Kayaking the Colorado River From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson’s Landing: Eldorado Canyon Wilderness

I dip my paddle into the water gently….first on one side…. then the other…. when I turn to look behind me I see the Willow Beach Marina fading away, and then disappearing completely when I round the bend. My boys, David and Kristoff, are leading the pack in their new double kayak. 

We have many more miles of paddling to do. I sit lower in my seat, lean my head forward, and dip my paddle a little deeper…. a little harder…. a little more purposefully…. Every paddler in my group of 19 seems to be intently focused on the task at hand, quietly marveling at the beauty of this wild Colorado River canyon, breathing the fresh air deep into their lungs, enjoying each moment…… even relishing the feeling of muscles that are beginning to ache a bit.

“Well,” I say to no one in particular, “If the winds picks up, and the going gets tough, we will just turn back.”

I watch the little ring-like impressions that form in the water as I dip my paddle. First on the left, and then on the right. Soon I am humming an old familiar tune in time with my paddling, quietly at first and then increasing in volume. Left……right……left……right…..left……right……

Left….. right…… left….. right….. I dip my kayak paddle into the Colorado River one side at a time. The walls of the Black Canyon tower ominously over me as I lead my group down the river from Willow Beach towards Nelson’s Landing. My nerves are a bit on edge, as one can’t know what is lurking ahead. A careful analysis of the weather report does not indicate high winds for today, thankfully, so we take on the challenge of kayaking downstream, with the plan to turn back if the going gets too tough.

My heart is singing. How can I explain this? Perhaps it’s not possible. Perhaps you need to experience it yourself to know of what I speak. 

How can I describe how incredibly amazing it is to paddle a kayak along the Colorado River? You may recall from my previous blog post that I have taken a group of 19 kayakers with me (including many 12 to 16 year old kids) starting from the base of the Hoover Dam in Nevada, through the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, and down to the Willow Beach Marina in Arizona (see blog posting at http://kaijabeishline.com/2016/10/03/8301/). 

Now our plan is to kayak from Willow Beach Marina to Placer Cove at Nelson’s Landing for some cliff jumping, and then to our takeout at Eagle Wash. That’s another 13 miles downstream through some incredibly barren and rugged landscape!


We are making good time because the wind is on our backs. Every couple of miles we stop to rest and gather the group together. Well, kids don’t need rest…. they find themselves a little island that’s perfect for playing king of the hill. 
Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado RiverKayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado RiverKayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado RiverKayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River

I do need to tell you that I am a bit nervous about a section of the river up ahead that’s called the “Windy Canyon”. It’s called that for good reason, for the wind can get quite strong here, as we experienced on our first kayaking triphere some 3 years ago. I am really nervous about bringing my big group through this narrow canyon, especially the kids.  

Just before Windy Canyon we gather together. I explain to everyone that this section of the river can be dangerous. I have come up with a plan. We are going to break into two groups. We will have one strong kayaker in the front and one in the back of each group. Everyone has to stay in a line. 

First I must show you what happened to us the last time we were here. We had read the weather report and knew that it was supposed to be windy about the time we were passing through Windy Canyon, but as intelligent as I am, we decided to try to paddle close to the cliffs on the Nevada side. 

The wind in this canyon is anything but tame, as it bounces off one rock face to another. All of a sudden my daughter Jasmine’s kayak got thrown around in a 360. After that scare we pulled up to a little embankment where we should have waited out the wind. Instead we decided to proceed ahead, kayaking in a row with David in the front and our big boys in the back. We were just going to go around the next little bend, because my map showed there was a little cove there where we could set up camp. 

We were paddling really hard into the wind, sometimes it even felt as though we were being dragged backwards. All of a sudden the wind caught a hold of my kayak, and I went careening wildly straight towards the towering cliff walls on the Arizona side. I paddled as hard as I could on my left side to keep the kayak from flipping. Johann had come in behind me to save me if anything happened. This water is really cold in this section of the river and hypothermia could set in pretty quick if you’re in the water too long. I was literally inches away from crashing headlong into the cliff face when the wind eased momentarily, and we were able to find refuge from the wind behind this large rock outcropping. 

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River In this photo you can see how strong the wind is as it whips up water off the surface of the river. Our other group members were across the river in a calm spot waiting out the wind as well. 

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River
Meanwhile David had seen us crossing the river and had made the same dangerous trek. We found ourselves a cozy wind shelter and waited for about 2 hours for the wind to die down. 


So now you know why I am nervous about Windy Canyon after our scary experience last time! I have kids with me this time! It’s kind of eerie……

But, we are going to bite the bullet! And we are off…..

