Lake Havasu Beyond Spring Break

Arizona's Lake Havasu heats up each year when the spring break set comes to town. But the area has a quiet side that any outdoors enthusiast can appreciate. It's all in the timing.
By Billy Brown
Aerial view of Lake Havasu, Arizona
Aerial view of Lake Havasu, Arizona  (iStockphoto)

Lake Havasu’s notoriety as a spring break mecca has given the Arizona lake town a reputation as a party destination. People who are not 22 years old with tribal tattoos, however, may be relieved to know that there’s another side to Lake Havasu. For 50 weeks out of the year, the lake and its namesake town, a three-hour drive from Las Vegas International Airport, trade bikini tops and stunna shades for water sports, hiking trails, and national wildlife preserves. From kayaking the Colorado River to staying the night in one of the many campsites dotting the lake, there are plenty of ways for visitors to explore Lake Havasu’s quiet side. 

Outrigger Canoeing and SUP
Where there’s water, there are water sports, and Lake Havasu offers several options for people without powerboats. Havasu Outrigger canoe club promotes the Hawaiian outrigger culture with its team paddling, racing, and respect for local waterways. Havasu Outrigger teaches safety techniques and how to paddle as a team, providing first-timers with expert instruction, boats, paddles, and floatation devices. They meet at Paddler’s Beach at the north end of Rotary Park on Lake Havasu. For more information, call David Vidad at 928-855-556 or email

Stand-up paddleboard rentals are available at The Standup Connection on London Bridge Road.

Kayaking on the Colorado River makes for a mellow ride as the river floats you back to Lake Havasu. Local paddling outfitter Western Arizona Canoe and Kayak Outfitters (WACKO) leads tours down the Topock Gorge on the Colorado River and through the Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge. The Topock Gorge tour is a five- to seven-hour, 14-mile paddle through the gorge, drifting past Native American petroglyphs and various sandbars. The Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge tours average two to three hours, leading kayakers past the Bill Williams Bridge and offering the chance to view the refuge’s diverse native wildlife. WACKO also offers all-day kayak rentals on Lake Havasu, as well as monthly full-moon tours of Topock Gorge and the Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge.

Lake Havasu and its surrounding areas provide a variety of hiking trails, from the mellow and flat Chemehuevi Trail to the steep and scrambly Cupcake Mountain Trail. Prime hiking season is September through May; carrying plenty of water and wearing a hat and sunscreen is highly recommended. Most hikes are a 15- to 20-minute drive south of Lake Havasu city. For a full list of hiking trails, visit Lake Havasu’s hiking page.

Chemehuevi Trail is a wide, flat, and easy hike that leads hikers down a two-mile out-and-back trail to two of Lake Havasu’s boat-in campsites with restrooms and picnic tables. The slightly hillier Pittsburg Mines Trail is a four-mile round-trip hike that winds through an abandoned mining area complete with fenced-off and filled-in mine shaft entrances, and offers views of Lake Havasu. For some lightweight canyoneering, Crack in the Mountain (aka SARA Crack) leads hikers on a five-mile trek through one of the Colorado River’s slot canyons. The trail features a natural seven-foot slide and ends at one of Lake Havasu’s scenic coves. At roughly ten miles, the Standard Wash Trail is ideal for hikers who want to cover more ground. This four- to five-hour hike winds through a canyon, past a 12-foot dry waterfall, and ends at a Lake Havasu beach, complete with restrooms and picnic tables.

One of the more exciting hiking trails, the Cupcake Mountain Trail, is a 90-minute drive south of Lake Havasu. The six-mile hike to the summit of Cupcake Mountain culminates in a half-mile of steep and technical scrambling to the top of the mountain. Cupcake Mountain’s summit features wide panoramic views of Lake Havasu and the surrounding BLM land, but between the strenuous nature of the hike and the 4x4-necessary access road, hikers definitely have to earn it.

The Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge
Covering 6,105 acres, the Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge offers world-class birdwatching, kayaking, catch-and-release fishing, and hiking. At almost ten square miles, Bill Williams NWR is the smallest refuge on the Colorado River, but its variety of wildlife has made it a globally recognized area of importance. Its main distinction is that virtually every bird and small animal that was there historically still resides there. The refuge’s diverse bird population (366 species) has won it distinctions as an area of global importance by the National Audubon Society. The visitor center on Highway 95 in Parker, Arizona, offers displays and dioramas acquainting visitors with native vegetation and wildlife. It also provides hiking information and detailed maps for people who wish to explore the area. The visitor center is open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, excluding all holidays. 

Published: 18 Apr 2012 | Last Updated: 19 Apr 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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