The thrill of whitewater rapids, awe-inspiring canyons, epic fishing deep in the shade of riverside forests, and serene morning views aboard a houseboat on a large reservoir. These are just a few of the pleasures that can be discovered along the Colorado River, which not only carved out the Grand Canyon over millennia but defines the border of Arizona and California, known as Arizona's west coast.
Here, you'll encounter a world-famous Arizona oddity: the London Bridge, which was plucked from the River Thames, transported from England and reassembled on Lake Havasu. Then there are Yuma's national wildlife refuges, where you can spot bighorn sheep or captivating birds like great blue herons, blue-winged teals or snowy egrets. The Colorado River and the many lakes and reservoirs in this area teem with water adventure—from the adrenaline rush of riding a jet ski on Lake Mead, the nation's largest reservoir, to the tranquility of a one-of-a-kind paddleboat as it lazily chugs up the river outside of Yuma.
Don't know where to cool off first? Here are the basics every traveler should know before exploring Arizona's west coast. These places will definitely have you soaking up the sunshine and inspire you to get packing for a warm outdoorsy vacation.
Start in Yuma
With a great mix of outdoor activities, Yuma is perfect for kicking off a vacation with excitement and energy.
A true desert oasis, Yuma sits on the banks of the Colorado River, which means there's just as much adventure on the water as there is on land. Along the Colorado River's long shoreline, popular activities include fishing, tubing, speed boating and waterskiing as well as jet boat and sternwheeler trips.
Back on land at the Cibola and neighboring Imperial national wildlife refuges north of Yuma, you can experience the last vestiges of the so-called "American Nile." This river is lined with cottonwood-willow forests, cattail wetlands and lagoons, and this delicate ecosystem is a haven for bird watching and wildlife viewing. For those that like a little more dirt on their clothes, there are several trails that offer hardcore single and double tracks for mountain bikers, as well as ATV trails.
Yuma is also packed full of heritage and culture, from petroglyphs and museums to the territorial prison and historic downtown. The Main Street of downtown is still the vibrant heart of the city with shopping, dining, and entertainment, so leave the evenings for exploring this historic town.
Then go to Lake Havasu City
Follow the river a few hours north to Lake Havasu City, where more water-play and entertainment live on the famous Lake Havasu.
There's an intriguing real-life sequel to the old nursery rhyme "London Bridge is Falling Down." Turns out, it fell down and was reconstructed to be a striking centerpiece of Lake Havasu City, where English architecture, food and shopping add to the ambiance. Parks and beaches near each end of the bridge make ideal spots for leisurely strolls, picnics or swimming. The 72-kilometer-long lake formed by the Parker Dam is flanked by Lake Havasu State Park and is framed by rugged cliffs, sparkling blue-green water and azure skies. Water sports enthusiasts flock to the lake and the Colorado River for jet skiing, waterskiing or a relaxing lake tour aboard a paddle wheeler or jet boat.
Off the lake, this adventure oasis doesn't slow down—golfing, dining, hiking, biking and year-round fun reign supreme with a "play like you mean it" attitude. This is truly an all ages and interests destination that dares you to enjoy endless entertainment by water, land and storefront.
End with Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Another two and a half hours north and you'll arrive at Lake Mead, the largest manmade reservoir in the country. Endless vistas and mountain ridges that repeat to infinity, and desert basins brimming with cacti and creosote surround it.
Straddling Arizona's border with Nevada, the lake's broad expanses of open blue-green water serve as a playground for boaters and watersports enthusiasts who rent or bring their own pontoon boats, wave runners, or power boats for waterskiing, kneeboarding or wakeboarding. A visit here isn't complete without a stop at nearby Hoover Dam, an engineering feat completed in 1936 that has since become one of the country's most visited landmarks. And, if you still have time, continue to follow the river to Arizona's biggest attraction, the Grand Canyon.
Now that you've got the basics, start your West Coast exploration by following the river, like centuries of explorers have done all around the world. Discover what else you'll find along the wild waters and rugged rivers of Arizona's West Coast.