Zip, Float, Hike – Lake Mead, NV

We had thought a week at Lake Mead National Recreation Area would be long enough – wrong!  Being active in the Nevada heat induced us to take a couple of days off to just lounge around and enjoy the view from our site (Steve’s review of Lake Mead RV Village here).  But what is it that wore us out, you might wonder?

First we spent a day walking over 14 miles on the Historic National Railroad Tunnel Trail (if you missed that story, click here).  On other days we zip-lined over the top of Bootleg Canyon, drifted lazily down the Colorado river, and finally we hiked out to the Arizona Hot Springs.  Between all of those activities and trying to explore the area a bit, time flew by.

Zipping over Bootleg Canyon

When Dave and Faye visited us last Christmas, they mentioned that they’d had a great zip-line experience at Boulder City.  That was enough for Steve to list it as a “must do” while at Lake Mead.  Steve had zipped over the Royal Gorge in Colorado, and he’d been ready for more ever since.  And I must have been feeling a bit crazy myself, as I decided to join him!

The 4-segment course run by Flightlinez boasts over 1.5 miles of zipline cable running different lengths and at progressively lower elevations down Red Mountain.

The day began with  a scenic van ride to the top of the mountain, with a light-hearted narration containing historical, geological and ecological information along the way.  That was followed by a short but fairly strenuous hike to the 3,800′ peak of the mountain, with Steve carrying the trolleys we would use for our zips.  The views of Las Vegas, Lake Mead and the Eldorado Valley were awesome from up there.

Steve packing our equipment to the top, as I carried my not-so-heavy camera
Just moments before our first launch

Click below to see our first zip down the mountain at 60mph:

Zip Line Bootleg Canyon
When you see flags out to the side it means get your legs apart and prepare for a quick stop!
When I looked around after the first run I noticed a lizard had been watching me – he doesn’t seem impressed!

Our fun lasted for about three hours and covered 8,000′ on the cables.  Between runs we relaxed and enjoyed the vistas, and even spotted a trail that John and Pam had followed here.  Red Mountain is known for its Bootleg Canyon Mountain Bike Park, an internationally renowned venue for mountain bikers with different types of trails designated as “epic rides.”  We saw some bikers hitting the trails below, but we’re pretty sure zipping down was a lot easier.

Red Mountain
We saw two bikers coasting down the mountain
Lake Mead, Nevada
Looking down at Fortification Hill at Lake Mead
Las Vegas Skyline
Las Vegas skyline with Mount Charleston as the backdrop

It was quite a thrill and we had a blast!

Floating through Black Canyon

The following day we embarked on a 12-mile river rafting trip.  It followed part of the river’s 30-mile section designated as the National Water Trail of the Lower Colorado River Black Canyon.  We learned that it’s one of only 16 National Water Trails, the only one in the southwest and the only one that passes through a desert.

Our adventure began near the base of Hoover Dam, and almost under the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, giving us a different perspective of these man-made marvels from below.

Power Plant, Hoover Dam
The powerhouse at the dam

 Hoover Dam

This was a slow float downriver through historic Black Canyon, and it passed rock walls that rose up to 2,000′ above water level.

Black Canyon National Water Trail
The canyon’s name comes from the black volcanic rock in the area, believed to be between 20-40 million years old

Our informative guide taught us to note that the east (Arizona) side of Black Canyon, which has steep volcanic cliffs, was cut by water – while the west (Nevada) side has more gently rolling hills formed by erosion and basalt flows.

Double Crested Cormorants
Double-crested Cormorants on the cliffs

Floating along, we saw several sandy beaches, stopped to examine active hot springs and rode into Emerald Cave, one of several caves on both sides of the river.

Hot Spring
One of the hot springs spouting on either side of the river – and VERY hot!
Emerald Cave
Inside Emerald Cave where the water glimmered like emeralds
Black Canyon National Water Trail
The volcanic dike to the left is named Dragon’s Back, and just to the right of it can you see Abe Lincoln’s profile?
Black Canyon National Water Trail
Our lunch spot on a sandy beach

In 1934 the Civilian Conservation Corps built a gauging station in the Black Canyon on the Nevada side.  It’s purpose was to determine the impact on the environment after Hoover Dam was completed.  Engineers measured the height of the river, water flow rates and water purity.  But the most interesting story was how the workers commuted across the river to work each day.

