On the border dividing San Bernardino County, California, and La Paz County, Arizona, lies a large reservoir called Lake Havasu. Created in 1938 by the Parker Dam on the Colorado River, it’s an oasis in the middle of the desert. As is its eponymous city.
Although the serene vibe of this waterside city may have you thinking time here would be best spent lazing on a sun lounger with a cocktail in hand, you’d be wrong. Lake Havasu is a rare gem in which you can go from witnessing the majesty of the desert to experiencing adrenaline-boosting water sports and even seeing the lay of the land during a serene hot-air balloon ride.
Here are some of our top recommendations for your cool down in Lake Havasu City.
Get Out On the Water
It’s no secret that temperatures can soar during the Arizonan summer. With the mercury easily splashing above 100°F (38°C), there’s no better reason to splash around yourself.
Cliff Jumping & Diving at Copper Canyon
Rent a boat, pack a cooler and head across Lake Havasu towards Copper Canyon. While the sheltered inlet is a favorite gathering spot for boaters who are looking for a good time, the steep embankments and high rocky points are an attraction for cliff divers and jumpers.
If you’re anything like me, the 40-foot (12-meter) climb to Jump Rock is sure to have your legs shaking like jelly. But the view from the top is incredible—and the shot of adrenaline from the jump is visceral.
For those planning on jumping, it’s advised that you don’t indulge in any libations before heading up the formations. Not only is there a chance of slipping and falling while climbing, but you’ll need to have your wits about you when planning where to land. And it’s recommended that the highest jump (measuring nearly 80 feet or 24 meters), only be taken on by experienced cliff divers.
With fair weather and little wind for most of the summer (and year, really), Lake Havasu is an incredible location for paddle boarding. Flat waters mean that even beginners will be able to navigate the reservoir with little trouble.
There are plenty of spots to explore on the lake, but if you’re feeling a little trepidation about heading too far away from shore, we’d recommend paddling around London Bridge.
Having originally stretched over the River Thames in London, the bridge was brought to Lake Havasu by Robert McCollouch in 1968 to link the English village on one of Lake Havasu’s islands with the city. The span extended across the Thames during World War II, so you can look out for bullet scars and other interesting imperfections in its masonry when gliding beneath it.
A little further afield, but still a great spot for an unusual sight, is Pirate Cove. The trip down the Colorado River will take you past interesting rock formations towards a serene cove with an ancient (you guessed it!) pirate’s ship in the middle. With plenty of nooks and crannies around the wreck, the area is teeming with sea life and a definite must-do on a day when water visibility is good.
There are more than 18 lighthouses dotting the shores of Lake Havasu, making Lake Havasu City (which, let’s not forget, sits in a desert) home to the most lighthouses of any city in the US. Each tower is a scaled-down replica of famous lighthouses on the East and West Coast, as well as the Great Lakes. If you’re feeling energetic and have a day to spare, this is a paddle boarding trip for the books!
Paddle boarding is also a great option in winter. It still gives you the chance to get out on the water and take in the scenic views of deep orange canyons and sand dune valleys that surround the lake, but with the added advantage of not having to get wet.
For those who have the urge to take flight outside of the confines of an airplane or helicopter, flyboarding can scratch that itch. You’ll be strapped to a flyboard, which is connected to a boat by a long hose, and be propelled as high as 50 feet (15 meters) by massive jets of water—giving you epic views of the lake and its features.
For Land Lovers
A desert setting like Lake Havasu City is the perfect place for off-road exploring. There are more than 20 off-road trails with varying terrains to choose from (sand dunes, canyons and open desert are just a few) in and around Lake Havasu City. Many of the off-road trails will take you to old mines and abandoned mining towns for you to explore. However, be careful when riding around these areas as not all the mine shafts are marked.
Play a Round of Golf
Arizona’s fair weather climate means that the state is a great year-round golf destination. And with glistening rivers and glowing rock formations surrounding the course, Lake Havasu is the best place to hit some balls. There are plenty of courses and clubs in the area; some even have spa facilities for an indulgent after-golf massage. In summer, we’d advise an early tee-off time to ensure you beat the heat before heading to the 19th hole for a refreshing drink or two.
Lake Havasu Museum of History
Get out of the sun and visit the Lake Havasu Museum of History. The adage ‘dynamite comes in small packages’ rings true here, as the compact museum has plenty to teach visitors about everything from the rich history of Mojave Native Americans to the history of Arizona’s mining industry. Immerse yourself in days gone by with the 10-minute introductory video before navigating clockwise around the exhibits to follow a chronologically accurate revision of Lake Havasu’s past.
Hike the Grapevine Canyon Trail
A short 3.2-mile (5.3-kilometer) trail near Laughlin, Nevada, the Grapevine Canyon Trail features a waterfall and many rock formations to climb over. It’s a hands-on experience, and you should be prepared to scramble over the crevices between rocks to get into the canyon. The challenge is well worth it though, as you’ll be met with the unusual site of grapevines stretching across the arid desert landscape.
Take to the Air
Feel free as a bird with the wind blowing through your hair as you soar to new heights above Lake Havasu. With no motor to speak of, you and your pilot will take advantage of the thermals that circulate over Havasu to propel you through the air.
If you’re an aviation enthusiast or even if you just want to grab some beautiful shots on your camera, you have to check out Hangin’ Over Havasu when you visit. They offer Amphibious Introductory Flights in a FAA certified Airtime Aircraft Cygnet 3 as well as Light Sport Flight Sessions.
Hot-air Balloon Ride
When it comes to serene scenes, nothing can match getting a bird’s-eye view of the landscape from the basket of a hot-air balloon. The early departure time (usually just before sunrise to guarantee the calmest air) is well worth it when you reach altitude and gently float along in silence. Whether you want a romantic ride with your partner or you’re on a mission to get the best shots of Lake Havasu City, a hot-air balloon trip is a must have on your agenda!
Whether you’re a history nerd, an adventure junkie, a water sport fanatic, or a dedicated golfer, Lake Havasu has it all. From desert-bound lighthouses to azure blue skies, there’s always more to explore in Arizona’s Playground.