Travel date January 2021
Lake Havasu City is a nice lake town in central Arizona along the California border. The town offers several craft brewers, hiking and biking options, and year-round water activities. With an abundance of things to do and great scenery, we would be happy to return to Lake Havasu.
After spending the majority of January in Quartzsite with friends, we were forced to leave when our tanks were full. To read more about the quirky Arizona town of Quartzsite and its amazing desert sunsets, check out this blog.
Based on the weather forecast, we decided to head north and check out Lake Havasu. We were not disappointed. Lake Havasu is a gorgeous lake town with all of the conveniences of a big city. With free camping nearby, local craft breweries and several free things to do, Lake Havasu is a great stop on your next Arizona trip.
Lake Havasu’s 450 miles of shoreline attracts over 2.5 million visitors each year. Creative marketers have claimed Lake Havasu is home to the best beaches in Arizona. When I heard this I chuckled a little and immediately started humming George Strait’s 1986 chart-topper “Oceanfront Property in Arizona”. Technically the sandy lakeshore is a beach but there are no seaside beaches in Arizona.
Camping in Lake Havasu
Lake Havasu State Park is a popular campground but there are also several private campgrounds in town that cater to the winter RVers. Lake Havasu State Park offers direct lake access for easy boating, fishing, and swimming. We only visited Lake Havasu State Park to use their dump station. The $15 dump fee was a little higher than the standard but it was the cheapest dump station available between Lake Havasu and Quartzsite.
Free camping in Lake Havasu
We knew we wanted to camp for free on public lands. While dumping at Lake Havasu State Park, we were still debating between camping at Craggy Wash BLM north of town or Lake Havasu BLM south of town. We started chatting with another couple at the dump station. After spending the winter in Lake Havasu, they had moved between several BLM sites. They said Craggy Wash was more scenic and much better. So, we headed to Craggy Wash.
Craggy Wash was crowded when we arrived early afternoon mid-week. We aren’t super picky about our free campsites and found a site that was level with good solar orientation.
Our neighbors were fairly close and appeared to be long-term residents but during our week and a half stay, they were friendly and didn’t bother us. Our experience at Craggy Wash was pleasant. We loved that it was less than 10 minutes from town and campsites were nestled among the craggy stone cliffs of the wash. As an added bonus, we saw bighorn sheep on the rocky cliffs above our campsite while staying at Craggy Wash.
Things to Do in Lake Havasu
During our stay in Lake Havasu, we explored some of the most popular things to do including:
- Lake Havasu- Boating and Fishing
- London Bridge
- Bike or Stroll Grand Island
- Lake Havasu Lighthouses
- Hike or Bike SARA Park
- Aquatics Center
- Rotary Park
- Brewery Tour of Lake Havasu
Lake Havasu – Boating and Fishing
Lake Havasu was created by the construction of the Parker Dam on the Colorado River in the 1930s. The lake is 45 miles long and provides year-round fishing and recreational boating opportunities. Lake Havasu City is even known as the Personal Watercraft Capital of the World.
Free beach access is available at both London Bridge Beach and Rotary Park. A free motorized boat launch is available at Site Six on Grand Island. Non-motorized boat launch is available for free at Rotary Park or Mesquite Bay.
Check out this Lake Havasu paddling video from our friends Kristen and Jameson.
London Bridge is Lake Havasu’s claim to fame. While living in London I heard this story for the first time. I didn’t really believe it. But I saw the bridge myself and the signs posted nearby confirmed the story.
Is the bridge in Lake Havasu from London?
The stone bridge was constructed in 1831 over the River Thames in London. Sadly, the bridge was not constructed to withstand automobile traffic and steadily sank at a rate of an inch every eight years. The east side of the bridge was measured at four inches lower than the west side in 1924. In 1967, London began looking for a buyer for the old bridge and opened the sale for bidders.
How did the London Bridge get to Lake Havasu Arizona?
The founder of Lake Havasu Robert P. McCullough Sr won the bridge with his $2.4M bid in 1968 (nearly $19M in today’s dollars). He felt the bridge would drive tourism and improve local real estate. Included in the purchase of the bridge were ornate lampposts made from Napoleon Army’s melted cannonballs after the Battle of Waterloo.
After purchase, the bridge was dismantled in London. All 10,276 exterior granite blocks were numbered prior to being disassembled. The blocks were shipped via the Panama Canal to Long Beach California and then trucked from Long Beach to Arizona. The lake channel had to be dredged before the bridge could be built. Total costs for shipping, assembly, and dredging were $7M in 1970 dollars.
A steel frame replaced the previous interior construction reducing the overall weight by 60% and improving structural integrity to accommodate automobile traffic. Bridge construction lasted three years and the bridge was rededicated in 1971.
In conjunction with the bridge project, McCullough Properties built the English Village, an open-air shopping mall north of the bridge. There are still several English-themed shops around the bridge including a fish and chips shop and an English pub. Our expectations are fairly high after living in England for three years so we didn’t visit any of these tourist attractions.
The London Bridge connects Lake Havasu City to a small island, Grand Island.
Stroll or Bike Grand Island
Grand Island is easily accessible across the London Bridge. It is a great location for an afternoon outing. I would consider it a can’t miss thing to do in Lake Havasu. Parking is free once you drive over the bridge and there is a paved path that winds around the island. Bicycles and pedestrians are both welcome on the almost four-mile path. We enjoyed the lake views and mild winter weather during our walk around Grand Island.
A small owl flew over us and landed nearby during our walk. We aren’t bird watchers but find ourselves becoming more interested as we spent more time in nature. This little guy seemed like he was posing for photos. I believe he is a Northern Pygmy-Owl which is a diurnal owl species, hunting both at night and during the day. Their diet is composed primarily of songbirds.