Colorado River
The station could only be reached via a small cable car pulled across the river by the worker

Gaugers would spend months at a time in isolation monitoring the river.  The gauger’s house was on the Arizona side and getting to work involved a strenuous hike followed by a self-propelled pull across the river.  The station was in operation for 10 years, and the remnants of this crude method of water testing demonstrate the endurance of the human spirit in isolation and remoteness.

Colorado River
Catwalk along sheer cliffs that the workers navigated
Colorad River
Cable car used to transport the gauger to the station located on the Nevada side

Who knew that just a few miles from the neon lights of Las Vegas is such a quiet and refreshing place to recharge and get away from it all?  This area is really a great place to kayak, and we saw several folks doing just that.  Our tour ended at Willow Beach on the Arizona side of the river.

Hiking to the Arizona Hot Springs

There were many trails to blaze in the Lake Mead area, but we pick one that John and Pam had followed because it had a reward at the end.  The Arizona Hot Springs consisted of thigh-deep hot pools in the bottom of a deep, narrow slot canyon near the Colorado River.  To get there we took the White Rock Canyon route,  following a wash downhill to the river with the canyon towering over us to provide welcome shade.

White Rock Canyon

White Rock Canyon gets its name from the many huge white boulders that were carried down the canyon by flash floods from Wilson Ridge.

Once in the canyon we followed the riverbed a ways to Hot Springs Canyon.
Just before the springs we reached a 20′ dry waterfall with a ladder, the only way to continue to the springs.
Not sure we want to go into the hot springs that badly!
Upon arrival we discovered several people were already bathing so we decided to head back.
Arizona Hot Spring
Peekaboo, anybody home?
The towering volcanic canyons cooled us off, and the blooming wildflowers brightened the muted desert landscape.  There were so many different kinds and colors that Steve shook his head while waiting patiently for me to get photos.
Near the end of the hike we met Mike, a retired volunteer who hikes trails in the area to pick up trash thrown on the trail by thoughtless idiots.  A real nice guy, and in excellent shape for his age due to his long daily hikes.
Arizona Hot Spring
Male version of a bag lady, and he is really carrying trash! Thank you, Mike
We did a lot on this stop, but we’re already planning to come back and explore more of the trails.  For now, onward to a lesser-known Nevada gem!





  1. How fun that you guys explored the lake and canyon in so many ways! Loved your zipline tour — the video you took is great and your scream at the beginning made me laugh (I would have been screaming the whole way). You’ve given us some great ideas about things to do in the area.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the zipline tour. Looks like a great float trip, it’s always nice to get a different perspective on an area by taking to the water. Lots of great ideas whenever we make it back to that area.

  3. Not sure I’ll ever zip line so thanks for the video. The river trip looked wonderful although I do feel sorry for the poor Colorado with so many dams now it doesn’t reach the sea. Nevada is still on our list of states to visit so your posts are really helpful. thanks!

  4. What great adventures! I can see why you had a couple days of R&R…I’m not so sure about the 60 mph on the zip line, the rafting is definitely more my speed. Your pictures are awesome.

  5. No thank you…no zipping for me. Paul said he would go.
    Now the river float looks awesome.
    Arizona Hot Springs hike looks beautiful. Glad y’all had a super time.

  6. Now you can see why we ended up staying for a month:) Hiking up Fortification Hill is an interesting hike and not for the faint of heart! But what a view from top. The Zipline looked like blast! Love the video:) I’m sorry you didn’t walk through the hot springs and take the other loop back up. It was great fun with lots more climbing and scrambling. You did get the flavor for the area. Now you can head back one day:)

  7. The ziplining looks fun, but I don’t think I could ever do it … too much of a chicken when it comes to speed. But that lazy float looks like something that is right up my alley.

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