Five Fall Road Trips in Arizona

Get on the road again with five sojourns perfect for your Arizona fall season

Despite what it seems like by the time September rolls around, summer is not endless. It is winding down. So it’s time to start planning your quest to see some fall colors.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon North Rim Drive: Highway 89 from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Lodge

Driving Distance: 208 miles from Flagstaff

Turn-by-Turn Directions: Head north from Flagstaff on US-89 to Bitter Springs. Here, turn left onto US-89A. Follow this north to SR-67. Turn left and drive south on SR-67 to the lodge. 

There’s nothing like tracing the Grand Canyon’s edge with the Colorado River raging below. If that isn’t enough to inspire a drive on Highway 89, I’ll also tempt you with Marble Canyon, Vermilion Cliffs, and the aspen golds of the North Rim.

Navajo Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan this trip for early fall, since the Grand Canyon’s North Rim closes for the season on October 15. Launching from Flagstaff, you emerge from the pine forest to a desolate expanse of land with sightlines for miles. The road moves over rounded slopes while reddish sandstone cliffs tower on either side. At Bitter Springs, veer left on Highway 89A to Marble Canyon which offers a good stopping point for breathtaking photo-ops and sustenance. First up, pics: Stand on the Navajo Bridge, a historic span over the Colorado River. Then, food: Marble Canyon Lodge serves hearty lunch and dinner with outdoor seating to boot. 

Marble Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Marble Canyon marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon and nearby is a campground and popular put-in for river runners and Horseshoe Bend paddlers. Push on southwest, nestling close to the bewildering spectrum of reds, yellows, and oranges of Vermilion Cliffs rising from Paria Plateau. 

You’ll spot junipers and pines the closer you inch to Kaibab National Forest but once you reach the North Rim the scenery explodes in leafy canopies of firs, spruces, tall pines, and aspens.

Leaving Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southern Arizona Drive: Highway 83 from Tucson to Bisbee by way of Sonoita and Sierra Vista

Driving Distance: 109 miles from the starting point in Tucson

Turn-by-Turn Directions: Follow I-10 east to SR-83. Drive south on SR-83 to SR-82. Take this east to SR-90. Head south on SR-90 to Sierra Vista and continue southeast on SR-90 to SR-80. Follow this east to Bisbee. 

The southern half of the state can’t compete with Flagstaff’s autumnal glow. And yet… This south-of-Tucson trip is fraught with scenic vistas. 

On the road to Sonoita © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Tucson, you’re on I-10 for only a short stretch before you get to ease off the accelerator and enjoy the leisure of Highway 83. The road weaves through the Santa Rita Foothills where desert flora fades into one of the finest grassland valleys of the Southwest—45,000 acres to be exact. Las Cienegas National Conservation Area preserves this landscape of cottonwood trees, spiny mesquite, and the rare marshes of a perennial creek. Stop and stretch your legs before the quick drive to Sonoita. 

Sonoita and nearby Elgin boast the largest concentration of wineries and vineyards in Arizona and the Santa Rita, Whetstone, and Huachuca mountain ranges that envelop grasslands and vine-covered hills. Take Highway 82 east to explore the tasting rooms; this will also link to SR-90, your route to Sierra Vista.

Lesser Goldfinch at San Pedro House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Huachuca Mountains punctuate the expansive views in Sierra Vista. Pine trees crowd the peaks and thick-leafed oaks in crimson and orange blanket the lower elevations. And all around, the sycamore and maple trees of Ramsey Canyon and the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area bloom in full fall color. 

Bisbee and the Mule Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finally, arrive in Bisbee in style. By style, I mean Mule Pass Tunnel, a dramatic entrance through the Mule Mountains that leads travelers into the stair-clinging slopes of Bisbee.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apache Trail Bypass: Highways 60 and 188 from Apache Junction to Roosevelt Lake

Driving Distance: 80 miles from Apache Junction

Turn-by-Turn Directions: From Apache Junction, drive east on US-60 to SR-188. Turn left and follow SR-188 north to Roosevelt Lake. 

Superstition Mountains along Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As scenic drives go, the 40-mile Apache Trail (Highway 88) winds through the Southwest’s most stunning scenery. It’s a rugged ribbon of hairpin turns and stark drop-offs that meanders past three lakes and carves through canyons and over the Superstition Mountains before concluding at Roosevelt Dam. 

Highway 88 runs northeast from Apache Junction passing through Tortilla Flat along the way to Roosevelt Lake. While you can still access the road to Tortilla Flat, the portion north of the town is temporarily closed. 

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel Advisory: In 2019, the Woodbury Fire burned several areas on the Apache Trail, and a 7-mile section of the road from Fish Creek Hill Overlook (milepost 222) to Apache Lake Marina (Milepost 229) remains closed. 

For a still-scenic alternative, leave Apache Junction via Highway 60. The Superstition Mountains with their jagged peaks are to the north. The “Supes” backcountry area delineates the transition from the Southern Sonora Desert to the Central Mountains. Take in the sight of thousands of saguaros set against colorful rock layers as you approach Miami. 

Along Highway 60 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here, you have two options: Continue on Highway 188 or hang in town to peruse the shops on Main Street, grab a bite to eat (crispy fried chicken at Dick’s), or visit the impressive Bullion Plaza Cultural Center & Museum. 

Then it’s north on 188. Unlike the original alignment of the Apache Trail, here the bends are gentle and the curves wide. No white-knuckling the steering wheel. Roosevelt Lake’s serene blue sparkle comes into view.

Along Highway 177 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Pueblo Back Way: Highway 177 from Phoenix to Tucson through Winkelman and Oracle

Driving Distance: 163 miles from Downtown Phoenix

Turn-by-Turn Directions: Drive east on US-60 out of Phoenix. Turn right and head south on SR-177. In Winkelman, pick up SR-77 and follow it south to Tucson. 