The bonus of our walk was spotting a few of the Lake Havasu lighthouses.
Lake Havasu Lighthouses
There are many reasons why people love lighthouses but I believe I simply love them because they remind me of home. I grew up in North Carolina which has a notoriously dangerous coastline and is home to seven lighthouses. The NC coast is nicknamed the Graveyard of the Atlantic due to the number of shipwrecks lining the shores.
I was pleasantly surprised that Lake Havasu is home to 27 lighthouses. A lighthouse scavenger hunt is a great thing to do in Lake Havasu. Sadly, many of the lighthouses require a 4×4 vehicle so we only explored a handful of them.
The Lake Havasu Lighthouse Club funded and constructed all of these replicas along the lake’s shoreline to ‘promote, preserve and improve Lake Havasu’. They vary in size but the ones we visited were built at 1:3 or 1:4 scale.
The non-profit volunteer organization chose the location of the replica lighthouses based on their full-sized inspiration. Lighthouses located on the east coast of the US and Canada were built on the east side of Lake Havasu. And those inspired by west coast beacons were built on the lake’s western shores. A full list of lighthouses and their locations is available here.
Hiking or Biking SARA Park
SARA (Special Activities and Recreation Area) Park is a free county park with a network of hiking and mountain biking trails. Based on a recommendation, we chose to hike the SARA Crack trail. In hindsight, I am glad we chose to hike because the elevation changes would have been challenging on my bike. If you choose to hike or bike, SARA park is a great thing to do in Lake Havasu.
Hiking SARA Crack
Crack in the Wall Trail, also known as the SARA Crack trail, is aptly named. The narrow slot canyon leads from the trailhead to the shores of Lake Havasu. The five-mile roundtrip hike crosses through several different desert landscapes including slot canyons, narrow ravine, wash bottoms and across the top of hillsides.
The slot canyon had standing water in one section and we chose to go around that section which added about a mile and some rough terrain up and over the canyon ledges. After making the detour up and over and then walking into the other end of the canyon, we met other hikers who had walked through the water. Their legs were slimy and green from the knees down and I was happy to have skipped it.
The hike leads to a balanced rock along the shore of the turquoise waters of Lake Havasu.
A few ducks joined us while we ate our snack along the shoreline. They had no fear of humans and were almost professionals in the art of begging.
Our 6.2-mile loop hike included the SARA Crack trail and the Watershed trail along with a slight detour due to water in the slot canyon. We enjoyed the small rope and ladder sections of the SARA’s crack. Overall the canyon is quite wide compared to most slots which sometimes don’t even have the width clearance for a backpack.
Kevin enjoys swimming laps for exercise when possible. Lake Havasu’s Aquatics Center was open for lap swimming and we visited a few times while in town. Admission was $5 per person and includes access to hot showers.
The indoor/outdoor pool complex includes several waterpark features such as a wave pool, children’s pool and water slide. It is located in the C.V. Wood Community Center. The Lake Havasu Aquatics Center is a great year-round thing to do if looking for water fun regardless of the weather.
We didn’t visit Rotary Park during our stay in Lake Havasu but the beach, picnic and boat launch area are big attractions at the free park.
Lake Havasu Brewery Tour
The number of local craft breweries in Lake Havasu is impressive. During our stay, we did a self-guided tour of the local breweries.
Mudshark is by far the largest brewery in town with multiple locations. We visited their taproom location and enjoyed the view of the lake from their deck. The amphitheater-style town design makes the lake the main attraction. Rising from the banks of the lake, the slightly sloping town provides great lake views from most locations.
I really enjoyed their Peaceful Pumpkin Ale and Hot for Teacher Apple Ale. Both were brewed with cinnamon and served with a cinnamon sugar rim on the glass. They were deliciously sweet and lovely. Kevin enjoyed several of their brews and purchased a 6 pack of the Scorpion Amber Ale and a growler of the Scotch Ale to go.
College Street Brewery
We made a quick stop at College Street Brewery for a happy hour pint. Happy Hour is from 3p-6p most days and all day Sunday. Pints were $4.50 during happy hour and several appetizers were available for around $5. College Street’s Big Blue Van, an American style wheat infused with vanilla and blueberries, is their most famous beer.
I love fruit wheat beers but blueberry beers are less appealing to me. The Big Blue Van was okay but I didn’t want a second pint. We found blueberry wheats at the other Lake Havasu breweries but didn’t try them.
Hanger 24 Brewery
We chose to visit Hanger 24 Brewing for their Taco Tuesday specials. In hindsight, we probably would not go back on a Tuesday evening. We enjoyed the live music but it was a popular location and the bar lines were long. The tacos were okay but nothing special.
Kevin had the Alt Bier Amber Ale and the Pacific Coast Hazy IPA but neither inspired him to take them home. The beer choices were IPA focused and I don’t enjoy hop-heavy brews. After a pint of the Citrus Blonde, I skipped the beer and opted for the $5 Margarita special. The highlights of Hanger 24 were watching the planes at the adjacent airport and the local musicians playing Tuesday Taco ‘n Tunes.
The only other dining out we did in Lake Havasu was a convenient choice rather than a planned dining destination. While running errands in town, we saw Chico’s Tacos located near Harbor Freight and decided to try it.
The Carne Asada and Carnitas burritos at Chico’s were both massive and delicious. Chico’s is a quick-serve restaurant with counter service and the food was very good. In hindsight, we didn’t need to order side items as the burritos were more than enough food on their own.
Summary Lake Havasu
We were happy we chose to detour through Lake Havasu Arizona. During our week and a half visit, we found plenty of things to do in this popular winter RV destination. With several craft brewers, hiking and biking options, and year-round water activities available, Lake Havasu is a great Arizona “beach” destination.