Arizona’s West Coast Boasts Route 66 & Aquatic Desert Playgrounds
Whether you dress it up with Route 66 memorabilia or zone in on the cooling waters of the Colorado River, Western Arizona has exactly what it takes to turn the first-time visitor into a lifelong enthusiast.
You don’t need a lot more than a swimsuit and a laidback mindset for a sublime adventure along Arizona’s “West Coast.” It’s the mighty Colorado that sets the pace: the river traces the Arizona border with Nevada and California; dams have created an aquatic desert playground of lakes and reservoirs with unlimited places to boat, fish, swim and connect with nature.
Connected by the Colorado River, the West Coast communities each have their own storied past and distinct personality. Try one of these four vibrant stops:
Kingman is a community bathed in history – it has been called the “Heart of Historic Route 66” and was once the site of bustling silver and gold mines. Kingman has a classic Old West downtown with dozens of buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The river water widens into an expansive lake at Lake Havasu City. Nicknamed the “Personal Watercraft Capital of the World,” it’s one of the Southwest’s premier spots to indulge in water play. Lake Havasu is the perfect environment for water and land enthusiasts alike, with boat rentals, water sports, outdoors adventures, golfing and shopping.
Another popular stop for water babies is the city of Parker, located on the bank of the Colorado River south of Lake Havasu. Waters flow quickly along this stretch of the river, making it a popular spot for river tubers, water skiers and fishermen.
Just a stone’s throw from the international border with Mexico, Yuma has always played an important role in the history of Arizona. A landscape of flat desert, Yuma was the safest spot to cross the Colorado River, so many pioneers and explorers left their mark there.
Must See, Must Do
- Enormous coloured balloons float above the Sonoran Desert in Yuma during the annual Colorado River Crossing Hot Air Balloon Festival.
- Stop at Lake Havasu to see the London Bridge. In the late 1960s, more than 10,000 stones of the original bridge were disassembled in London, England, shipped across the ocean and reassembled on Arizona’s West Coast as a major tourist attraction.
Step Into History
- From the Route 66 scenic overlook at Sitgreaves Pass near Kingman, there’s a birds-eye view over the states of Arizona, California and Nevada. The roadway is famous as a route for travellers in the 1930s, heading west in search of opportunity, although the steep, hairpin turns of the Black Mountains were enough to elevate the heart rate of even the most confident driver. In downtown Kingman, murals and life size dioramas at the Powerhouse Route 66 Museum capture a snapshot of the evolution of Highway 66.
- One can only spend so much time splashing in the water. After the serious history buffs have towelled off, they’ll find their fix at the Lake Havasu Museum of History. The museum touches all the historical highlights – the local tribes, mining, steamboats, Parker Dam and the quirky placement of the famous London Bridge.
- The Mohave Museum of History & Arts in Kingman is filled with artifacts, dioramas and displays on the history of the ranching, mining and Native American culture of northwest Arizona.
- On a bluff overlooking the Colorado River at Yuma, the infamous Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park is a forbidding reminder of life behind bars in the late 19th century. The locks are now open and visitors can peek into the granite cellblocks and solitary chambers that once housed thousands of prisoners.
- Yuma’s Castle Dome Mines Museum is a snapshot in time, now a deserted town-turned-museum filled with weather beaten buildings; the restored townsite harkens back to the days of Arizona’s lucrative mining history.
Bring The Kids
- Kingman’s annual Mighty Mud Mania is a way for the kids to be filthy dirty and happy. Children and adults navigate through a muddy obstacle course to reach the finish line.
- The best part of staying in Lake Havasu City is being on the water. Active teens hunting for thrills will find them wakeboarding and waterskiing on the glassy waters near the south end of the lake. Lessons and equipment rentals are available.
- Getting waaaay underground will be just the jaw dropping experience for many bored kids. Walking tours of Grand Canyon Caverns head deep underground into the largest dry cavern in the U.S.
People At Play
- Just outside Parker, Copper Basin Dunes OHV Area is a large open area with riding landscapes that include sand dunes, canyonlands and trails throughout the broad bajada slopes.
- It’s easy to slip in a tee time at one of the West Coast’s courses. The challenge is finding the right balance of fishing, swimming, boating and golfing. Courses in the area offer excellent winter golfing conditions and reasonable green fees.
- Fishing has always been a major draw along Arizona’s West Coast. The waters around Bullhead City boast the world’s record for the largest freshwater striped bass ever caught. Casting and trolling are popular all through the cold, fast-moving Colorado River and the larger, quieter lakes of the region.
- Wakeboard Island opened at Parker’s Blue Water Resort & Casino – a two-tower, cable pulley system that allows wake-boarders to experience a “skate-park style” wakeboard ride without the need for a boat.
The Havasu National Wildlife Refuge near Parker protects 500 kilometres of Colorado River shoreline. In addition to being an important habitat for migratory birds, the length of water flowing through spectacular Topock Gorge is one of the last remaining natural stretches of the lower Colorado.
- There are parklands galore along the West Coast, ranging from Buckskin Mountain State Park’s unique blend of upland desert, marsh and desert riparian habitat to the bass fishing depths of Lake Havasu’s Cattail Cove State Park.
- Paddlers looking for quiet waters will be happy at the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge near Parker. The stark but beautiful desert landscape has changed little since the pioneers first blazed their westward trails.
- The mountains of the desert meet the waters of the Colorado River near Yuma to create the backwater lakes and wetlands of Imperial National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge’s more than 3,200 hectares protect a delicate wildlife habitat that’s popular with hikers and photographers.
The Road Trip 66 app (available through iTunes) uses GPS to track a route along the blacktop byway known as America’s Mother Road.