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel east on US-60 to Superior and Globe. Visit Besh-Ba-Gowah Museum, search out a rare find at the Pickle Barrel Trading Post, or munch on quiche at the Copper Hen. Follow SR-77 past the Pinal Mountain-shrouded ghost town of Christmas. You’ll want to spend time in Winkelman delighting in the fall glory of Aravaipa Canyon.

Besh-Ba-Gowah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue south to see the Galiuro Mountains rise from the golden grasslands. Thickets of oak, Ponderosa pines, maple trees, and Douglas fir cover the slopes, the tallest of which tops at 7,671 feet. Stop for a quick visit to the mining camps of Mammoth and Copper Creek.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next up: Oracle, where the hardwood forests of the Santa Catalina Mountains meet the desert. Oracle is your destination; good news because after sundown you’re rewarded with the celestial sights of the city’s International Dark Sky. 

In the morning, venture up to Oracle State Park, then south again on Highway 77 past Oracle Junction to Catalina State Park on the northwestern edge of Tucson.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs & Mad Max Cities: I-10 to Palm Springs and home through Joshua Tree National Park

Driving Distance: 653 miles round trip from Downtown Phoenix

Turn-by-Turn Directions: From the I-10, go south on CA-78 to CA-115. Turn right. Drive north on CA-115 to Wiest Road. Turn right and head north on Wiest. At Noffsinger Road, turn right, then make a quick left on Highland Canal Road. When you reach Beal Road, turn right and follow it to Salvation Mountain.

 “Let’s plan a fall colors drives on Interstate 10!” Said nobody, ever! But hear me out. This trip features all the hallmarks of an autumn getaway: quieting the noise, slowing the pace, and discovering new places.

Colorado River near Ehrenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading west on I-10, saguaro sightings become fewer and sand gathers in windswept piles. After crossing the Colorado River (you’re in California now), drive south on Highway 78. But first, fuel up in Ehrenburg, Arizona, and avoid the high cost of gas in the Golden State. This is the route to the Salton Sea through the hottest, driest corner of the Sonoran Desert

Salton Sea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Salton Sea sounds like a magical place ruled by a Greek god. In reality, it’s more mythological than magical. Accidentally created thanks to an irrigation “oops” in the 1900s, the Salton Sea once reigned as a 1950s retreat. Today, over-salinity has nearly dried it up. What’s left: brackish, murky water, a shore lined with decomposing bird and fish bones, and an abandoned beach town or two. Well, almost abandoned. 

Salton Sea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bohemians and wanderers have made their way here to set up desert communes of makeshift homes and life-size art. One striking example is Salvation Mountain, an art installation of discarded tires, old windows, rusted auto parts, and bright paint spelling out spiritual messages. The work is so strangely beautiful that it boasts a stamp of approval from the Folk Art Society of America and has been covered in National Geographic.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Salvation Mountain, drive north on Highway 111 to join I-10 to the Coachella Valley cities of Indio, Palm Desert, and Palm Springs. Immerse yourself in the fall foliage of the San Jacinto Mountains which loom over the valley at nearly 9,000 feet. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ferries you from the foothills to the peaks and hiking trails letting you wander among the vibrant leafy color.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the trip home, opt for the roundabout drive through Joshua Tree National Park. Start at the West Entrance, then follow a paved, two-lane road scattered with scenic pullouts and dotted not with maples and oaks, but with yucca, ocotillo, “jumping” cholla cactus, and its namesake Joshua trees.

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert, I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy. The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, and sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night. I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

National Fishing and Boating Week: Exploring National Water Trails

Discover the National Water Trails System during National Fishing and Boating Week

Summer is a great time to enjoy the outdoors and spend more time in nature. Fishing and boating allow you to release stress, relax, and enjoy wildlife.

The water is open. Take this opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and spend quality time with your family. National Fishing and Boating Week take place June 4-12, 2022.

Rivers are trails. They invite a visitor to put in and travel a distance to a destination or simply float to another landing upstream or downstream. 

Coosa River at Wetumpka (Alabama Scenic River Trail) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is a water trail?

Water trails (also known as blueways) are marked routes on navigable waterways such as rivers, lakes, canals, and coastlines for recreational use. They allow access to waterways for non-motorized boats and sometimes motorized vessels, inner tubes, and other craft. Water trails not only require suitable access points and take-outs for exit but also provide places ashore to camp and picnic or other facilities for boaters.

Georgia Coast Saltwater Paddle Trail at St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is the National Water Trails System?

The National Water Trails System is a network of water trails open to the public to explore and enjoy. National Water Trails are a sub-set of the National Recreation Trails Program. National Water Trails have been established to protect and restore America’s rivers, shorelines, and waterways; conserve natural areas along waterways, and increase access to outdoor recreation on shorelines and waterways. The Trails are a distinctive national network of exemplary water trails that are cooperatively supported and sustained.

Hudson River Greenway Water Trail (Champlain Canal) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Trails System Act of 1968 authorized the creation of a national system of trails comprised of National Recreation Trails, National Scenic Trails, and National Historic Trails.

National Water Trails are a subset of the National Recreation Trails. National Recreation Trails are co-sponsored by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and American Trails.

It’s a network of lake and other waterway trails designated as such by the U.S. Department of Interior. The system offers families vacation and recreational opportunities in scenic regions of the U.S.

