Willow Beach quick, popular river getaway

Beautiful views of rugged mountains across the Colorado River welcome visitors to Willow Beach in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The popular destination on the Arizona side of the river attracts boaters, rafters, anglers, campers and sightseers. Its proximity to Boulder City and Las Vegas makes Willow Beach ideal for short outings and quick access to the river.

To reach Willow Beach, drive south from Las Vegas on U.S. Highway 93/95. At Railroad Pass, stay on U.S. 93 heading for Boulder City. Turn left at the second traffic light to avoid driving through downtown Boulder City. U.S. 93 crosses the Colorado River into Arizona on the Hoover Dam bypass bridge. From the bridge, continue 14 miles to the paved road to Willow Beach. Plan on a driving time of about an hour from Las Vegas. This road twists four miles on its scenic descent through a wash and canyon to the river.

Recent grading cleared the pavement of gravel that washed down in flooding from heavy rains last summer and late fall. Unfortunately, the roadwork has disturbed the wildflowers often seen along the roadsides in spring. However, other bright blossoms are appearing on the rocky slopes near the road.

Flash floods continue to shape the desert in all the canyons of the region. At Willow Beach, serious flooding forced closure of the campsites years ago. A new campground and RV park are now located on high ground with grand views of the river. The facility includes 28 full-service RV sites, nine tent sites, several shaded picnic sites, restrooms and a laundry. Campers may want to bring a shade structure as the campground has no trees or shade roofs over the tables. Call Willow Beach Marina and RV Park for rates and reservations at 928-767-4747.

The Willow Beach facilities are operated by Forever Resorts, a park service concessionaire. The camping area is among many recent improvements made at Willow Beach. Picnickers find riverside parking, a scenic river walk, shaded picnic sites with barbecue grills and new restrooms as they approach the expanded marina, docks and boat-launch ramps. Other facilities include a fueling station, sanitary dump station and fish-cleaning stations. Boaters bring their own boats, canoes or kayaks or rent one at the marina. For information on moorage or rentals, call the marina or visit its website at willobeachharbor.com.

At water’s edge, a handsome structure that opened three years ago houses offices, a seasonally operated restaurant and a convenience store with gifts, books, food, toiletries, fishing gear and camping supplies. The roofed porch with picnic tables invites visitors to sit down with a snack and enjoy the river traffic and boats bobbing in the marina. The restaurant reopens March 1 for weekend breakfast and lunch service. It is open daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

The Willow Beach Marina welcomes the raft adventurers who take daily pontoon boat tours from near Hoover Dam down the river or the Eldorado Canyon explorers who course up the river after a visit to a historic gold mine. The raft riders board buses at Willow Beach Marina for a return to civilization. For tour information, call 800-455-3490 or 702-294-1414 or visit blackcanyonadventures.com.

Willow Beach is also the site of the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery, operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Located just up river from the marina, the hatchery is open to visitors daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. It was established to use cold water released from Hoover Dam to raise rainbow trout for sport fishing, and it released its first fish for stocking in 1962. Fish from this facility were released in the Colorado River and its reservoirs from Lake Powell to Yuma, Ariz. The hatchery’s focus changed over time to raising native Colorado River species. As of this year, it will no longer raise trout and will instead concentrate on two endangered native fish species and the troubled relict leopard frog, also a native species.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.