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Colorado River, Arizona
Report by Marc W. McCord

Topock to Lake Havasu SP
~ 22.5 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Between Topock and Lake Havasu City the Colorado River flows about 22.5 miles in a generally north-to-south direction without any major hazards. The river is basically a flatwater stream of slow-moving currents that resemble a lake more than a river because of damming at the bottom and the backed up water that results. The river is navigable in canoes, kayaks and rafts, though it will also be populated with powerboats of various sizes and descriptions, especially as it nears Lake Havasu City. Because of its importance as a water supply for California-Arizona border cities, this reach of the Colorado River almost always has adequate water for paddling, and offers a true desert adventure with a river running through it.

This reach offers interesting desert topography set against the Mohave Mountains to the east and the Sawtooth Range of the Sacramento Mountains to the west. Summer paddling will be hotter than hell - this area is very near Needles, California, where the hottest US temperatures are routinely recorded, though winter paddling will be a little cooler. Lake Havasu State Park sits below Lake Havasu City and above Parker Dam, allowing paddlers a potentially longer trip down to the park, though it would entail paddling across an open lake of substantial size with typical lake-type wind and water currents.


Along the Arizona-California border between IH 40 at Topock to the north and Lake Havasu City to the south. Kingman, Arizona is to the northeast of Topock, and Needles, California is to the west of Topock. Bullhead City is north of Topock near the intersection of California, Nevada and Arizona.

Distance from major cities

Kingman miles; Phoenix miles; Flagstaff miles; Tucson miles; Albuquerque miles; Grand Junction miles; Denver miles; Salt Lake City miles; Oklahoma City miles; Dallas miles; Austin miles; San Antonio miles; Houston miles; Little Rock miles; Kansas City miles (all distances are approximate, depending upon starting point, destination point at the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is generally good, and will be better in winter than in summer. Flow is usually minimal, though the river will have adequate water for boating most of the time.

Best time to go

Winter months offer the best combination of flow and weather conditions. Many paddlers prefer to start summer trips early in the day to finish before peak temperatures are reached, while winter trips are frequently started a little later. There is almost always adequate water for paddling this reach of the Colorado River.

Hazards to navigation

There are no natural hazards to navigation along this reach of the Colorado River. Hazards to be encountered include desert climate, desert critters, powerboats (especially near Lake Havasu) and the general remoteness of the area.

River Access Points

Put in at Topock Marina just north of the IH 40 bridge at 0.0 miles; Castlerock Bay access at about 14.0 miles; Other access points may be available for this reach of the Colorado River.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Lake Havasu State Park, located between Lake Havasu City and Parker Dam, offers excellent camping facilities near the river.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

Rentals and shuttles are available from at least one commercial outfitter located along this reach of the Colorado River. Other outfitters may be available in the Lake Havasu area to provide rentals, shuttles and river information.

Reviewer's comments

Between Topock and Parker Dam the Colorado River resembles a lake more than a river because of its width, depth, slow currents and the type of traffic to be encountered, namely powerboats carrying fishermen, pulling skiers or just running up and down the river. Most of the run is more remote, travelling along beside the Mojave Desert with near-distant mountain ranges looming on either side. As you approach Lake Havasu the river becomes more "urban", and the lake itself is significantly wider than the river leading to it. There are no natural hazards such as rapids or waterfalls on this reach of the Colorado, but paddlers do need to watch out for powerboats and their wakes. If stopping along the river be sure to keep an eye out for desert creatures including Sidewinder, Grand Canyon Pink and Mojave rattlesnakes. Lake Havasu State Park, located just below Lake Havasu City, offers an excellent river-accessible campground for those willing to paddle the length of the lake, then on downriver to get there.

Canoeman River Guide Services offers river trips, trip planning and instruction on rivers in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Central Arizona Paddlers Club
Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length ~ 22.5 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Topock Access
Last Take-out Lake Havasu City Access
Elevation msl
Gradient max.
USGS Gauge Web: 09423550 (Topock)
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Permits No

Topock Gorge photo courtesy Desert River Outfitters
Topock Gorge photo courtesy Desert River Outfitters

Colorado River map

Castlerock Bay take-out photo courtesy Desert River Outfitters
Castlerock Bay take-out photo courtesy Desert River Outfitters

Desert Paddlers Club

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Colorado River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

Colorado River
[ Colorado River Homepage ] [ Glen Canyon Dam to Lee's Ferry ] [ Grand Canyon ] [ Hoover Dam to Davis Dam ] [ Bullhead City to Topock ]
[ Parker Dam to East Blythe ] [ East Blythe to Imperial Reservoir ]

Little Colorado River
[ Winslow to Leupp ] [ Leupp to Cameron ] [ Cameron to Colorado River ]

[ Bill Williams River ] [ Santa Maria River ] [ Havasu River ]

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Last updated September 12, 2014

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