Enjoy a trail.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bayou Têche Paddle Trail

State: Louisiana

Location: Iberia Parish, St. Landry Parish, St. Martin Parish, and St. Mary Parish

Length: 135 miles

Driving Directions: Access points include Port Barre, Arnaudville, Cecilia, Breaux Bridge, Parks, St. Martinville, Loreauville, New Iberia, Franklin, Patterson, and Berwick

Bayou Teche at St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The Bayou Têche is a watershed within the Mississippi River Basin draining approximately 58,500 acres of natural, agriculture, and urban lands into Vermilion Bay. Bayou Têche flows through the towns of Port Barre, Arnaudville, Breaux Bridge, Parks, St. Martinville, Loureauville, New Iberia, Jeanerette, and Charenton (Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana lands), Baldwin, Franklin, Patterson, Berwick, and small villages in between. Each town has a standard motorboat launch and many are being equipped with floating docks designed for kayaks and canoes.

Coosa River at Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama Scenic River Trail

State: Alabama

Location: From where the Coosa River enters the state in its northeast sector to Fort Morgan on the Gulf of Mexico

Length: 631 miles

Driving Directions: Numerous boat-launches along the Coosa and Alabama Rivers

Tensaw-Mobile Delta at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The Alabama Scenic River Trail is a recreational and tourism route destination for paddled and powered boats. At approximately 631 miles in length, the trail is the longest in a single state in the U.S. The Trail begins at the point where the Coosa River enters Alabama and continues down the Coosa River to its confluence with the Tallapoosa near Wetumpka. From this conjunction, the trail follows the Alabama River to its junction with the Tombigbee/Warrior system. The Trail then proceeds along the Mobile River and through the Tensaw-Mobile delta, along the Tensaw River, and its tributaries to Mobile Bay.

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black Canyon Water Trail

States: Nevada and Arizona

Location: Clark County (Nevada) and Mohave County (Arizona)

Length: 30 miles

Location: The 30-mile water trail is assessable at three points: Hoover Dam, Willow Beach, and Eldorado Canyon.

Lake Mead upstream from Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The Black Canyon Water Trail is located within Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The trip begins as the river flows at the base of Hoover Dam and meanders through 30 miles of the Colorado River where it enters Lake Mohave. Approximately 12 miles downstream from Hoover Dam, you arrive at Willow Beach, the only road-accessible portion of this stretch of river. Rental crafts are available. The river, in the next segment, becomes a lake but maintains the canyon environment with small bays and beaches appearing as you continue downstream.

Congaree River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree River Blue Trail

State: South Carolina

Location: River trail from Columbia south and east to State Route 601 landing

Length: 50 miles

Congaree River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: Starting near Columbia, the blue trail offers paddlers an opportunity to learn about the historic significance of the area. Continuing downstream paddlers cross the fall line and enter the Coastal Plain known for its countless sandbars, high bluffs, and extensive floodplain habitats. The highlight of the trail is the section along the Congaree National Park, a protected wilderness that is home to the largest continuous tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the U.S. Paddlers and hikers alike can enjoy the network of 20-miles of hiking trails within the park and take advantage of opportunities to camp, fish, watch birds, and study nature.

Georgia Coast Saltwater Paddle Trail at St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia Coast Saltwater Paddle Trail

State: Georgia

Location: Saint Marys to Tybee Island

Length: 189 miles

Georgia Coast Saltwater Paddle Trail at St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The paddle trail connects Cumberland Island National Seashore, four State Parks, six other state-protected areas, 77 Historic Sites, and other points of interest including National Monuments and city and regional parks. Saint Marys has a rich history dating back to the mid-1500s. The two points of access, Howard Gilman Waterfront Park and North River Landing allow access to the Saint Marys River and Cumberland Sound. West of Cumberland Island is the mouth of the Crooked River, home of Crooked River State Park which has a well-defined and popular kayak trail.

Hudson River Greenway Water Trail (Champlain Canal) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hudson River Greenway Water Trail

State: New York

Location: The Hudson River from Hadley to Battery Park in Manhattan and Champlain Canal at Whitehall to its confluence with the Hudson River at Fort Edward

Length: 256 miles

Hudson River Greenway Water Trail at Whitehall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The Hudson River Greenway Water Trail extends from the edge of the Adirondack Park at Hadley and the head of the Champlain Canal at Whitehall to Battery Park in Manhattan. Designed for the day-user as well as the long-distance paddler, it includes 94 designated access sites. Day use attractions include wildlife marshes, islands, historic sites, cities, downtowns, and hiking trails.

Colorado River at Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mohave Water Trail

States: Nevada and Arizona

Location: Lake Mohave and Colorado River below Davis Dam to the Laughlin/Bullhead City Bridge

Length: 76 miles

Colorado River at Laughlin looking across the river at Bullhead City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The Mohave Water Trail stretches along the Arizona and Nevada shorelines of Lake Mohave and the Colorado River below Davis Dam to Laughlin/Bullhead City. It provides access to sandy beaches, scenic desert areas, and unique historic sites including submerged cultural resources. Boat rentals, shuttle, and guide service for paddle craft, scuba diving, fishing, camping, and overnight accommodations and restaurants are available at two marinas and in Laughlin and Bullhead City.

Nantahala National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina Smoky Mountain Blueways

State: North Carolina

Location: Southwestern Mountains of North Carolina

Length: 167 miles

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The trail is located in the Little Tennessee Watershed and contains portions of the five major rivers: Little Tennessee, Nantahala, Tuckaseegee, Oconaluftee, Cheoah, and the lakes of Fontana, Nantahala, Glenville, and Santeetlah. The Little Tennessee River Basin encompasses the Nantahala National Forest and two National Park units—The great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway. In the Nantahala National Forest, visitors enjoy a variety of recreational activities from camping, whitewater rafting, canoeing, fishing, hunting, hiking over 600 miles of trails, and horseback riding.

