Exploring Lake Havasu
Lake Havasu, AZ
The abundance of dams along the Colorado River creates a number of large lakes in arid regions of the Southwest where large, natural bodies of water are nonexistent. These lakes provide exceptional recreational opportunities and offer a striking contrast to the scenic desert landscapes that surround them.
One of the most popular and interesting lakes along the Colorado River is Lake Havasu. It's well-known for one particular historic point of interest, the London Bridge, which sets this lake apart from other desert playgrounds.
More than 2.5 million visitors flock each year to the shores of Lake Havasu to enjoy the scenery, the cool waters of the lake and the abundant recreational activities. Water sports, hiking, off-road opportunities and cultural and natural history draw visitors year round.
Impounded by Parker Dam, 45-mile long Lake Havasu is nestled along the foot of California's Chemehuevi Mountains near Interstate 40. The lake is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) which oversees nearly 1.4 million acres of public lands in both the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts along the Colorado River, Lake Havasu and the Arizona uplands to the east.
This area is best known for the boating, fishing and sightseeing on Lake Havasu. The backcountry surrounding the lake is virtually undiscovered by those who venture to the lake. The backcountry offers miles of quiet, seldom-visited lands including six wilderness areas, historic mines, abandoned town sites, uncommon wildlife, interesting geology and numerous trails and roads for adventurers who like to explore.
The diverse landscape ranges from sand dunes and rugged canyons to mountains and basins. Adding to the textures and shapes of the region are the varied flora and fauna. Towering saguaro cactus stand like statues along the hillsides, along with ocotillo, barrel and prickly pear cactus. Bighorn sheep, coyotes, reptiles, and over 200 species of birds and wildlife can be seen throughout the region. The Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge is located at the south end of the lake and is an excellent location for wildlife observation.
Lake Havasu City is located on the Arizona shoreline of Lake Havasu where the world-famous London Bridge crosses over to a small island in the Colorado River. Lake Havasu City was established after the Parker Dam was constructed and the lake formed.
The city offers a multitude of fun activities and recreational facilities. Golfers of all levels can enjoy the four golf courses, and for those who prefer smaller courses there is a miniature golf course. Tennis courts, an ice skating rink and a movie theater are also conveniently located within the city limits.
The focal point of Lake Havasu is the London Bridge with its towering walls and archways. The bridge, which has been in place since 1971, serves as a backdrop to the English village that has grown up around it. The village is filled with Tudor-style buildings and charming shops, creating an atmosphere of medieval England. Many visitors are surprised when they learn that this really is the original London Bridge and not a gimmick.
For more than 140 years, London Bridge served as a crossing over the River Thames in London, England. It survived both world wars and a terrorist attack in 1884. So why did London want to remove such a significant landmark? And how did the London Bridge end up in Lake Havasu City, Arizona?
The London Bridge had survived many historic events, but not nature's sinking forces. The bridge began to sink into the River Thames and in 1968, the city of London decided to sell it for 2.5 million dollars to Robert P. McCulloch, founder of Lake Havasu City.
It took 3 years and another 7 million dollars to dismantle, ship and rebuild the bridge. Today, the London Bridge connects Lake Havasu City with an island in the lake. Its massive body of stone brings the essence of England to Arizona.
Similar to Lakes Powell and Mohave, visitors seek Havasu's cool, clear waters which are well-known for various water sports including fishing, water skiing, speed boating, jet skiing, sailing and canoeing.
Free public fishing access is available and continues to be developed at the lake by the Lake Havasu Fisheries Improvement Program. The program is also funding the creation of artificial habitat to increase the game fish population.
Lake Havasu's deep water, fringed with coves and inlets, provides ideal fishing conditions for black and striped bass, crappie, bluegill, catfish and trout. Lineside bass can be found in schools around the Parker Strip. Some of the best fishing is toward the south end of the lake in the Bill Williams Arm.
Boating, skiing, swimming and other water sports are the dominant activities on the lake. You will find just about every type of water-based recreation including many organized events like music festivals, international jet ski competitions and auto shows.
