Lake Havasu City to Parker

Low-slung buttes rise above the water of Lake Havasu near Parker Dam. | Laurence Parent
Low-slung buttes rise above the water of Lake Havasu near Parker Dam. | Laurence Parent
Colorado River, Western Arizona
By Noah Austin

There’s plenty to see along Arizona’s “West Coast,” where the Colorado River forms our state’s western border. But much of this part of Arizona doesn’t see many visitors, since it’s relatively remote. For those who do make the trek out west, a drive from Lake Havasu City to Parker offers unique history, an engineering wonder and plenty of chances for riverside recreation.

This drive begins at London Bridge, Lake Havasu City’s most famous landmark. Fifty years ago, the city’s founder, Robert McCulloch, bought the bridge from the city of London and had its stonework reassembled, piece by piece, around new load-bearing elements. It connects the rest of Lake Havasu City to an island formed when a canal was dredged under the bridge. McCulloch’s unusual gamble paid off, and the bridge continues to draw visitors, along with a colony of hundreds of bats that live in its nooks and crannies.

After a few turns, you’ll head south on State Route 95, which roughly parallels the Colorado River for this stretch. The early part of the drive offers nice views of California’s Whipple Mountains to the southwest, while Arizona’s Mohave Mountains, topped by 4,882-foot Crossman Peak, loom to the northeast. You’ll also pass Lake Havasu and Cattail Cove state parks, both of which feature opportunities for water recreation and waterfowl viewing.

Before long, low-slung buttes, mostly devoid of vegetation, close in on either side of the road. This moon-like landscape is a strange contrast with the blue of the Colorado, of which you’ll get a few glimpses before you reach Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge at Mile 20.5. A pullout on the left offers an excellent view of the refuge’s marshland, which is a haven for endangered desert pupfish and a variety of bird species. Just across the bridge over the river is Planet Ranch Road, which is good for exploring the refuge if you have a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle.

As you continue south, you’ll pass a series of overlooks of Lake Havasu’s southern reaches before you reach Mile 24, where a spur of SR 95 leads to Parker Dam. To build this dam and create Lake Havasu in the 1930s, workers dug 235 feet below the riverbed — making Parker Dam the deepest dam in the world, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. About
85 feet of the dam’s main structure is above the water, and it’s open to car and pedestrian traffic.

Back on SR 95, you’ll enjoy some more river views as you pass River Island and Buckskin Mountain state parks. On the left is the Gibraltar Mountain Wilderness, a rugged land of eroded volcanic rock that sees only a handful of visitors every year. Those who do make the trek can find challenging hiking opportunities and a chance to spot the wilderness area’s small population of desert bighorn sheep.

You’ll enter Colorado River Indian Tribes land at Mile 35. Three miles later, you’ll reach the town of Parker, the La Paz County seat — and the stopping point for this drive. You can continue south on SR 95 to eventually reach Interstate 10, but you might want to backtrack and pay that bridge another visit. It came from London, you know.

Tour Guide

Note: Mileages are approximate. 

Length: 38 miles one way
Directions: From London Bridge, go east on McCulloch Boulevard for 0.1 miles to Lake Havasu Avenue. Turn right onto Lake Havasu Avenue and continue 0.1 miles to Swanson Avenue. Turn right onto Swanson Avenue and continue 0.1 miles to State Route 95. Turn left onto SR 95 and continue 37.7 miles to Parker.
Vehicle requirements: None
Information: Go Lake Havasu, 928-855-5655 or golakehavasu.com; Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge, 928-667-4144 or fws.gov/refuge/bill_williams_river