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River

The water is dark and relatively calm. It must be really deep in this section.

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado RiverKayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado RiverKayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River

There is the rock outcropping that probably saved me last time I was here. If it hadn’t been for that little wind shelter I would have probably crashed into the cliff wall. 

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River
We pass through Windy Canyon without any incidences. In fact, the wind is gently pushing us along and we are making fabulous time. Finally I can heave a huge sigh of relief. It’s almost an anticlimactic experience, because I took this section of the river so seriously this time. Oh well, better to be safe than sorry! 

When we look back we behold the fantastic view! Now you can only imagine how crazy the wind can get when it blows through that canyon! 

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River
The sun is getting low and it’s time to find a camping spot for the night. We paddle along as we scout for a good spot. There are no designated camping areas out here. You just find a spot that works for you!

This look like it might be a nice spot…..but on second thought, what if that boulder rolls down on top of us during the night? We hop back into our kayaks and scout the shorelines for a better location!

This is it!

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River

There’s a nice big flat area up here for many tents and many campers!

It doesn’t take long for camp to get set up. 

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River

I take a few group photos before the sun dips beyond the horizon. We have plenty to celebrate! We kayaked 16 miles today! Yesterday we only made 4 miles due to strong headwinds and many stops at hotsprings. 

We make dinner. We eat. We drink some coffee. We goof off. 

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado RiverKayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River

Before the sun goes down completely we take turns bathing in the river in a secluded spot.  

We enjoy the stars!

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River

We sit around the camp fire and tell stories.

It’s time to snuggle in next to my dear husband. My heart is full. How can I be so fortunate to be here in this vast wilderness with my husband and our lovely group of paddlers? 

And soon it’s morning. The kayaks are still safe and sound. We have one long rope along to tie all the kayaks together. And we made sure to put all the paddles into the bottom of the kayaks to ensure they didn’t get blown into the river and float away. 

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River

The boys slept under the stars again. They told me that they don’t want to be inside of a tent in case they should wake up at night and want to look up at the stars.  I cringe at the dust that coats Kristoff’s nice new sleeping bag…… must be no snakes or scorpions inside their bags, or else they would have gotten up a long time ago already. 

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River

I head up the hill a bit to look over our campsite. 

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River

Here’s a happy camper!

I put my Finnish guests on dish duty. 

While my handsome husband enjoys some R&R….

And the boys enjoy breakfast in bed. 

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River

The morning is bright!

Two of our 12 year old paddlers…..

What could be more glorious than a bright sunny morning when you are camping in a vast and untamed wilderness? It’s as though your spirit gets cleansed and renewed. 

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River

Look at the beautiful scenery bathed in the glorious morning light!

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River

Come on boys, it’s time to get up! The river is calling. 

What an incredible camping spot!

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River

The kids of course are having fun running up the hillsides. 

It’s time to pack up camp again….shake out the scorpions….. just kidding….. we did not see any scorpions, although this is their hometown. 

We feel good. There’s only 5 miles to go today, which is going to be a piece of cake. The river is much wider here as it opens up into Lake Mohave, which if it gets windy later on it will be harder to paddle. We have a straggler this morning that I have to hustle along now and again. 

I brought along these water guns, which work great as bilge pumps….. oh and for water fights as well!

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River

The water is incredibly beautiful!

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado RiverKayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado RiverKayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado RiverKayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado RiverKayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River

Up ahead there is a big beautiful sand dune and beach!

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado RiverKayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River
I don’t know what kind of animal print this is, but to me it looks like a big cat….

We decide to climb up to the top of the big sand dune. 

Funny how boys can climb anywhere barefoot!

Hey……we are on top of the world, looking down on creation!

In this photo you can see how steep the climb is……. see the photobomber below….. she was scrambling up the hill just as I snapped the photo. All these ladies are from Finland. See the tiny kayaks below?

Surprise…… there is a motorboat in the water! We haven’t seen anyone since we left the marina yesterday. 

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River

We found a beautiful heart shaped cactus. 

The kids discover rolling down the sand dune as a form of entertainment…..or maybe it was my crazy idea….. 


We decide, or shall I say, I decide that we will have a swimming race across the channel. No other adults want to join the race, so it’s me versus all the kids, who are 100x stronger than me….

On your mark…..get set…..go…..

Hey, I didn’t say “running race”!

Well, I don’t win, but I don’t lose either. 

Fire ants? Time to go…..this was a great lunch spot!

Bjorn is a trooper paddling the whole trip by himself (12 years old).

