Centered in an area known as the “Arizona Riviera,” Lake Havasu City makes a great destination for a cool-season getway, with opportunities for adventurous outdoor activities as well as laid-back relaxation. There’s always something happening in the city of nearly 53,000, especially this year, when Lake Havasu City celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Lake Havasu City is 160 miles from Las Vegas. Drive toward Boulder City on U.S. Highway 95, turning south onto U.S. 95 at Railroad Pass. Continue through Searchlight, past the turnoff to Laughlin and cross the border into California. When you reach Interstate 40, follow it southeast past Needles, Calif., across the Colorado River into Arizona, then head south on Arizona Route 95 to reach Lake Havasu City.
Ambitious dam building along the Colorado River tranformed the desert areas in Nevada, Arizona and California. Hoover Dam, completed in the mid-1930s, was the first of a string of dams along the river that stored water in man-made lakes and generated electricity for cities throughout the region. Water from the river backed up behind Parker Dam when it was completed in 1938, creating lovely Lake Havasu in the little-known western Arizona desert.
Except for an Army Air Corps rest camp used during World War II, the remote body of water drew few visitors. There were few roads, no facilities and blistering summer temperatures. But those who did reach the area admired the lake’s suberb desert-and-mountain setting and its very pleasant winter weather. The region began to attract boaters, fishermen and snowbirds.
The idea of a lakeshore community began to take root. Entrepreneur Robert P. McCulloch, of McCulloch chain saw fame, became a key player in the city’s development when he acquired acreage in 1958 and added to it in 1964. The new city started to become a reality in 1963 and gained momentum in 1968 when McCulloch purchased the old London Bridge at auction with the idea of reconstructing it over an arm of Lake Havasu.
Reassembled and dedicated in 1971, the bridge now carries traffic on a major boulevard in Lake Havasu City. The picturesque structure with a Tudor-style village of shops and eateries at its base is second only to the Grand Canyon as Arizona’s biggest attraction.
Incorporated in 1978, Lake Havasu City offers many amenities to its citizens and hospitality to its visitors. The city has a range of accommodations from RV parks to golf resorts and many places to dine. It is a pleasant community in a scenic setting with bountiful recreation potential.
Lake Havasu City offers parks, golf courses, trails, cycling, scenic touring and off-roading on land and fishing, boating, canoeing, kayaking, waterskiing, boat tours and other water sports on the lake and river. With wildlife refuges north and south of town, the area has become a haven for wildlife watchers, especially birders, who have recorded 350 species.
Among Lake Havasu City’s more quirky features are its lighthouses. Actually part of the aquatic navigational system, nearly two dozen replicas of famous U.S. lighthouses have been erected and are maintained by the Lake Havasu Lighthouse Club. Most of the lighthouses are accessible by road or trail with others reached only from the water. Pick up a lighthouse guide at the Lake Havasu visitor center.
Special events are scheduled in Lake Havasu City all year, but the most anticipated are in the winter. Visitors in the coming weeks can attend Buses by the Bridge, a gathering of vintage buses and RVs, and the annual Havasu Balloon Fest, both Jan. 17 to 19; the 29th annual Havasu Winterfest, Feb. 8 and 9; and the 25th annual Western Winterblast Pyrotechnic Show, Feb. 12.
Margo Bartlett Pesek’s Trip of the Week column appears on Sundays.