Because of its location along the Colorado River, this town offers outdoor attractions and fascinating side trips, in addition to renowned entertainment.
By Frederick Charlton
People go to Laughlin, Nevada, because it offers fun and games, right? Well … partly right. It also is surrounded by some of the West’s best outdoor recreation areas. The combination gives visitors just about any kind of fun they want. Entertainment? You bet. Food and plenty of it? Absolutely. Boating, fishing, camping, hiking, golf, and panning for gold? All of the above.
Probably one of the best parts is that Laughlin is generally inexpensive when compared with its larger counterpart to the north, Las Vegas. Anyone who has experienced “sticker shock” in Las Vegas can appreciate the prices in Laughlin.
Noted mainly for its 10 modern hotel-casino complexes, Laughlin is situated on the Colorado River 55 miles downstream from Hoover Dam. Its ideal location brings into play the vast recreational opportunities offered by the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Closest to Laughlin is Lake Mohave, created by the Davis Dam, just north of the city. Within a short distance of town are several marinas, resorts, and campgrounds, which follow along Lake Mohave for 25 miles to Nevada’s Cottonwood Cove. But first, let’s explore the nightlife found in Laughlin.
Laughlin is for fun
But it wasn’t always that way. Thirty-seven years ago Laughlin had one old, windswept, closed-up motel along the riverbank. Yet its location 100 miles south of Las Vegas appealed to Don Laughlin, a successful Vegas casino operator. The fact that the town was along the river and also near Lake Mohave convinced Laughlin that it would be a good place to put his Riverside Resort Hotel and Casino. As Laughlin paved the way, other hotel operators jumped on the bandwagon.
Nine of the 10 hotel-casinos are in Laughlin proper. The 10th, the Avi Hotel and Casino, which is owned by the Fort Mojave Indian tribe on their reservation land, lies a few miles south.
The games people play
The variety of ways for people to play in the casinos is astonishing. All have standard slot machines as well as video poker, keno, and 21. Then there are card games (blackjack, poker), roulette wheels, craps, and keno lounges “” all open around the clock. Many of the casinos stage tournaments where players compete in video poker and slot machine games. An entry fee usually includes a room, brunch, and other food credits.
Other types of drawings “” for cash, cars, and other merchandise “” also are big attractions. Harrah’s holds a “Treasure Hunt” every six weeks with prizes up to $5,000. Winners compete in a once-a-year drawing for a $1 million grand prize.
Take a break; have dinner; see a show
A main draw for Laughlin visitors is the nonstop entertainment offered by the casinos. Headliners have included Bill Cosby; Tim Conway and Harvey Korman; Olivia Newton-John; Billy Ray Cyrus; and Debbie Reynolds. A variety of lounge acts, including musical groups, magicians “” even boxing matches “” add to the more than 50 different shows offered at Laughlin casinos in just one month.
In between the shows, visitors can exercise their taste buds at one of the 70-plus restaurants, grills, and buffets found in the hotels. And if those aren’t enough, another 100 or so eating establishments are located across the river in Bullhead City, Arizona. Patrons can dine in gourmet style or settle for burgers and soft drinks. Buffets are most popular and are open at all hours for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night snacks.
After the fun and games, what else?
For starters, the hotels offer many interesting diversions. The Riverside Resort has a world-renowned antique and classic car exhibit; the Ramada Express operates a working steam locomotive with passenger cars to haul its guests around its 27-acre property. This hotel also includes a museum dedicated to America’s veterans from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, and offers a special film, The American Spirit, shown daily each hour from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Several of the hotels have completed a landscaped, scenic “river walk,” a relaxing place to view river traffic and the myriad waterfowl that make the Colorado River their home.
Just across the bridge from Laughlin in Bullhead City is the Colorado River Museum, a place to catch up on the history of this region. Note especially the old photos of river steamers, which churned up the Colorado River from the Gulf of California to Hardyville, where Bullhead City now stands. These shallow draft vessels (less than 3 feet deep) opened up the region to mining development in the Black Mountains east of the river; established trade with the Indians; and aided in building Arizona’s cattle industry “” all within a few decades, from the 1850s to the early 1900s.