Ohio River at Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ohio River Water Trail

States: West Virginia and Ohio

Location: The Ohio River and Little Kanawha River

Length: 57 miles

Ohio River at Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The Ohio River Water Trail is accessible from Marietta and Belpre in Ohio and Williamstown and Parkersburg in West Virginia. It is crossed by Interstate 77 and US Route 50.

There are over 100 species of fish in the Ohio River including spotted bass, sauger, freshwater drum, and channel and flathead catfish. Three of the islands on the Trail are part of the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Visitors are welcome to pull their canoes and kayaks up onto the shore and explore these islands on foot during the day.

The Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee Wilderness Canoe Trail System

State: Georgia

Location: Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Length: 120miles

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: There are multiple trails available for varying degrees of experience from one to five days in length. Each trail provides opportunities for viewing wildlife in a pristine natural setting. Alligators, black bears, egrets, sandhill cranes, and other species of animals inhabit the cypress swamps and open watery prairies of the Okefenokee. Visitors can access the trail system from the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area, Kingfisher Landing, and Stephen C. Foster State Park. There is also limited access from the north to Okefenokee Swamp Park.

Tennessee River at Chattanogga © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tennessee River Blueway

State: Tennessee

Location: Water trail joining many sites on both sides of the Tennessee River from Chattanooga (Chickamauga Dam) downstream to Nickajack Dam.

Length: 50 miles

Lookout Mountain Incline Railway at Chattanooga © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: Tennessee River Blueway encompasses a 50-mile stretch of the Tennessee River near Chattanooga. Experience Chattanooga’s bustling revitalized waterfront with its historic bridges and a few miles downstream the solitude of the Tennessee River Gorge. Pause to watch a great blue heron rookery on Maclellan Island and bald eagles in Moccasin Bend National Archeological District. Paddle in the wake of the ancients who first rippled these waters some 14,000 years ago.

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, and the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

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.

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

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.

Related: A Cheaper Mini-Vegas

Laughlin Riverside Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Related: Absolutely Best Road Trips from Las Vegas

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Related: Dam Bridge: Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

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.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Yuma: Gateway to the Great Southwest

Plan for sunny and warm in Yuma, Arizona

The true Southwest awaits in Yuma. Immerse yourself in rich culture and heritage rooted in centuries of history. Soak in blue skies and sun that shines 310 days a year—perfect for outdoor excursions.

Yuma is the winter lettuce capital of America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Yuma is known as the Winter Lettuce Capital—thanks to its abundant vegetable production—and it holds a Guinness World Record as the “Sunniest City in the World.” With a prime location overlooking the Colorado River and home to the well-preserved Wild West-era Yuma Territorial Prison, this destination is an ideal place to explore.

A river runs through it at Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your first stops should be the Yuma Visitor Center and the Colorado River State Historic Park, the former site of the Army Quartermaster Depot established in 1864. Stock up on brochures and maps and find the latest info on Visit Yuma’s food tours and specialty dinners which are a great way to experience the region’s agritourism.

The Yuma Quartermaster Depot was a U.S. Army supply distribution point for forts throughout the American Southwest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Park includes a visitor center, the office of the Depot Quartermaster, the officer’s quarters, the corral house, the storehouse, a passenger train car, and more. Visitors can learn about how supplies delivered by ship from the Sea of Cortez were distributed to Army forts throughout the Southwest.

Related Article: I Was Wrong About Yuma

Serving hard time in Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sitting on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River are the remains of Arizona’s famous Yuma Territorial Prison. On July 1, 1876, the first seven inmates entered the Territorial Prison at Yuma and were locked into the new cells they had built themselves. A total of 3,069 prisoners including 29 women lived within the walls during the prison’s 33 years of operation. You can tour the original cell blocks, guard tower, and solitary chamber. In the museum, browse prison artifacts and exhibits that tell the story of the prison staff and the notorious convicts.

Yuma as a Colorado River community © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore Yuma’s lush parks and perhaps spot a LeConte’s thrasher or the elusive black rail. Be sure to pick up a copy of Finding Birds in Yuma County AZ by local birder Henry Detwiler available at the Visitor Information Center. East Wetlands Park offers 400 acres of wetlands at the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area; it’s part of an environmental restoration effort that’s doubled the bird population and increased species diversity. There are paved pathways suitable for all abilities.

The old steam locomotive at Pivot Point Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

See a 1907 Baldwin steam locomotive, hear a “ghost train” travel along the original railroad alignment, and learn about the historic importance of the Yuma Crossing. The outdoor exhibit area opened in 2010 where Madison Avenue meets the river―the exact site where the first railroad train entered Arizona in 1877.

Yuma Territorial Prison is a living museum of the Old West © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Toast the survivors of the Territorial Prison at the Prison Hill Brewing Company with a craft beer and conversation. Then, continue a few blocks to Lutes Casino, a historic establishment dating back to 1901. Despite the name, there are no card tables or slot machines; however, you can shoot some pool, order food, shop, or eye the quirky décor: retro signage, vintage photos, and posters of iconic Hollywood stars.

Related Article: The Beating Heart of Yuma

The Yuma area is one of the largest date producing areas outside of the Middle East © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Never had a date shake? Now is your chance. You’re in date country after all. At Martha’s Gardens sip on a Medjool shake, a sweet and creamy concoction made from Medjool dates grown right on-property. While indulging take a tour of the grounds to find out how these dates are cultivated in the desert (offered November–March only).

The Peanut Patch is nuts for you. Stop for a visit. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Converted from a vaudeville house, the Yuma Art Center features a pottery studio, an artists’ gift shop, four visual-art galleries, and a 1912 theater. Before you leave, pick up a map for a self-guided tour of Yuma’s public murals and sculptures. Don’t forget to snap some photos!

