Mar 15, 2022

Visiting Emerald Cave on Lake Mead

People kayaking in emerald cave

When people think of Las Vegas, oftentimes, their minds immediately go to the Strip — and understandably! But although we’re the entertainment capital of the world, there’s much more to Sin City than neon lights and blackjack. Not too far away is the Lake Mead Recreation Area, which contains a unique gem of its own: Emerald Cave. And it’s one of the best places to kayak in Las Vegas.

Let’s talk more about the logistics and what you can expect when you visit Emerald Cave on Lake Mead.

Where is Emerald Cave in the Lake Mead Area?

Lake Mead is America’s first national park recreation area. It spans a mammoth stretch of 1.5 million acres, encapsulating mountains, valleys, canyons, lakes, and — we couldn’t forget — the Hoover Dam. Sure, Las Vegas is a desert… dry, arid, and hot as heck. But believe it or not, we do have beautiful bodies of water to explore.

woman kayaking Hoover Dam and emerald cave in Las Vegas Nevada

In and of itself, Lake Mead is a jewel that isn’t to be missed. But there’s more here than meets the eye. Lake Mead also contains sections of the Colorado River, including Black Canyon. And it’s down this 26-mile stretch of river that you’ll find canyons, natural hot springs, jagged cliffs, and — you guessed it — Emerald Cave.

How Do You Get To Emerald Cove?

From the Las Vegas Strip, it takes about an hour to get to Black Canyon. If you kayak Emerald Cave with Evolution Expeditions, we start our tour in the morning at Willow Beach Marina, which is technically in Arizona, and this is where our adventure begins. Willow Beach is an entry point in Lake Mead. It’s about two miles from Emerald Cave, making it a common starting point for eager kayakers.

We want to emphasize that your guided kayak tour is about so much more than kayaking and even Emerald Cave. We’ll visit remote beaches for swimming and sunbathing. And the wildlife along the Nevada and Arizona shorelines will give you memories of a lifetime. Desert bighorn sheep, falcons, ospreys, bald eagles, and great blue herons will be resting in their natural habitats, making for the perfect photo opportunities.

Kayakers in Emerald Cave

Why Does Lake Mead’s Emerald Cave Have Green Waters?

Lake Mead is a vast reservoir located on the Colorado River, straddling the states of Arizona and Nevada. The lake is known for its beautiful emerald-colored waters, which have become a popular destination for tourists and water sports enthusiasts. One of the lake's most iconic features is the Emerald Cave, located in the Black Canyon, a stunning natural wonder that draws visitors from all over the world.

The Emerald Cave owes its unique green color to a combination of factors, including the sunlight that reflects off the water and the minerals that are present in the surrounding rocks. The cave is also fed by underground springs that bring in fresh water, which is filtered through layers of limestone and other minerals, giving it a distinct color and clarity.

The Black Canyon, where the Emerald Cave is located, is a deep and narrow gorge that was formed over millions of years by the erosive power of the Colorado River. The canyon walls are made up of layers of volcanic rock and limestone, which have been exposed and weathered over time, creating unique patterns and textures.

Visitors to the Emerald Cave can access it by boat or kayak, and once inside, they are greeted by a stunning display of green water, illuminated by the sun's rays. The cave is surrounded by towering cliffs and rock formations, which provide a dramatic backdrop for the sparkling water.

Can You Kayak Emerald Cave on Lake Mead on Your Own?

You can, but this isn’t something we recommend. It takes an experienced tour guide to get you to Emerald Cave. The cave lights up green only at certain times of the day. So, to enjoy the best experience, it’s optimal to go with someone who can really show you the ropes. And importantly, this is also a safety issue. Should you exit your kayak and need help getting back in, or if your vessel flips, or if the weather suddenly turns, your guide will know what to do.

Some visitors contemplate enjoying Emerald Cave via other transportation, like a motorboat. But the cave itself isn’t the appropriate size for this, and navigating it in anything other than a kayak (or something similar in size, like a canoe or SUP) is going to make it incredibly difficult — or impossible. Generally, Emerald Cave can fit two to three kayaks at a time, which is great for visitors because you get a more intimate experience. Kayaks are quick and nimble, which is why we recommend them for seeing the very best of Emerald Cave.

Kayakers paddling Emerald Cave

What Level Kayaker Do You Need to Be to Get to Emerald Cave?

Another great question! Because the waters are very calm, this kayak tour is appropriate for beginner kayakers (including children) and seasoned experts alike. Your tour guide will ensure that you follow all basic kayaking protocols (like wearing a life jacket) and get to Emerald Cave safe and sound. You can always split the workload with a friend and opt for a tandem kayak, too.

Where Else Can I Kayak in Las Vegas?

Kayaking in the Black Canyon is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and what better way to do it than with Evolution Expeditions? The kayaking tour takes you on a 12-mile stretch of the Colorado River, starting at the base of the mighty Hoover Dam. Evolution Expeditions secures permits for participants on a first-come, first-served basis, so booking in advance is highly recommended.

The tour offers much more than just kayaking, as participants get to hike, explore hot springs, and take a dip in the refreshing Colorado River. The hot springs are located in hidden side-canyons and are the perfect place to unwind after a day of paddling. The tour also provides opportunities to view waterfalls, wildlife such as desert bighorn sheep and migratory waterfowl, and the emerald green waters of the river.

The kayaks used for the tour are top-of-the-line, sit-inside Prijon touring kayaks with rudders, padded seats, and padded backs for maximum comfort during the full day of paddling. Life vests and paddles are also provided to ensure the safety of participants. The guides for the tour are all WFA/CPR certified and go through an extensive training program to provide excellent customer service and ensure the safety of participants.

The tour is challenging, but beginner paddlers are often up for the challenge, and advanced paddlers are never disappointed. Participants should be prepared to hike and paddle, and wear appropriate clothing and footwear. Identification is also required for security personnel managing the Hoover Dam launch site.

How Do You Book a Kayak Tour of Emerald Cave in Lake Mead?

We thought you’d never ask.

Evolution Expeditions offers two guided kayak tours to Emerald Cave: the express tour (which lasts about three hours and goes four miles) and the extended tour (which lasts roughly four hours, goes up to six miles, and includes lunch and a stop at the beach). Both give you a flawless view and inside experience of Emerald Cave and everything else the area has to offer. If you’re looking more for the full experience, we recommend the extended kayak trip so you can really enjoy everything Emerald Cave and the rest of Black Canyon have to offer.

You can trust that your guide will take good care of you. Safety is our top priority. All of our guides have current WFA certificates, and Evolution Expeditions runs the most extensive guide training in the area. We’re well-versed in kayak rescues, emergency response, and knowledge of the history and area.

Ready to put on your life jacket and get paddling? Learn more about all of our available guided kayak tours in Las Vegas, and book your adventure today!

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