This Enchanting Emerald Cove in Arizona Can Only Be Reached by Kayak

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A kayaker paddles through a rocky cove over clear jewel-toned waters.

You probably picture layers of sedimentary rocks or sandy countryside with cacti when you think about Arizona. But the state is also home to hidden gems like the enchanting Emerald Cove.

This remote body of water is small but a beautiful reminder of nature’s wonder. Let’s learn more about Emerald Cove, AZ, so that you can plan a trip to visit this picturesque location.

What Is Emerald Cove, AZ?

The green spectacle of Emerald Cove makes you feel like you’re in another world or at least in a scene from a movie. It’s simply stunning. The sun reflects off the 5,000 to 7,000 ft-high cave walls, making the water appear emerald green.

Most visitors to Arizona miss this natural phenomenon simply because of its remote location. Even residents of the state don’t know it exists.

But if you want a hidden gem and enjoy outdoor recreation, kayaking, or canoeing, the Emerald Cove is the perfect day excursion. Try to visit in the spring or summer when the waters are glittering the brightest.

Where Can I Find Emerald Cove? 

The Colorado River winds through Arizona near the Nevada border. Here you’ll find Emerald Cove, AZ, about two miles from Willow Beach. You can only access it by kayak, canoe, or boat.

Emerald Cove is a 12-mile stretch near the Black Canyon and Lake Mead Recreation Area, less than an hour from Las Vegas. It’s a stark contrast to the bustling tourist environment of the city.

You can take a guided kayak tour out to the famous Emerald Cove.

Why Is Emerald Cove Green?

Because of the snow and mud that enter the Colorado River, it’s not known for its beauty or cleanliness. In fact, it looks like a brown, muddy river in most parts. However, the water at Emerald Cove, AZ, is some of the cleanest and deepest from Lake Mead. The hot springs dump fresh mineral water into the river.

Danny Latham, owner and operator of Vegas Glass Kayaks, has studied the nature of the Colorado River. He explains in an interview with ABC15 that the hot springs beneath the surface evaporate into water vapor and then condense. This pure rainwater is crystal clear instead of muddy like much of the Colorado River.

Latham goes on to explain that the Emerald Cove waters are so green due to the sun reflecting off the bottom of the river and back into the cave.

It makes the walls and water appear emerald green due to how the light hits in the summer with direct sunlight. It’s something you have to see for yourself. Even taking a virtual tour won’t capture the beauty of Emerald Cove, AZ.

How Long Does It Take to Kayak From Willow Beach to Emerald Cove?

Head out to Willow Beach to begin your paddling journey. It will take about two hours to kayak from the marina to Emerald Cove. So make sure to pack sunscreen, snacks, and plenty of water. 

During your excursion, you might see a waterfall or spot bighorn sheep. Depending on the time of year, you might also see the Emerald Cove bats. Don’t worry; they’re harmless. You’ll traverse through towering canyon walls, creating a truly magical experience on your way to the emerald waters.

Aerial view of Willow Beach, a small beach along the Colorado River surrounded by steep rock where you can start your kayak to Emerald Cove AZ.
Begin your paddle to Emerald Cove at Willow Beach.

This area of the Colorado River gets very windy, especially in the afternoon. Paddling the two hours back to Willow Beach could be challenging, so plan accordingly. If you aren’t comfortable paddling on your own, you may want to consider taking a guided tour instead.

Can You Take Your Own Kayak to Emerald Cove, AZ?

Approximately 25,000 people paddle this section of the Colorado River in either a kayak or canoe yearly. It’s relatively flat with minimal rapids. But most people miss Emerald Cove. 

Because of its size, only about two or three kayaks can get into the cave at one time. It creates an intimate setting to connect with nature. But that also means you’ll probably have to wait your turn to enter.

You’ll want to head out at the Willow Beach Marina at the Lake Mead Recreation Area for a shorter trip. But for outdoor enthusiasts who want a day-long adventure, you can launch from the Hoover Dam, which includes the entire 12-mile route.

However, you’ll need to purchase a permit in advance. You’ll also need to plan a shuttle once you end the trip because you won’t be paddling back.

If You Don’t Want to Kayak, Can You Take a Boat?

You can take a motorized boat to Emerald Cove, AZ, but it’s better to take a kayak or canoe simply because of the size of the area.

The small cave only allows a few boats that may not even fit inside. If you can physically paddle the distance from Willow Beach to Emerald Cove, that’s the better option.

Can You Swim at the Cove? 

The cave has no beach. And with many visitors trying to get into a small space, you don’t want to get out and swim here.

But you can find beaches just past the Emerald Cove where you can take a break, eat lunch, enjoy a swim, and just enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Black Canyon.

Traveler’s Tip: These 7 beaches in Arizona are better than Florida.

Is Visiting Emerald Cove, AZ, Worth It?

If you need a break from the casinos and nightlife of Vegas, plan a paddling trip to Emerald Cove, AZ. Or visit for a chance to explore and get away from the tourist scenes that beckon visitors. 

You can even add a trip to Arizona Hot Springs, another secluded area of the Colorado River. Arizona may be the Grand Canyon State, but you can find other hidden wonders here, too. Will you be planning a kayak adventure to Emerald Cove, AZ?

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