Yuma’s historic downtown offers a wide variety of shopping, dining, and old-fashioned street fairs and festivals © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now it’s time to stroll Yuma’s downtown center. Stretch your legs without stretching your wallet as you shop for handmade wares and agri-centric souvenirs at Brocket Farms, Colorado River Pottery, and Desert Olive Farms.

E.F. Sanguinetti helped transform the economy of Yuma heading into and through the start of the 20th century © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Round out the day with a stop at the historic Sanguinetti House Museum and Gardens and Jack Mellon Mercantile. Named after the “Merchant Prince of Yuma” and a riverboat captain, respectively, these charming abodes are full of memorabilia and antiques, and frequently offer events such as tea time and haunted ghost tours.

Related Article: Yuman Nature

The Sanguinetti House Museum is a stop not to be missed © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now an Arizona Historical Society museum, Sanguinetti House Museum chronicles E. F. Sanguinetti’s (1867-1945) life as the Merchant Prince of Yuma. Visit the museum and hear stories of how Sanguinetti came to Yuma as a penniless young man at just 15 years old. He quickly grew to become a civic-minded businessman whose various enterprises—electricity, ice house, ranching, farming, merchandising, banking, and real estate—advanced his own well-being and that of the community he loved.

Related Article: Of Yuman Interest: Top 7 Attractions In and Around Yuma

Gateway Park is Yuma’s downtown riverfront park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three national wildlife refuges in the Yuma area—Cibola, Imperial, and Kofa—make up one of the country’s largest contiguous protected areas for wildlife. With more than 1,000 square miles between them, their ecosystems include desert, desert upland, riparian, grasslands, and forest.

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert, I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy. The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, and sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night. I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

Of Yuman Interest: Top 7 Attractions In and Around Yuma

You will find it all in Yuma

On the banks of the Colorado River, Yuma is tucked in Arizona’s southwest corner and shares borders with California and Mexico. About halfway between San Diego and Tucson, Yuma is a great destination for RVing snowbirds. Whether you’re a history buff or have a curious interest in how Yuma became the Gateway of the Great Southwest, we’ve got a list to help you get to some of the area’s top attractions.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get Locked Up — Fans of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures know it as “Hell Hole Prison” for the dark and twisted tales which linger long after the last inmates occupied this first prison of the Arizona Territory. For many others, the 1957 and 2007 films “3:10 to Yuma” are what bring this “Hell Hole Prison” to mind and, today, Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park is open, welcoming convicts of another kind. Turn yourself in for a fascinating experience, which includes a look into “The Dark Cell” and a look back at the men AND women who served hard time in Yuma. Parole include with the price of admission. For more information, click here.

Colorado River Crossing at Gateway Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A River Runs Through It — Yuma’s storied history as a Colorado River crossing point is only scratching the surface. The Yuma Quartermaster Depot was a U.S. Army supply distribution point for forts throughout the American Southwest, established in the 1860s. Believe it or not, steam wheel boats came up the Colorado River from the Gulf of California to drop those supplies off, making Yuma the ideal point along the river to get goods to personnel, until the Southern Pacific Railroad was finalized in the 1870s. Today, Colorado River State Historic Park preserves the history of the facility while providing more information about Yuma as a Colorado River community and the engineering behind one of its impressive canal systems. For more information, click here.

Sanguinetti House Museum and Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Jewel of Historic Yuma — As with so many stories about Yuma’s past, it isn’t just about the where or the what, but also who. E.F. Sanguinetti was a man who helped transform the economy of Yuma with his business acumen heading into and through the start of the 20th century. The Sanguinetti House and Gardens stands to honor his contributions and provide a deeper look into Yuma’s past.

1907 Baldwin locomotive at Pivot Point © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All Aboard! — The very first train to enter into Arizona did so at Yuma, crossing over the Colorado River from California in 1877. And, although that original crossing point no longer exists, a 1907 Baldwin locomotive sits on the very spot where the tracks entered town. At the Pivot Point Interpretive Plaza, visitors will find a revitalized park adorned with plaques detailing the railroad, the nearby tribal communities, and river history.

Cloud Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get Lost Looking at Stuff — You’ve seen the shows on television of “pickers” visiting vast collections of stuff, oftentimes many decades old. At the Cloud Museum, you’ll find one of those places neatly organized into an outdoor display of vintage cars, trucks, tractors, power tools, hand tools, household equipment, boat engines, wheels, and items from local businesses. The Museum, located just north of Yuma in Bard, California, is nearly 30 years of stuff assembled by its owner Johnny Cloud.

Historic Old Town Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the Town At the end of the Gila Trail, Main Street has always been the heart of “old Yuma.” In 1849, more than 60,000 California-bound gold-seekers followed this path to the rope ferry across the Colorado River. But being so close to the river, downtown often flooded and its adobe buildings melted back into mud. Because the last “big one” was in 1916, most Main Street buildings now date from the 1920s. 

Today, Yuma’s historic downtown offers a wide variety of shopping, dining, and old-fashioned street fairs and festivals.

Martha’s Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fruit of Kings — A food tour will enhance any visit to Yuma. The Yuma area now totals about 10 million pounds of Medjool dates a year, a $30 to $35 million dollar industry that employs more than 2,000 people annually. Since Yuma is a top producers of gourmet Medjools be sure to take a tour at Martha’s Gardens. After the tour ends, you’ll return to the farm store for samples and a delicious date milkshake, and we simply had to purchase a box of jumbo dates.

The Peanut Patch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’re Nuts about You! The Peanut Patch has become a rich tradition in Southwest Arizona. A trip to Yuma simply would not be complete without stopping by for a visit. You will be a welcome guest of the George family. Inside the store are hundreds of different candies and natural snacks that, when combined make great gift baskets, boxes, and tins suitable for any gift-giving occasions. Free tours are available.