Best bets for a great vacation
Many visitors, especially families, take advantage of the outdoor recreation facilities available within a 20-mile radius of Laughlin. One of the most popular spots is Katherine Landing, part of the Lake Mead Recreation Area. Situated on the Arizona side of the river, it is a few miles north of Davis Dam and is the most popular recreation site at Lake Mohave. Katherine Landing is on a crescent-shaped harbor protected by surrounding hills and is the home port to nearly 1,000 pleasure boats. It is administered by the National Park Service.
Katherine Landing has 800 slips for privately owned boats, plus space for a rental fleet of 44 houseboats and 70 water ski and fishing boats. As of September 15, 2002, Lake Mead and Lake Mohave are off-limits to personal watercraft (jet skis).
The National Park Service maintains a ranger station at Katherine Landing that oversees 150 campsites for RVs and tents. A 30-day stay limit is applied. No hookups are available, but the campground offers a dump station, showers, and rest rooms. Maps, hiking guides, and other information may be obtained at the ranger station, or by phoning the station at (928) 754-3272 for more details.
The park concessionaire, Seven Crown Resorts, runs the 50-room motel at Katherine Landing, as well as a 25-space RV park with full hookups, a supply and grocery store, boat rentals, and the harbor itself. Additional facilities include a boat repair shop and a dry storage area for watercraft. Phone (520) 754-3245 for more information.
While recreational boating is the most popular activity at Katherine Landing, fishing is a close second. Near the landing, bass and trout fishing heads the list; farther out on Lake Mohave, anglers can find good-sized striped bass, some in the 25- to 40-pound range. State fishing licenses are required, as is a trout stamp for that variety. A fishing information bulletin outlining regulations for both Lake Mohave and Lake Mead can be obtained at the ranger station.
Five miles north of Katherine Landing is Princess Cove, another boat launching site operated by the National Park Service. Other launch sites may be found at Telephone Cove and Cabinsite Point, each several miles north of Katherine Landing. Telephone Cove has a swimming beach, too.
The Lake Mead NRA entrance fee is $5 per day per vehicle (includes all passengers) or $20 for an annual pass. Holders of Golden Age and Golden Access passports are admitted free. The lake use fee for boats is $10 for the first boat and $5 for each additional boat. Complete entry and fee information may be obtained by calling the Lake Mead NRA fee management office at (702) 293-8491.
A historical note: Katherine Landing derives its name from the famous Katherine Mine, which began operations nearby in 1900. Over the following 40 years, it produced more than $2 million in gold.
Quick and easy side trips
Oatman, Arizona, is 18 miles southeast of Laughlin and Bullhead City along historic Route 66. The town keeps a herd of reasonably tame burros that are allowed to mingle on the streets with the tourists. You’ll want to check out the shops and restaurants, too.
A couple of miles up the road is the Gold Road Mine, which produced millions of dollars in gold for its former owners in the early 1900s. New owners now offer a 45-minute walking tour of the mine that tells about its history and lets you see gold as it actually appears in the rock walls. (Phone 928-768-1600 for more information.) If you’re not in a hurry, take the stagecoach ride that travels 2 miles from Oatman to the mine. Another attraction is the hotel where Carole Lombard and Clark Gable spent part of their honeymoon back in the 1930s.
From Oatman you can follow Route 66 south through the desert to the town of Topock on the Colorado River; from there, take a 30-mile trip via Interstate 40 and State Route 95 to Lake Havasu City and its famed London Bridge. Yes, this is the original bridge, taken apart piece by piece in England and reassembled in this desert city. Maps and information about these easy-to-take side trips are available from the Laughlin Visitor Information Center.
A brief 10-minute drive west of Laughlin via State Route 163 leads you to a desert oasis long favored by mankind. This canyon offers prehistoric clues about early dwellers of the Colorado River region in the form of more than 700 rock markings, called petroglyphs, along with pottery shards, basket fragments, and ancient “twig” dolls “” all indications of the early cultures who lived here centuries ago. Some of the markings are only 150 to 200 years old, while others are more than 800 years old.
