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Paddling Past the Casinos in Laughlin, Nevada
By Tom Adkinson

LAUGHLIN, Nev. - Laughlin and its nine casinos never will rival Las Vegas, but Laughlin always will have an attraction Las Vegas can only dream about – the sparkling waters of the Colorado River flowing right through town.

There’s a serene world just a short float down the Colorado River from the bustle of Laughlin. Image by Tom Adkinson.

Although the two gambling cities are in the same county (they are separated by about 100 miles of desert highway), they are worlds apart in scale and level of entertainment activity – and you’ll never paddle a kayak down a crystal-clear river in Las Vegas. Riding in a gondola in the fake canal at the Venetian in Las Vegas just doesn’t stack up to steering yourself through the current of the Colorado.

A Colorado River float offers several chances to pull into quiet coves to sun, wade or swim; image by Tom Adkinson

The river is a linear oasis in the Mohave Desert separating Laughlin from Bullhead City, Ariz. and is a major recreational asset for this pointed tip of Nevada that also touches California.

Floating down the Colorado offers a mixed bag of experiences and sights. Many trips start just below the massive Davis Dam, which guarantees the water always is a bit on the chilly side regardless of the air temperature. Soon enough, you are gliding by the gaudy casinos of Laughlin on one side and a Home Depot and a collection of beautiful homes in Bullhead City on the other.

Desert River Outfitters in Laughlin is most visitors’ ticket to a float on the river. The company hands paddles to about 7,000 people a year for a variety of floats lasting between two and four hours.

Just beyond the manmade world in Laughlin and Bullhead City, the scenery calms down, and nature starts to prevail. Rock formations, craggy ridges, grassy banks and the occasional mallard duck replace the casinos and the beer-drinking spectators on the Laughlin Riverwalk.

A kayak trip is especially placid early in the day. As the sun gets higher in the sky, other people start venturing onto the river zipping about on jet skis and in powerboats and river taxis. There’s also a very pleasant excursion boat for midday scenic tours and evening dinner cruises.

kayaking davis dam
Some Desert River Outfitters tours put in the river just below Davis Dam; image by Tom Adkinson.

Down from the cities, there are a few niches in the riverbank with patches of sand, smiling picnickers and opportunities to bask in the sun and go swimming. Too soon, however, the takeout point appears. A shuttle takes you back to the real world in very short order.

A longer and more challenging tour is through Topock Gorge. That trip goes through the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge and Needles Wilderness Area. Instead of seeing tourists on the Laughlin Riverwalk, this trip offers the prospect of seeing migratory waterfowl, desert bighorn sheep, coyotes, beavers and other wildlife.

kayaking davis dam
Paddlers float right past signs promising nicely priced libations when their river excursions end; image by Tom Adkinson.

While Laughlin would constitute just a few blocks of Las Vegas, it offers a collection of nine hotel/casinos, 60 restaurants, spas, salons, a 34-lane bowling center – and the beautiful Colorado River.

Trip-planning resources:, and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published December 14, 2018

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