Recreating outside of Vegas: Red Rock Canyon, Lake Mead and Lake Mojave

In end of February, we were headed to Las Vegas for a job, so we decided to see what there was to explore in the area.

Red Rock Canyon:

Within 30 minutes of downtown Las Vegas, and its a national conservation area, so our America the Beautiful pass covers the entrance fee. The area is a 13 mile one-way scenic drive leading to several picnic areas, hiking trailheads, and overlooks. Hikes range from quarter mile walks to see Petroglyphs, 5 mile loops, or even a 14 mile loop of the entire park. The landscape is red rocky cliffs, and I bet it’s a great place to go rock climbing. As far as we could tell, there’s no camping inside the conservation area, but there’s other campgrounds nearby, and we ended up just camping at one of the trailheads at Red Spring/Calico Basin before entering the fee area.

We only intended on doing a couple small hikes during our time in the park, so we hiked a couple miles at Ash Spring at sunset the night we arrived, and then hiked the Calico Tanks trail (2.5 miles) the next day, which takes you through some washes and up rocky ledges to get to a beautiful overlook of the rest of the park. We stopped at the Petroglyph Wall trail, but we both thought we’d seen better Petroglyphs in other areas. We did another couple miles towards the White Rock trail, which was mostly desert landscape with white rocks instead of the rocky cliffs like in the beginning of the park. We continued the scenic drive and stopped at the other overlooks. I think that if you intend on doing a few bigger hikes, you could spend a couple days in the park, but doing the scenic drive with a couple stops and shorter hikes was completely do-able in a day. `

Hoover Dam:

I had never been to Hoover Dam before, so we decide to visit. However, we learned that since Hoover dam is on federal land, you are not allowed to bring fire arms inside the national area, even if left in vehicle or camper. There were signs everywhere, and the armed guards at the entrance said they would have to search every compartment of the vehicle and camper, including our Thule roof rack . When we realized we weren’t allowed to have firearms, we had to turn around and were not able to drive into the visitor area. So the alternative is to leave the vehicle outside of the entrance and walk in two miles to the dam. There was a tiny tiny pull off right below the Lake Mead Lakeview Overlook where we were able to park and walk across a field to get on the Historic Railroad Hiking Trail. This trail comes all the way from outside the town of Boulder, but we only had to hike two miles on it to get to the actual dam, and it went through some really pretty landscape, and passed by historical dam parts with signs teaching about the history. In the end, it’s a much better way to get into the dam than to have to deal with driving the camper in and finding parking.

I thought the dam was really neat to see and if we had more time, we would have liked to do one of the tours. Didn’t have time this time though since we ended up hiking back up right before sunset.

Kingman Wash:

Another camp spot we found on iOverlander that we blindly drove to, thinking we’d be the only ones. Turns out this is a pretty popular spot despite a couple rough spots on the several mile dirt road. Locals come here to get scuba certified, and lost of people must day trip this area too. There were a few other campers, but it was a very beautiful spot. The rocky and sandy beach is surrounded by red grassy hills. Little flowers were blooming around the lake. There was a short path that took us a couple turns around the bend to another bay. We walked up a nearby wash and found enough firewood for a small fire.

Watching the beautiful water, this was where Blake and I started realizing how we needed to make a decision about our dying kayak. Our Sea-Eagle inflatable kayak has had an unrepairable hole in its seam since we were in Baja. It’ll hold air for about an hour before deflating. Every time we try to patch it, the seam cracks more. When we were back in Denver for Christmas, we decided to take it to a kayak repair shop, and even they said they can’t repair it. We really like having an option for a water sport, so we’ve been really thinking about what kind of replacement kayak we should get. We settled on Kokopelli Rogue Lite inflatable packrafts, which are mostly meant for small lakes up to Class I rapids. They roll up to about the size of two paper towel rolls, and only weigh 5 pounds. They are meant for people to be able to carry their rafts in to remote locations on their backpacks. We got paddles that break down into 4 pieces, and dry bags that go on the front of the bags. We’ve been wanting to get these for a long time now, but pulled the trigger because we figured that if all our work was canceled during COVID, we could just spend our quarantine somewhere paddling on a lake. In one of our rafts we also go a TIZIP, which is a marine grade zipper in the hull of the kayak where you can put your camping gear and the boat inflates around your gear, so it stays completely waterproof. We are really hoping to get into multi day river float trips, but since we are newbie paddlers, we’re going to build up our paddling strength on a few lakes first.

Lake Mojave:

Lake Mojave is part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, south of Lake Mead and Hoover Dam. The lake is formed in a narrow passage with 190 small coves on the sides of all the beaches. Some people boat the water passage and explore all the coves. We drove to Bullhead City, AZ, to get to the Katherine’s Landing entrance of the National Rec Area. At this time in April 2020, everything on the Nevada side of the rec area was closed for COVID, but all roads and beaches on the AZ side were still open even though all the facilities and campgrounds were closed. We drove from Katherine’s Landing to a small beach at the Shoshone cove, and even though it was the middle of quarantine, there were three other campers already on this small beach. We didn’t realize based on the description of this camp spot that it would be so small and really only allow for a couple people. So we ended up camping a hundred feet back from the beach in a wash, and had to walk past their campers to get to the water. We figured it would be this way at any of the dispersed camping spots along the lake, so we decided to stay where we were.

This was the first place we used our new packrafts! We also bought a small Featherlite electric USB rechargeable pump to fill the boats. It can fill 25 times on one charge! We went out for a sunset float right when we got into camp, and we went out again the next day. We quickly realized how hard it is to paddle in any sort of wind, and how much we have to get our shoulder strength up, especially on big lakes. The pack rafts don’t track very well because they don’t have a fin on the bottom to make them pack up better. (They are mostly meant for a river with a slight current). So it takes more controlled motion to get them to go straight. We went to go explore some of the nearby coves, and got about two coves over when we found this cool spit of sand and a really calm bay to float on. The wind picked up by the time we were headed back, so we were paddling directly into the wind the whole hour back, and it was definitely a work out.

Arizona Hot Springs

This is a 6 mile hike right by Kingman Wash that leads to natural hot springs in a slot canyon half way 

through the hike. The trail is somewhat hard to follow because of so many cow trails through the desert landscape, and part of the trail veers off to the Liberty Bell Arch trail to the right. We did the trail clockwise by staying left in the beginning, to make sure we didn’t get on the wrong trail. If you do the trail clockwise, then the 3 miles to the hot springs are more exciting than the last half of the hike. You get to walk down dark volcanic looking hillsides, and through red rock washes where you can see where the river used to run. When you get to the hot springs, there are 4 pools of varying temperatures. The closest one is the hottest, and the farthest one the coolest. The middle two were the perfect temp to stay a while. 

The pools are separated by layers of sand bags to keep the water in. After the fourth pool, you climb down a ladder next to the excess water falling over the cliff! The rest of the hike swings past sections of the Colorado River, where it looked like people can backpack and camp right along the river. You hike back in the wash for 3 miles to the car, with the option of doing the Liberty Bell Arch trail as well if you want to add a few more miles. We hiked with our swim suits already on, so it was easy to hop in the water, and leave our stuff on the side of the pools. We found an easy place to change after climbing down the waterfall so we didn’t have to hike back in wet clothes. I can’t say that this was a hidden gem, because there were at least 20 other people around during the hour we were there. People were pretty considerate about sharing the pools, which were big enough to share comfortably. Definitely recommend this hike for any hot spring enthusiast!