The canyon walls have holes big enough to serve as shelters, where it’s believed prehistoric Indians found refuge “” and cooler temperatures. It’s only a quarter-mile hike from the canyon parking area to the mouth of the canyon itself, but be sure to wear good hiking shoes and carry water with you. The National Park Service publishes a useful information sheet about the canyon, including directions on how to get there, which is available at the Katherine Landing Ranger Station.
Forget all this hiking stuff. I’d rather play golf!
In Laughlin, golfers aren’t forgotten. Nine golf courses dot the area; four are in Laughlin and Bullhead City, one is located near Fort Mojave, and four require some driving: Needles, California (25 miles); Kingman, Arizona (33 miles); and Lake Havasu City (approximately a one-hour drive). Check the Laughlin area visitors guide for details.
In Laughlin, RVers can find a variety of things to do and plenty of action, plus great entertainment and sumptuous meals. Vacationing families will enjoy opportunities for boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, and more. And for the curious tourist, museums, old mining towns, and desert wonders are waiting.
Laughlin is a place where everyone’s a winner.
Laughlin Visitor Information Center
1555 Casino Drive
Laughlin, NV 89029
Bullhead Area Chamber of Commerce
1251 State Route 95
Bullhead City, AZ 86429
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
601 Nevada Highway
Boulder City, NV 89005
Area RV Parks
For more campground listings, contact the Laughlin Visitor Information Center; check the FMCA Business Directory, in the January and June issue of Family Motor Coaching and online at FMCA.com; or consult your favorite campground directory. Keep in mind that most major hotels in Laughlin permit RV parking in their lots also.
Riverside Resort RV Park
1650 S. Casino Drive
Laughlin, NV 89029
Avi Resort RV Park
10000 Aha Macav Parkway
Laughlin, NV 89029
(800) 284-2946 (reservations)
Blackstone RV Park
3299 Boundary Cone Road
Bullhead City, AZ 86440
Davis Camp (Mohave County Park)
P.O. Box 2078
Bullhead City, AZ 86430
River City RV Park
2225 Merrill Ave.
Bullhead City, AZ 86442
Katherine Landing RV Park
Seven Crown Resorts
2690 E. Katherine Spur Road
Bullhead City, AZ 86429
Special Events Staged In Laughlin, Nevada
Following are the major events offered throughout the year. These exciting crowd pleasers attract thousands of spectators who watch from both sides of the river. For the actual dates, contact the Laughlin Information Center.
Winter Break “” This festival, which celebrates life for the 50-plus age group, offers non-stop entertainment and activities such as sand volleyball games, dancing, bingo, cooking classes, educational seminars, and senior-friendly entertainment.
Laughlin Desert Challenge “” Laughlin is the title series sponsor of SCORE International Off Road Racing. Sixteen classes of desert race cars and exotic trucks participate in this event over a weekend.
Cloud’s Jamboree “” A rock, gem, jewelry, bead, and mineral show, with hotels hosting exhibits and vendor displays.
Laughlin River Stampede “” This five-day PRCA Rodeo event features America’s best cowboys competing for more than $225,000 in prize money.
Laughlin River Run “” More than 60,000 motorcycle enthusiasts roar into town for this five-day Harley-Davidson affair, the largest on the West Coast.
Laughlin Mile Dragon Boat Challenge “” Local and international teams in friendly competition paddle traditional 44-foot Chinese war canoes along a one-mile stretch of the Colorado River, kept in rhythm by a drummer seated in back of the boat.
Laughlin Professional Bull Riders Built Ford Tough Series “” Part of the PBR tour, this event features 45 of the top bull riders competing in two days of action for a spot in the National Finals Rodeo and $100,000 in prize money.
Laughlin Team Roping Finals “” The U.S. Team Roping Championships host hundreds of team ropers for four days of competition at Laughlin Events Park.
Ring In The New Year, Laughlin Style “” Hotels go all out with live entertainment, music, favors, and balloon drops in the countdown to the New Year.