Wind whips through your hair and chilly water splashes on your sun-warmed skin as you thunder up a narrow canyon along the Colorado River. The jet boat’s wake sends waves skittering against the reed-lined shore. Overhead, in a cloudless azure sky, white pelicans with outstretched black wings ride the desert thermals, circling slowly up, up, up. In this moment, you feel blissfully cut off from the rest of the world. And you realize why so many consider the hundreds of miles of sparkling blue-green water that ribbons along Arizona’s west coast – from Lake Mead National Recreation Area to Yuma – a boater’s paradise.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Lake Mead, the largest manmade reservoir in the country, straddles Arizona’s border with Nevada and is a favorite among boaters and water-sports enthusiasts who rent or bring their own pontoon boats, WaveRunners or power boats for water-skiing, knee boarding or wakeboarding. Surrounded by endless vistas, mountain ridges that repeat to infinity and desert basins brimming with cacti and creosote, the lake’s broad expanses of open blue-green water extend up the Colorado River for 110 miles behind gigantic Hoover Dam, an engineering feat completed in 1936 that has since become one of the country’s most visited landmarks.
For another Colorado River boating adventure, head south of Lake Mead to Bullhead City. This town began as a construction camp for the Davis Dam that formed Lake Mohave, a 67-mile stretch of the Colorado River sandwiched between the steep walls of Pyramid, Painted, Eldorado and Black canyons. It’s a popular destination for riding personal watercraft – whether you have your own or rent at Katherine’s Landing.
Lake Havasu City
In the short 70-mile stretch between Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City, three picturesque deserts – the Sonoran, Mojave and Great Basin – converge. At the end of this scenic journey, the traveler is rewarded with Lake Havasu, dubbed the “Personal Watercraft Capital of the World.” The 45-mile-long lake formed by the Parker Dam is flanked by Lake Havasu State Park, framed by rugged cliffs, sparkling blue-green water and azure skies. Every year, tourists flock to the lake and the nearby river for wet and wild adventures, such as riding personal watercraft or water-skiing the Colorado River, or a relaxing lake tour aboard a paddle wheeler or jet boat. You can bring your own watercraft toys or rent them lakeside in this town known for its most famous landmark, the London Bridge.
The Parker Strip
Between the town of Parker and the Parker Dam is a 16-mile section of scenic waterway affectionately called the “Parker Strip.” It’s dear to adventurers’ hearts because Parker water sports – water-skiing, wakeboarding and knee boarding, to name a few – are in full swing from the first hint of spring to the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Meanwhile, others choose boating in Parker to simply relax and bask in the beauty of this desert oasis lined with parks, RV resorts and restaurants.
In the early 1900s, cowboy Jack Fuss was quoted as saying the Colorado River is as “wild as a roaring tiger. It was so full of silt that if you fell in, your clothes would fill up and sink you.” Chances are, Fuss was exaggerating a bit, but today that roaring tiger has been tamed by dams that have created beaches, coves, wildlife viewing and tranquility along the miles of shoreline outside of Yuma. Here, popular activities include Colorado River speed boating, water-skiing and tubing, as well as jet boat and sternwheeler trips operated by Yuma River Tours. For a one-of-a-kind adventure, book a trip on the Colorado King paddleboat, a 15-ton double-decked sternwheeler that draws only 12 inches of water when fully loaded.