Worth Pondering…

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.

—Henry Miller

The Yuma Crossing

Discover Yuma’s storied history as a Colorado River crossing point

The Colorado River State Historic Park (formerly Yuma Crossing State Historic Park) sits on the bank of the Colorado where river captains once sailed from the Gulf of California to unload supplies then kick up their heels in the bustling port of Yuma.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is located on a portion of the grounds of the old U.S. Army Quartermaster Depot established in 1864. This site is significant in the history of the Arizona Territory. The City of Yuma, through an Intergovernmental Agreement, supports operational costs at this Park. The purpose of the Park is to protect its historic structures and interpret the diverse history of the site.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ocean vessels brought supplies around the Baja Peninsula from California to Port Isabel, near the mouth of the Colorado. From there, cargo was loaded onto smaller steamships and brought upstream to Yuma. The depot operated from 1864 until 1883, when the arrival of the railroad made the long steamship route unnecessary.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of the original structures from that time are still standing. Made of adobe, essentially mud and plant material, they have survived well in Yuma’s dry climate. In fact, since their original construction, the buildings have been used by the Weather Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Signal Corps, the Border Survey, and the Yuma County Water Users Association as recently as the late 1980s.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorado River State Historic Park tells the history of the Crossing from prehistoric times until the present set in the backdrop of the old Quartermaster’s Depot. The area is also recognized as a key location in the cultural development of western history by the National Endowment for the Arts. Through the eyes of the Native Americans, entrepreneurs, steamboat captains, fortune seekers, and the military, it answers the questions of how the early emigrants survived or failed, living in one of the most rugged and isolated places in the world.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hernando de Alarcon, who accompanied Coronado on his search for the Seven Cities of Cibola, passed this site in 1540. Padre Kino saw the present location of the Quartermaster’s Depot in 1683, and Padre Graces established a mission directly across the river and was later killed there by the Indians in 1781.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuma began to experience the American westward surge when countless immigrants crossed by ferry from Yuma on their way to the California gold fields in 1849. In 1850, a military post was established at Yuma, and when rich placer gold strikes on the Colorado River precipitated a gold rush in 1858, Yuma experienced a boom. In 1871 Yuma incorporated and became the county seat of Yuma County.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Major William B. Hooper established the Quartermaster Depot on a high bluff overlooking the Colorado River. Supplies were brought from California by ocean-going vessels traveling around the tip of the Baja Peninsula and then north as far as the mouth of the Colorado River.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At this point supplies were transferred to river steamboats and brought up river to the Quartermaster Depot which served as a storage yard and a military supply center for fourteen military posts in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Southern Utah, and West Texas. The Depot maintained a six months’ supply of ammunition, clothing, and food at all times.

The depot operated from 1864 until 1883, when the arrival of the railroad made the long steamship route unnecessary.

Today, Colorado River State Historic Park preserves the history of the facility while providing additional information about Yuma as a Colorado River community and the engineering behind one of its impressive canal systems.

Back In Time, Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While visiting the park we found Back in Time, a delightful little pie shop and tea room tucked away in one of the buildings. We bought a whole pecan pie to enjoy back in the motorhome. The pie was incredible with an amazingly flakey crust. Sandwiches, a mixed greens salad, and three tier tea service are also available. The lady that runs the shop is very friendly and helpful, not to mention that she is also an excellent cook!

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes

A Cheaper Mini-Vegas

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.

While flying his plane over the Colorado River in 1964, Don Laughlin saw a world of potential in a strip of Nevada land across the river from Arizona’s Bullhead City. At the time the area was home to less than a thousand people. He took a big risk invested it into an old boarded-up eight-room motel. From there, success took over.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That motel added casino games and eventually evolved into the Riverside Resort with two massive towers. The town itself—about a 90-minute drive from Las Vegas—became official when postal services were established.

Don Laughlin is still going strong at 88 years and living in a penthouse at the top of his resort. The town that shares his name is now home to nine casino hotels, 10 if you include the Avi Resort about 15 miles south on Native American land. 

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Laughlin’s population is approximately 10,000 while Bullhead City and its unincorporated area boast a population of about 42,000 permanent residents. An estimated 14,000 Nevada and Arizona residents currently work in Laughlin’s hotels and casinos. Multi-million dollar Laughlin housing developments have rushed into construction to keep pace with the business boom.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stretch your legs while exploring Laughlin on foot at the Riverwalk. Well maintained and offering fantastic views of the city and the Colorado River, the Laughlin Riverwalk is a great way to get from one casino to the other while soaking up sights like Don Laughlin’s Riverside to the boats sailing by.

Laughlin © 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 quick. A single ride is $5, although wristband deals are available for unlimited rides.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If someone directs you to anything described as a “nightclub,” be warned it won’t be anything like Vegas. They’re mostly lounges with live bands and line dancing. Bikini Bay Bar & Nightclub is really a sports bar with pool tables and drinks served by girls in bikinis who dance on countertops. It’s probably the closest thing you’ll find to a strip club in Laughlin—and oddly enough, it’s at the outlet mall. 

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One local gem is Losers’ Lounge, a two-level drinking spot where the walls are decorated with framed photos of “losers” throughout history like OJ Simpson and Tonya Harding. The gallery stays surprisingly up to date—recent additions include Bill Cosby and Lori Loughlin. 

