Arizona Hot Springs!  The black triangle to the right of Philip’s foot in the photo below is the source of the springs, emerging from the rock at a balmy 124 degrees.

Rounding the corner you encounter the first pool, cooled somewhat via the effects of gravity to a mere 108 degrees.  

You can’t skip it, having to go through it (in my case, very fast, hollering all the way, because I’m a heat-wimp) to get to the other two pools. 

The second pool, created via a sandbag barrier, is a bearable 104 degrees.  The water was crystal clear.  Philip was wearing a swimsuit, but not everyone else was …. just sayin’.

The view from pool #2 looks back onto pool #1, where the few other visitors were happily comparing notes on other hot springs they’ve visited throughout the country.  We got to eavesdrop because everything is very echo-ey in the canyon.

The final pool was a refreshing 100 degrees, just right!

Pool #3 has the most open views overall, and beautiful patters of white (salt?) and dark (wet algae?).

Below pool #3, the water cascades downward to the Colorado river.  There is a very long, very rickety, very poorly stabilized 20+-foot ladder leading to certain death below.  Many visitors opt to visit Arizona Hot Springs via arrival by boat, but they then have to brave this ladder to get up to it. Ummm, no!

The Willow Beach full-hookup campground was surprisingly spacious and beautiful. Global warming notwithstanding, with flash flooding a real possibility in this area, it’s positioned at the top of a hill up from the marina.

With this area under the jurisdiction of the federal government as the Lake Mead Recreation Area, possession of an inter-agency senior pass entitles you to a 50% discount on camping.  Score!

As all good things must come to an end, so has this two-month trail through Idaho and Utah.  We’ll be home for a good while now, working through a remodel of our Scottsdale sticks-n-bricks home, and also anticipating the birth of a grandson!

We’re bummed to not be on the road during Halloween, because we really would have enjoyed decorating Elsie like this.  Ha!

And of course we’re gonna miss a whole lotta this ….


As all good things must come to an end, so too must this trail through Idaho and Utah! 

 ‘Till next time, our cherished readers ….!

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