Big Bend of the Colorado State Recreation Area, a developing attraction in the extreme southern tip of Nevada, offers a variety of outdoor activities, including wildlife watching.
Big Bend, located just south of Laughlin, protects two miles of shoreline, marshlands, washes and rugged arroyos, preserving natural habitat for many desert animals and a wide variety of birds.
The recreation area is 100 miles from Las Vegas. Drive south on U.S. Highway 95 through Searchlight to the well-marked Laughlin turnoff onto state Route 163. The road follows a scenic route through a mountain pass and down toward the resort town of Laughlin. Just before you reach the casino corridor along the river, turn south on the Needles Highway. Big Bend of the Colorado is on the left side of the highway one mile south of Casino Drive.
The recreation area features beautiful views of the Colorado River, rolling by dark green, cold and majestic. The water swirls with currents as it exits Lake Mohave through the hydroelectric facilities at Davis Dam.
The river is usually busy with all sorts of fishing and pleasure craft, canoes, kayaks, personal watercraft and tourist cruise boats. Laughlin’s resorts, commercial centers and housing developments lie out of sight upstream. Along the far shoreline, Laughlin’s sister community, Bullhead City, Ariz., spreads out along the river and climbs up into the rugged foothills.
Open year-round, Big Bend offers picnicking, camping, boating, hiking, wildlife viewing and fishing. Facilities at the recreation area, which opened in 1996, continue to be developed in phases.
The cooler months are the most appealing time of year to visit the area, as summer temperatures often reach 120 degrees. Never visit without taking along insect repellent. Unless a stiff breeze is blowing, gnats and black flies may harass you, especially in the spring and early summer.
Early development of the area created a man-made lagoon with safe river access, a boat launch area, paved parking for boat trailers, shaded picnic areas and restrooms. A 24-unit campground, which opened in 2008, offers sites on a first-come basis with a 14-day limit. Suitable for tent or RV campers, each site includes tent pads and RV hookups for water, electricity and sewer. All sites have shade, grills and fire pits. Three sites are designated for disabled visitors. Water and restrooms with showers are centrally located.
In 2009, four miles of hiking trails in the developed area were completed, providing access to shoreline and riparian areas and to adjacent parts of the state land. Although there are no designated trails outside of the developed area near the river, hikers are encouraged to explore the recreation area’s open desert, washes and small canyons, where the lay of the land and abandoned off-road tracks dictate possible routes. Use of off-road vehicles is prohibited.
Big Bend of the Colorado Recreation Area is one of several sites on a self-guided, 80-mile driving trail between Henderson and Laughlin listed by the Southern Nevada Birding and Wildlife Trails Partnership. This group of federal, state and local agencies and organizations puts out a brochure and map of outstanding wildlife-viewing areas.
Many kinds of animals are attracted to the recreation area because of the water, varied habitat and food sources. Visitors to Bid Bend should walk quietly and keep their eyes open to spot wildlife. Viewing is best early or late in the day. Tracks left in damp ground may be the only record that elusive animals leave behind, but you will certainly sight some wildlife on any visit to the area.
Big Bend of the Colorado is a Nevada recreation fee area. Federal recreation passes cannot be used there. Entrance costs $9 for out-of-state visitors and $7 for residents. Overnight use costs $20 per campsite with a $2 discount for Nevadans, plus $10 for hookups. Use of boating facilities costs $15 with a $2 discount for Nevadans. Frequent visitors to Nevada state parks can save money by purchasing annual passes; find more information about passes at parks.nv.gov.
Margo Bartlett Pesek’s Trip of the Week column appears on Sundays.