How Vegas Used To Be

Laughlin. It’s a town that doesn’t try to please everyone. The glitziest thing here is the sunlight shimmering off the Colorado River.

Coursing more than a thousand miles from the Rockies to the Sea of Cortez, the Colorado River provides irrigation, public water, and hydroelectric power to parts of California, Nevada, and Arizona.

Laughlin and the Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A hundred miles downstream from the Grand Canyon, Laughlin’s Colorado River water is so blue and clear, you can even see to the bottom at night. In Laughlin, the river offers a wide spectrum of recreational activities. Enjoy boating, water skiing, jet skiing, and fishing or a refreshing dip in the brisk water. Launch ramp facilities are plentiful along the river as well as a multitude of watercraft rental services.

For a more relaxed pace, take a leisurely, scenic ride or dinner cruise aboard paddlewheel steamship replicas and tour boats while listening to a narrated history of Laughlin and the surrounding area. You can also take a two-hour sunset dinner cruise on The Celebration which is super affordable and more than likely comes with an Elvis impersonator.

Laughlin River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The river can also be enjoyed by strolling along Laughlin’s River Walk. Extending from the Riverside Resort to the River Palms, visitors can take a relaxing walk along the river’s edge.

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Laughlin is a more relaxed Las Vegas. They’ve created a niche with Nevada-style gaming, but without the high-speed lifestyle of the Las Vegas Strip. Things come and go quickly in Vegas, with near-constant development and change on the Strip. By comparison, Laughlin’s newest hotel was built in the mid-’90s.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And people seem to like that just fine. Laughlin is old-school, big on return customers who appreciate the familiar. It’s a family-friendly destination that draws folks from California, Arizona, and the rest of Nevada (in that order). They love prime rib and they love country music and the snowbirds escaping the wrath of a northern winter love the town. It’s Middle America, it’s Old West, and it’s mostly conservative. It’s the sort of place you go to escape the modern woes of Twitter.

You can gamble, have dinner, see a show, and book a room with a resort fee that’s well under $10. Parking is free and easy and the river, well, the river is just right there.

Laughlin looking across the Colorado River to Bullhead City, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The coolest way to get around town is by water taxi. These small boats, piloted by certified captains, zip around on the river from one property to another. Most casinos have their own dock and if you stand around on one, a water taxi will show up fairly quickly. A single ride is $5, although wristband deals are available for unlimited rides.

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The kitschy casino hotels might be the best part. Laughlin’s signature casino, Riverside Resort, feels pretty old-school and is almost always going through renovations. A rooftop pool deck has been updated with cabanas and a modern circular bar. The classic car collection adds to the 1960s ambiance.  

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don Laughlin’s Classic Car Museum is located on both the street level and on the casino’s third floor in the South Tower. It features more than 70 of the most unique, classic, and rare automobiles, trucks, and motorcycles ever created, as well as antique slot machines and vintage gaming tables.

Nestled on the banks of the Colorado River, Don Laughlin’s Riverside Resort RV Park offers picturesque views of mountains, sunrises, and sunsets. Pull into one of the 740 spaces with full hook-ups, laundry facilities, showers, and near dump station. Free shuttle service to and from Riverside Resort. Reservations recommended.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With over 250 rooms and 28 suites, The New Pioneer is right on the banks of the Colorado River. For those drawn to the spirit of the Old West, New Pioneer has a Tombstone-like facade and a gift shop full of kitsch items like goat’s milk soap and cowboy hats. It also has River Rick—a double of Vegas Vic, the iconic neon smoking cowboy that once stood outside the original Pioneer Club in Vegas.

The all-new Laughlin River Lodge barely lights up at night—making it the most aesthetically boring resort in the skyline. But it has a fun casino rewards system allowing players to cash in points on tangible prizes. Need a new crockpot or microwave? This is your place.

Aquarius Casino, Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The hotel has two casino floors including three separate themed casinos with specialty cocktails and food, billiards, a 24-hour restaurant, a General Store, room service, live entertainment, and outdoor pool. Strike Bowl is a new party palace with ten lanes of bowling, eGames room with 26 individual screens, kids play area with giant Lite Brite, and all available to book for a fun private party. Located on the west side of Casino Drive, the Tropicana Laughlin is the only hotel not on the Riverwalk. It recently added a taproom for Brew Brothers—a homegrown Reno favorite—that’s probably the best place for beer in town. 

Colorado Belle looks exactly like a vintage paddlewheel riverboat, but it doesn’t actually go anywhere. The casino floor has a classic old-school style that wouldn’t look out of place in Mississippi or New Orleans. The koi fish in the front moat are a nice touch. 

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River’s Edge and Aquarius Casino, Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As for the rest, Harrah’s is at the south end of the casino strip, at a slight bend in the river, which makes it feel more secluded without really being that far away. Harrah’s Laughlin is the second-largest property in Laughlin with over 1,500 rooms, 104 suites, and 56,000 square feet of casino space including a non-smoking casino. In addition to the private hotel guest-only soft sand beach, the resort has three restaurants plus fast food options, two entertainment venues, two pools, a salon and day spa, a boutique, and a gift shop.

Across the Colorado River from Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edgewater is large with 1,000 guest rooms and centrally located. It offers in-room guest services, restaurants including fine dining and fast food outlets, gift shop, boat-trailer and RV parking, and free on-property security patrolled covered parking. The Edgewater has an electric vehicle charging station located just inside the entrance to the parking garage.

Golden Nugget has something of a boutique hotel vibe with just a few hundred rooms. The resort’s fine restaurants include Claim Jumper, Saltgrass Steak House, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., The Deli and Bean & Bread. Guests can also enjoy luxurious, private cabanas overlooking the Colorado River, retail options featuring the latest fashions, and exciting nightlife at Rush Lounge.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Aquarius is the largest resort with 1,900 rooms and a centralized casino with restaurants around the perimeter. Amenities include a resort pool, fitness center, gift and sundries shop, fine dining, casual restaurants, and fast food outlets. The Cove is the only non-smoking cocktail lounge in Laughlin and Splash Lounge hosts live music most weekends.

If you want a small locals’ casino with no hotel attached, the Regency is your destination. 

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aside from hanging out on the river, the most common excuse to book a trip to Laughlin is a show at the Laughlin Events Center. The versatile outdoor amphitheater hosts events ranging from rodeos and racing to concerts by arena-level acts like Brad Paisley or KISS. The town also draws crowds for the Laughlin River Run motorcycle rally in April (37th annual; April 24-28, 2022), Spartan races in November, and SNORE Rage at the River off-road racing competition in December. 

Read Next: Chasing John Wesley Powell: Exploring the Colorado River—Canyonlands, Lake Powell & Grand Canyon

Worth Pondering…

Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.

—Anita Desai