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No trip to Laughlin is complete without a detour to Oatman, a Route 66 ghost town in Arizona that has become a bit more touristy over the years. The new escape room at the local jail is fun. But be sure to visit the Oatman Hotel for lunch. The restaurant has buffalo burgers and the walls (and even parts of the ceiling) are covered with dollar bills.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the real draw is the burros roaming Oatman whose ancestors were brought in to work during the mining days. A few unwritten rules to follow: first—burros and dogs don’t mix. Second—don’t feed the burros carrots, which are high in sugar and do a number on the digestive tract. You’re more than welcome to feed them alfalfa squares, sold in bags for a dollar. Finally—when the burros are in the middle of the road (which they frequently are), they have the right of way. Cars have to wait, no matter how long it takes. No honking, revving engines, or doing anything else to encourage them to move along. The burros own the town!

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For another out-of-town excursion, Jet Boat tours travel nearly 60 miles down the river from Laughlin to Lake Havasu. You can hang out in the town for a few hours and check out London Bridge, a historic structure that actually spanned the River Thames and was brought over brick by brick. Along the way, the boat travels past the California town of Needles, the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, and vantage points that can only be seen from the water, including petroglyphs in Topock Gorge. 

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And if you’re looking for a selfie station take a photo with River Rick. Or at the Losers’ Lounge. Or at any one of the other gems in Don Laughlin’s little resort town.

Worth Pondering…

The road is there, it will always be there. You just have to decide when to take it.

—Chris Humphrey

A Quirky Gambling Town

How Vegas used to be

Here’s the craziest thing about Laughlin, Nevada: It didn’t even exist 55 years ago. In 1964, pilot Don Laughlin was cashing in as the owner of the 101 Club in North Las Vegas and, while flying his plane over the Colorado River, saw a world of potential in a strip of Nevada land across the river from Arizona’s Bullhead City. At the time, the area was home to less than a thousand people. He took a big risk invested it into an old boarded-up eight-room motel. From there, success took over.

Laughlin with Bullhead City across the Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That motel added casino games and eventually evolved into the Riverside Resort with two massive towers. The town itself—about a 90-minute drive from Las Vegas—became official when postal services were established. (You can’t have a post office without having a town name) The postmaster at the time was of Irish heritage and liked the name Laughlin, so all the stars seemed to align.

Laughlin along the Riverwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But Don was just getting started. Over the years, his civic projects would include an airport expansion, flood control work, and the opening of a ranch that provided beef to Laughlin’s restaurants. He even financed a bridge that crossed the water between Nevada and Arizona—right next to the Riverside Resort, of course. 

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

In case you’re wondering, Don Laughlin is still going strong at 88 years and living in a penthouse at the top of his resort. The town that shares his name is now home to nine casino hotels, 10 if you include the Avi Resort about 15 miles south on Native American land. 

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Laughlin’s population is approximately 10,000 while Bullhead City and its unincorporated area boast a population of about 42,000 permanent residents. An estimated 14,000 Nevada and Arizona residents currently work in Laughlin’s hotels and casinos. Multi-million dollar Laughlin housing developments have rushed into construction to keep pace with the business boom.

Looking across the Colorado River from the Laughlin Riverwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stretch your legs while exploring Laughlin on foot at the Riverwalk. Well maintained and offering fantastic views of the city and the Colorado River, the Laughlin Riverwalk is a great way to get from one casino to the other while soaking up sights like Don Laughlin’s Riverside to the boats sailing by.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try walking along the Riverwalk in the evening to enjoy the live bands that play on various sections of the walkway. If you’re not sure about what you want to do taking a stroll along this stretch of pathway is a great way to see what the city has to offer on any given day as well.

Laughlin © 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 quick. A single ride is $5, although wristband deals are available for unlimited rides.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 in the lobby adds to the 1960s ambiance.  

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aquarius is the largest resort with 1,900 rooms and a centralized casino with restaurants around the perimeter.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Situated across the Colorado River and up the hill from Laughlin is the small but historic town of Oatman, Arizona. Famed for being a living ghost town, Oatman was once a bustling community of over 10,000 people but has now dwindled down to a population of just over 100 people.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite being just a whisper of what it once was, Oatman is still a fantastic place for history buffs to visit thanks to its many historical buildings. There are also fantastic photo opportunities to be had in Oatman as well as exciting shows to catch, like those of the Ghost Rider Gunfighters, who perform gunfight recreations daily.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Because the greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.

—Emma Chase

Rediscovering the River: Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area

Discover Yuma’s storied history as a Colorado River crossing point

We first visited Yuma in the late 1990s and found little to hold our interest.

Gateway Park, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here was a desert town blessed with a river and you couldn’t find it, just a place of overgrown brush and littered garbage. We revisited Yuma a few years later and nothing changed. The town felt rundown and having a trashy core seemed to impact everything.

Eventually we thought we’d give Yuma another try.

East Wetlands, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What a difference! We were amazed at the transformation. Where there had been piles of garbage, there was a park. Where there had been a tangle of overgrowth, there were lighted pathways, picnic tables, sandy beaches, and groves of cottonwood trees.

Colorado River State Historic Park, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The river existed. And it flowed right through the heart of town. And I realized what had been missing. The Colorado River is more than a waterway. It is the beating heart of Yuma.

Gateway Park, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since we wanted to see this transformation up close we visited the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area and wandered the Pivot Point Interpretive Plaza, Gateway Park, and West Wetlands before crossing the river on 4th Avenue.

Gateway Park, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The very first train to enter into Arizona did so at Yuma, crossing over the Colorado River from California in 1877. And, although that original crossing point no longer exists, a 1907 Baldwin locomotive sits on the very spot where the tracks entered town. At the Pivot Point Interpretive Plaza, we found a revitalized park adorned with plaques detailing the railroad, the nearby tribal communities, and river history.

Pivot Point Plaza, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can climb into the cab (but please not on top of it). With 16 colorful panels describing how people crossed the mighty Colorado River in Yuma over the centuries, the plaza provides an excellent introduction to the history of Yuma Crossing, a National Historic Landmark.