David is enjoying the double kayak. At first he was not too keen on the idea, but it actually works out really well. He’s got 15 year old Kristoff up front. There’s lots of leg room for David, which is great for a man who is 6’3″ tall. 

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River

Heave ho…..Annika is launching us off. 

Wow…..check out the beautiful views! I would love to keep on paddling downstream for a few more days. 

Kayaking From Willow Beach Marina to Nelson's Landing: Black Canyon of the Colorado River
When we arrive at Nelson’s Landing (Placer Cove) it is time for some serious cliff jumping. You may remember from my previous blog posting that I promised the kids there would be a fantastic cliff jumping spot at the end of our trip?  I was adamant the whole trip that I didn’t want anyone to get hurt jumping in random places. They have been greatly anticipating this moment, but now the kids are too scared to jump…..I wonder why? 

Cliff jumping at Nelson's Landing: Kayak the Colorado River

Now you know why they are scared! It must be about 30 feet down! And the water is freezing cold! The last time we were here I nearly witnessed two young men drown. They jumped in and panicked, and both claimed they didn’t know how to swim! Mind you, many a soul has been lost on these cliffs here. Avoidable mistakes, like landing on top of another swimmer, or attempting to swim across the channel (which we just did earlier today). The kids say there’s lots of broken beer bottles on top of the cliff, which might explain some of the injuries and deaths that have happened here. FYI……Don’t mix 30 foot cliff jumping with alcohol consumption if you value your life. 

Cliff jumping at Nelson's Landing: Kayak the Colorado River

This dog here jumped into the lake every time someone landed in the water, and then he would swim out to rescue the jumper.

Atta-girl, Annika! 

Cliff jumping at Nelson's Landing: Kayak the Colorado RiverCliff jumping at Nelson's Landing: Kayak the Colorado River
Well, our glorious kayaking trip is over. The government has changed up things around here a bit. Instead of getting out of the river at Placer Cove we have to go to Eagle Wash, where it is about a 1/4 mile walk to the parking lot. That means we have to carry all our gear…..

Takeout at Eagle Wash, Nevada: Kayak the Colorado River

Lucky we have some strong boys with us!

Takeout at Eagle Wash, Nevada: Kayak the Colorado River

So as I am walking towards the parking lot this random little kid comes running towards me and asks if kids are allowed to swim here. “Of course,” I reply, wondering why he would ask such a ridiculous question. 

Well, when I get to the parking lot I find this sign! Now I feel really sick to my stomach! We have not just been swimming in this water, and cliff jumping, but we have also been drinking the water! What if we all get super ill from this Blue-green algae? Good heavens! Why would the outfitter not have warned us about this? I am almost in panic mode. Of course I didn’t read the part of the sign where it say Hazardous Algae “MAY” Be Present…… I am just freaked out! Oh well, no time to freak out….. I guess if we all die, then we all die…..  (P.S. I called later to find out about this Blue-green algae, and they didn’t have a problem with it at this time).
Takeout at Eagle Wash, Nevada: Kayak the Colorado River

It’s time to get the kayaks loaded on the trailers. Now I might tell you that our outfitter is Desert Adventures from Boulder City, Nevada. Normally when you rent kayaks from them they will drop you off at the base of the Hoover Dam and pick you up at the Willow Beach Marina. However, if you want to go the distance from Willow Beach to Nelson’s Landing, as we did, they charge $100 extra per van, which can accomodate up to 14 riders. We have two vans to accomodate our group of 19. 

Takeout at Eagle Wash, Nevada: Kayak the Colorado RiverTakeout at Eagle Wash, Nevada: Kayak the Colorado River

Okay, guys……”How was the trip? Blue-green algae and all!!”

All in unison,  “AMAZING!!!!!”

 What was the best thing about the trip? 

All in unison, “EVERYTHING!”

And there you have it….. from the mouths of babes….. this is how to create lasting memories of wilderness adventures, and a great love for nature!

Takeout at Eagle Wash, Nevada: Kayak the Colorado River

Once again the adults pile into one van……

And the kids into the other……

And we head back to the Hoover Dam Lodge about 45 minutes away where our cars are waiting. And that’s the end of our amazing kayaking adventure! Proof positive that kids can do it…… proof positive that even I can do it….. yes, there are definitely some potential hazards along the way, but if you are acutely aware and pay attention, and if you are well prepared, and follow all the instructions, and apply a good code of conduct….. then you too can successfully complete this amazing kayaking trip through the Black Canyon of the Colorado River! Don’t forget your sunscreen!

“Until next time,” I call out as we depart…. I think that I will be back at least once more to kayak this waterway. How could I not? Such an intense and beautiful kayaking trip as this needs repeated time and again, don’t you think?