As in other Colorado River towns, fun on the water draws many visitors. Lake Havasu, 45 miles long and three miles wide, offers great boating, waterskiing, and sailing. You'll find plenty of boat rentals, boat tours, swimming beaches, tennis, and golf courses. Hikers can stroll the shoreline at English Village or explore Crossman Peak (5,100 feet) in the Mohave Mountains to the east. Lake Havasu City has a population of about 50,000 and continues to grow rapidly.
In 1958, the late Robert McCulloch spotted Lake Havasu from the air and decided to build a planned community along its east shore. Lake Havasu City might have become just another ho-hum town if not for a brainstorm by McCulloch and town planner C.V. Wood. They decided to buy London Bridge! Back in England, the 136-year-old bridge was slowly sinking into the Thames. No longer able to handle busy city traffic, the famous London landmark was put up for sale in 1967. McCulloch snapped it up for $2,460,000, then spent more than twice that amount to have 10,276 granite blocks shipped to Long Beach, California, trucked to Lake Havasu City, and painstakingly reassembled. The deal also included ornate lampposts said to have been made from Napoleon's cannons captured at Waterloo in 1815. After three years of construction, the bridge stood in its new home. The Lord Mayor of London graciously came over in October 1971 to preside at the bridge dedication. London Bridge may be one of the stranger sights on the Arizona desert, but it certainly put Lake Havasu City on the map.
More has been added since—an English Village complete with shops, galleries, pub, a double-decker bus, and even bright-red British telephone booths. Nearby London Bridge Resort adds more English atmosphere.
At first, the bridge spanned only dry land. Workers later dug a water channel underneath, cutting off Pittsburgh Point. Now you walk or drive across London Bridge to reach the campgrounds, RV parks, beaches, marina, and other facilities on the new island, still known as Pittsburgh Point.
Lake Havasu Museum of History
This collection (320 London Bridge Rd., 928/854-4938, 1-4 p.m. Tues.-Sat., donation) introduces the region with exhibits on the Chemehuevi tribe, mining and riverboating, Parker Dam, London Bridge, and the development of Lake Havasu City. Displays also illustrate local flora and wildlife. The museum store sells souvenirs. It's next to the Lake Havasu Convention & Visitors Bureau on the west frontage road of AZ 95.
Lake Havasu State Park—Windsor Beach
This park (928/855-2784) occupies about two miles of shoreline north of London Bridge. Visitors enjoy the swimming beaches, picnicking at the shaded tables, boating, fishing, hiking, and camping. Three launch ramps (one just for personal watercraft) serve boaters.
Hikers can stroll along the Mojave Sunset Trail, about 1.5 miles one-way, through desert and riparian habitats; it runs from near the contact station in the north to Windsor 4 day-use area in the south. Halfway along the trail, a botanical garden (also accessible from the park road) demonstrates native and exotic plant landscaping. The park offers interpretive programs some evenings in winter at the main campground. Anglers have a fish-cleaning station. Day use costs $8/vehicle. Campsites ($19/vehicle) accommodate both tents and RVs, and include showers, electric and water hookups, and a dump station. Groups can reserve a day-use area, but no other reservations are taken. Windsor Beach is 1.5 miles north of London Bridge off London Bridge Road, or turn west off AZ 95 on Industrial Boulevard.
In 1943, on what's now the island connected by London Bridge, the military built Lake Havasu Auxiliary Field #6 as an emergency airfield. The lakeside setting soon became popular as an R&R spot, and after the war six servicemen ran a fly-in fishing camp for a while. Today a loop road, paralleled by a bikepath, encircles the abandoned runways with some good views of the lake, mountains, and city. Site Six is now a recreation area at the far end of the island with floating fishing piers and a paved boat ramp. Nearby, a one-third-scale lighthouse marks the northwest end of the island.
Cattail Cove State Park
On Lake Havasu 15 miles south of downtown, the park (turn west from AZ 95 between Mileposts 167 and 168, 928/855-1223) offers a swimming beach with shaded picnic tables, boat ramp, dock, camping, and hiking. Visitors can learn about the area in the cactus garden and at year-round interpretive programs. Anglers have a fish-cleaning station. Day use runs $8/vehicle. The campground provides water and electric hookups, showers, and a dump station at a cost of $19/vehicle. Sites are all first-come, first-served, and tend to fill Jan.-March and on some summer weekends.
Whytes Trail begins near the boat ramp and winds along the shore to the BLM Whytes Retreat boat camp, 1.5 miles one-way. McKinney Loop Trail takes an inland route through low desert hills to Whytes Trail in about half a mile; follow the sidewalk along the boat trailer parking area to the trailhead. There's also good walking up the wash from the start of McKinney Loop Trail.
Lake Havasu Boat Campgrounds
Boaters can choose from many state or BLM water-access campgrounds south of Lake Havasu City. Arizona State Parks maintains those between Cattail Cove and Red Rock Cove to the north with a fee of $14 per site. The BLM offers boat camps south of Cattail Cove and north along the coast between Red Rock Cove and near Lake Havasu City; these cost $20 ($10 day use), but you can buy a $50 annual permit. Most boat camps have tables, grills, and outhouses, though none of the sites has drinking water.
Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge
Six thousand acres in the lower 12 miles of Bill Williams River contain the largest surviving cottonwood-willow woodland of the lower Colorado. The office (22 miles south of Lake Havasu City at 60911 Hwy. 95, Parker, AZ 85344, 928/667-4144, http://southwest.fws.gov, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri.) is 0.8 mile south of the bridge over the Bill Williams River and across from a pumping station. Stop in for wildlife exhibits, lists of refuge birds and other wildlife, and an observation deck. Birders flock to the refuge to see many species year-round—343 at last count. Good places for birding include the marsh behind the refuge office and areas 2, 3.5, and 7 miles up the refuge road. You'll also see butterflies during the warmer months; 34 species flutter about, and 11 of those live only here. Staff run a program to propagate razorback sucker and bonytail chubs, endangered fish native to the Colorado River.
The Peninsula Trail is a paved, accessible path out to fishing platforms with interpretive signs, sun shades, and restrooms along the way; it's 1,500 feet one way and begins near the refuge office. You can also paddle your way through the Bill Williams River estuary; a canoe trail map available at the office shows a suggested route and things to look for. You can launch your craft (no gas motors allowed) behind the office.
A scenic dirt road provides access into the refuge. The turnoff from AZ 95 is 0.3 mile south of the bridge over the Bill Williams River and one-half mile north of the office; look for a sign with a binocular symbol. The first 3.5 miles, usually passable by cars, winds over desert hills with good views of the riparian vegetation below and canyon walls above. Drivers with high-clearance 4WD vehicles can continue upstream another 3.5 miles across many fords and sections of riverbed and return the same way, or they can take Mineral Wash Road and Shea Road about 25 miles to Parker or Swansea ghost town. It's easy to get stuck in a mud hole, so only those experienced and equipped for water crossings should tackle the road. Reservoir releases upstream may cause flooding that closes the road in the refuge at times.
Havasu National Wildlife Refuge
The marshes, open water, and adjacent desert of the refuge support many types of birds and animals. The main part of the refuge includes Topock Marsh near Needles, California, and extends southward to just north of Lake Havasu City. Most of the more than 44,371 acres lies in Arizona. In winter, the refuge provides a home for Canada geese, many species of ducks, and other waterfowl.
Boating, fishing, and other water sports are permitted except where signed. No camping is allowed in Mesquite Bay, Topock Gorge, or Topock Marsh. You can boat camp on the Arizona shore below the south entrance to Topock Gorge, except in Mesquite Bay. For a map, bird list, and regulations, visit the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge office (1406 Bailey Ave. or P.O. Box 3009, Needles, CA 92363, 760/326-3853, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri.).
Five Mile Landing (928/768-2350) provides a private campground ($7 dry camping for tent or RV) and marina (fishing-boat rentals, slips, and boat ramp) on the east side of Topock Marsh. From I-40 Exit 1, turn north five miles. From AZ 95, 17 miles south of Bullhead City, turn east 8.7 miles on Courtwright Road/Co. 227, which becomes Co. 1. Topock Gorge Marina (just north of I-40 Exit 1, 928/768-2325) offers a boat dock and gas.
Topock Gorge by Canoe
This is a perfect one-day outing on the cool waters of the Colorado River above Lake Havasu. The usual put-in point is Park Moabi, California, or Topock, Arizona, where I-40 crosses the river. Swift currents speed canoeists down the river without rapids or serious turbulence. Take-out is at Castle Rock on the upper end of Lake Havasu, about seven hours and 17 river miles below. Topock Gorge is part of the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, where you can spot hundreds of bird species. Look for the mud nests of swallows clinging to the cliffs; herons, ducks, geese, long-billed prospectors, and red-winged blackbirds also visit the canyon. If you're lucky, you may spot a desert bighorn sheep on the steep slopes. Prehistoric petroglyphs cover Picture Rock, a huge dark mass about halfway between Devil's Elbow and Blankenship Bend. Sandy beaches are ideal for a walk or picnic, but no fires or camping are permitted.
Summer temperatures can get uncomfortable, but a hop in the river will cool you off. Bring a hat and sunscreen to protect yourself from the Arizona sun. Other kinds of boats besides canoes can make the trip. Rafts require more time, and powerboat skippers should watch for sandbars. Many other canoe trips are possible; for example, you can start at Needles for a two-day trip or at Bullhead City for a three- or four-day canoe excursion. Topo maps (1:24,000 scale) for the area include Topock, Ariz.-Calif. and Castle Rock, Calif.-Arizona.
A Boating Trail Guide to the Colorado River has canoeing information and maps for the river between Davis Dam and Parker Dam; it's free at many marinas and parks in the area, or from the California Dept. of Boating and Waterways, 2000 Evergreen Street, Suite 100, Sacramento, CA 95815-3888; 916/263-0784, www.dbw.ca.gov (pdf download available).
Jerkwater Canoe Company (928/768-7753 or 800/421-7803, www.jerkwatercanoe.com/) offers rentals, shuttle service, meals, and bed and breakfast near Topock; staff will set you up for any section of the Colorado between Hoover Dam and Yuma. WACKO—Western Arizona Canoe & Kayak Outfitters (928/855-6414 or 888/881-5038, www.azwacko.com) in Lake Havasu City rents canoes and kayaks and provides shuttles.
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