If you don't have your own water toys, you can rent them. There are a number of facilities that rent boats, skidoos and other equipment. If you just want to relax and enjoy the scenery, you can try one of the many water- and land-based tours. The boat tours take you into remote canyons and historic sites where ancient peoples once lived. Guided land tours will take you on an exploration into lands where the pioneers once tread, while you learn about the geology, and the flora and fauna of the region.
Another great way to explore the Lake Havasu area is by car or off-highway vehicle (OHV). If you're in a car take the Parker Dam Road "Thread of Life," a backcountry byway that highlights the scenic, natural, historic and prehistoric features along an 11-mile road. The road passes along the California shore of the Colorado River providing access to an abundance of recreation activities, including camping, swimming, boating, fishing, rock hounding, hiking, OHV play areas and wildlife viewing.
This scenic byway begins at Parker Dam and travels along Parker Dam Road south to the boundary of the Colorado River Indian Reservation.
If you like four-wheeling, ATV-riding, dune buggy driving or riding a motorcycle, the BLM can accommodate your OHV recreational desires. The Lake Havasu BLM territory includes hundreds of miles of roads and trails and two open areas. See the notes at the end of this page for more information on these locations.
Lake Havasu and the surrounding region is a recreational paradise offering abundant opportunities to explore, learn and relax. However you choose to spend your time at Lake Havasu, you'll find the enchanting atmosphere and year-round sunshine fulfilling as well as memorable.
Lake Havasu BLM Field Office: The Lake Havasu BLM Field Office is located south of the intersection of Highway 95 and Acoma Blvd. South at 2610 Sweetwater Ave. Office hours are 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday excluding Federal holidays.
Fishing: Current fishing access sites include Take-off Point, Havasu Springs, Site Six and Mesquite Cove. These sites all include parking, restrooms and universally-accessible fishing docks.
OHV Information: The two OHV open areas located within the Lake Havasu BLM Field Office territory are Copper Basin Dunes (1,275 acres ) and Crossroads (1,500 acres). These areas have no travel restrictions, which means that vehicles can go off the roads and trails.
Both locations are on the California side of the Lake between Parker Dam and the Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation. There are OHV staging areas at each site complete with parking, restrooms and unloading ramps.
Stop at the BLM office on your way out of town for an access guide and maps of the Lake Havasu area. OHV riders must stay on existing roads and trails with the exception of the two open areas mentioned above.
Camping and Facilities
Public Camping: Two public campgrounds are located on the Parker Strip providing campsites along the Colorado River. Sites are available on a first-come-first-serve basis; there is a 14-day stay limit at each campground.
Empire Landing Campground (located approximately 8 miles south of Parker Dam) has 50 drive-in campsites and 28 tent sites. Outdoor showers, flush toilets, and RV holding tank disposal system. Each site has a picnic table. There are fees. The campground has a swimming beach.
Crossroads Campground is located along the Colorado River about 8 miles south of Parker Dam. Crossroads provides 12 undeveloped campsites which have a use fee.
Boat-in Camping: There are 125 lakeshore campsites available along the Arizona side of Lake Havasu, from Lake Havasu City to Parker Dam. Most sites have a picnic table, shade, BBQ grill, pit toilet and trash can and are available on a firstcome-first-serve basis. These are fees sites.
Chemehuevi Indian Reservation also provides camping, boating, fishing and other facilities. Permits are required. More information can be obtained by calling 760-858-4301.
Two private resorts are located on leased public lands along the lake shore. These provide many recreation opportunities and facilities, including camping, boat ramps and marina, swim beach, stores, restaurants, laundry and longer-term mobile home spaces.
By Dusty Rhoades
Related DesertUSA Pages
- How to Turn Your Smartphone into a Survival Tool
- 26 Tips for Surviving in the Desert
- Death by GPS
- 7 Smartphone Apps to Improve Your Camping Experience
- Maps Parks and More
- Desert Survival Skills
- How to Keep Ice Cold in the Desert
- Desert Rocks, Minerals & Geology Index
- Preparing an Emergency Survival Kit
- Get the Best Hotel and Motel Rates
Share this page on Facebook:
DesertUSA Newsletter -- We send articles on hiking, camping and places to explore, as well as animals, wildflower reports, plant information and much more. Sign up below or read more about the DesertUSA newsletter here. (It's Free.)