Sunrise Point Park, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It also preserves the concrete pivot on which the original swing-span bridge turned to allow steamships to pass on the river—which before dams were built and water was diverted to Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Las Vegas—came up to the level of the plaza. A staircase from the plaza leads into Gateway Park.

Gateway Park, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gateway Park is Yuma’s downtown riverfront park. With convenient vehicle access of Gila Street and shaded parking under Interstate 8, Gateway Park has a large beach, picnic armadas close to the water, restrooms, playground, and large stretches of tree-covered lawns. It is located at the center of the riverfront multi-use pathways with a magnificent view of the historic Ocean-to-Ocean Highway Bridge.

West Wetlands, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The West Wetlands was the original site of Yuma’s “City Dump”. It closed in 1970 and Yumans dreamed of converting these 110 blighted acres into a beautiful riverfront park. Today these dreams are becoming a reality. With local, state, and federal financial support, the first phase of the park opened in 2002, including the lake, picnic armadas, boat ramp, restrooms, parking, and picnic areas. Each year since, more and more features have been added including the Ed Pastor Hummingbird Garden, a lighted multi-use pathway, Army of the West statue, a disc golf course, and the Stewart Vincent Wolf Memorial Playground, that kids love to call “Castle Park”.

East Wetlands, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another day we visited the East Wetlands and Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, drove over the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge, and wandered the Sunrise Point Park (part of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area).

East Wetlands, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Through a unique partnership among the Quechan Indian Tribe, City of Yuma, Arizona Fish and Game Department, and the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, more than 200,000 native species of trees and grasses have been planted over its 400 acres since 2004. On the south side of the Colorado River, there is a 3.5-mile signed hiking trail. For those interested in a shorter walk, there is a beautiful overlook along the river about one-half mile upstream from Gateway Park affording a 360-degree view of the wetlands. Part of the paved riverfront path extends along the edge of the Yuma East Wetlands on a canal levee.

Quechan Indian Museum, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the north side of the river, the Quechan Indian Tribe has developed Sunrise Point Park (Anya Nitz Pak), overlooking a restored marsh and 40 acres of the finest stands of native cottonwoods and willows along the lower Colorado River. The park is reflective of the tribe’s culture.

Worth Pondering…

The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.

—Okakura Kazuko

The Beating Heart of Yuma

Discovering the beating heart of Yuma

I did not like Yuma in the least.

We first showed up here in the late 1990s and found nothing to hold our interest. We had a hard time finding our way to the banks of the Colorado River—even though it was the river that put Yuma on the map.

Colorado River in Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here was a desert town blessed with a river and you couldn’t even find the river, just a dumpsite. I revisited Yuma a few years later and nothing changed. The town felt rundown and having a trashy core seemed to impact everything.

Fair or not, I was done with Yuma.

Yuma East Wetlands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or so I thought. Eventually I thought I’d give Yuma another try.

OMG! What a difference. The transformation amazed me. Where there had been piles of garbage, there was a park. Where there had been a tangle of overgrowth, there were lighted pathways, picnic tables, sandy beaches, and groves of cottonwood trees.

Gateway Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The river existed. And it flowed right through the heart of town. And I realized what had been missing. The Colorado River is more than a waterway. It is the beating heart of Yuma!

West Wetlands Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Yuma has about 150 acres of public parkland along the river, connected by miles of paved biking and walking paths, plus hundreds of acres of easily accessible wildlife habitat just steps from downtown. Two historic state parks—Colorado River and Yuma Territorial Prison—anchor the historic North End while public and private investment has helped to spark downtown development.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Native American tribes to Spanish explorers to gold-seekers, travelers found their way to Yuma for hundreds of years because this was the safest place to cross the mighty Colorado before dams tamed it.

Yuma East Wetlands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But as Yuma exploded in the mid-20th century, it turned its back to the river. With 90 percent of the water diverted further upstream and its banks overgrown with invasive vegetation, the Colorado River was a shadow of its former self as was Yuma’s historic downtown. The closing of the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway Bridge in 1988 could have been the death knell for both.

Yuma Historic Downtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But a dedicated group of Yumans was determined to reconnect the community to its literal lifeline. Despite fits and starts they had a vision for this desert town to “rediscover the river” —and through it, Yuma’s historic roots.

Pivot Point Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The catalyst for change was the creation of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, an independent nonprofit corporation authorized as a federal heritage area by Congress in 2000. The result has been an investment of nearly $100 million in Yuma’s riverfront over the last 18 years. That includes about $40 million from the feds, state, city, and foundations plus $30 million in private investment for construction of the Hilton Garden Inn and Pivot Point Conference Center.

Yuma Gateway Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historic significance aside, all that investment and hard work has also yielded numerous ways to discover the Colorado River and the Yuma Crossing. Here are a few suggestions to add to your Yuma bucket list:

  • Pedal away – Explore paved trails along the river and East Main Canal
  • Take a dip – Make a splash at three beaches (one at Gateway, two at West Wetlands)
  • Go fish – Drop a line at the West Wetlands pond, along the river, or in the back channel through the East Wetlands
  • Linger and learn – Get a capsule lesson in local history at Pivot Point Plaza
  • Bird’s eye view – Wildlife watching opportunities abound along the river
  • Tip your hat – Leaders of Yuma’s riverfront revival are recognized at Founders’ Plaza at Yuma Quartermaster Depot
  • Get the big picture – Enjoy a panoramic view atop the guard tower at the Territorial Prison
Yuma Gateway Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It seems like we never run out of things to see and do in Yuma. So let me state for the record. I was wrong. Yuma is truly a remarkable and interesting town for snowbirds to explore. And I’m glad to be back in Yuma.

Yuma Gateway Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.

—Anita Desai