For the uninitiated, "Arizona" might conjure mental images of dust-clouded highways and barren, cactus-laden mountains. The idea of water, much less lakes and rivers, doesn't fit in with a lot of folks' mindsets about the Southwest. The very mention of water sports in the Grand Canyon State sounds, well, kind of weird.
Perhaps that's why Arizona's houseboating scene is so robust – it's such an anomaly. Lake Powell alone is 186 miles long and has nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline. At the other end of the size spectrum is Lake Havasu; at 45 miles in length, it has a shore that stretches about 450 miles.
Houseboating has become so popular that the market is, excuse the pun, flooded with outfitters who are only a mouse click (or phone call) away from setting visitors up with a 40-footer houseboat, a 50-footer houseboat and many other types of ""-footers"" to use on multi-night camping excursions.
On Arizona's main lakes – Lake Powell, Lake Mead, Lake Havasu and Lake Mohave – houseboating is a year-round pastime, a kind of vacation that is as suited to loungers as it is to adventurers. These lakes border Utah, Nevada and California, surrounding Arizona like jewels in a necklace, all sharing a common trait: the Colorado River. The dammed-up waterway makes cities possible in this arid, yet spectacular, landscape. The artificial lakes also make improbable desert activities like houseboating possible.
Houseboating on Arizona’s Lakes
Begin in the morning on, say, Lake Powell. Cruise out past the day-trippers and the most popular areas, and ease down a side canyon that strikes your interest. Monumental red sandstone cliffs rise a few stories around you, offering some shade from the sun which, in the high desert country, seems simply brighter than elsewhere. Spend the afternoon swimming, hiking through Glen Canyon Recreation Area's myriad canyons, or fishing for largemouth or striped bass. Or don't do anything at all – just hang out on the boat, enjoying the singular vibe that goes with chilling out on your own floating castle. Spend the evening on the boat, or, for a change of pace, set up camp near the waterfront and take in a spectacular, star-filled sky.
Lakes Mead and Mohave offer far different views than Lake Powell, yet they're no less remarkable. Much of Lake Mohave is squeezed between canyon walls. The lake itself is 67 miles long, but spreads only four miles at its widest point. The lakes' proximity to the northwest Arizona Mountains is a highlight, as is their remoteness. Despite Lake Mead's gargantuan size (the largest of its kind in the U.S.), few roads lead to the waterfront. While that's unfortunate for car-bound sightseers, it's a plus for houseboaters wanting to get away from it all.
Lake Havasu has its own distinctions as well. For starters, as any local (or for that matter, any tourist brochure) will tell you, the London Bridge is here. (Come on, you know the tune.) Lake Havasu City, a preplanned town founded in 1963, leads a double life of sorts: it's comprised of both families and retirees, though on weekends, many young college students appear, lending a Spring Break atmosphere to the lake. Houseboating is popular here, too. Rent from one of the local outfitters, and you can either get an up-close look at this desert oasis (cruising under the London Bridge, naturally), or you can head downstream to get away from town and into the dramatic scenery of the Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge.
Arizona Houseboating Tips
Just about anyone can learn to operate one. ""We tell people that if you can drive a car, you can drive a houseboat,"" says Robert Boulds, of outfitter Houseboating.org, which serves Lakes Mohave, Powell and Mead. At virtually all houseboating outfitters, prospective houseboat captains receive training before launching.
It's best to rent a houseboat for a number of days, to get the full experience of living aboard. For a list of businesses that rent houseboats along Arizona lakes, refer to houseboating.org.
Summer is the most popular time of year for houseboating, so if you're interested, make reservations well in advance. But keep this in mind, says Boulds: ""The best time of year, I'd say, are the fall months. It's a little cooler, it's a little less crowded... and you get a better price.""
Don't over-pack. Amenities between different outfitters range greatly, but houseboats typically offer the same things you'll find in a hotel suite: bedrooms, a small kitchen and bathrooms. Of course, once aboard, you can't make a run to the supermarket, so bring groceries with you.