Growing up we were blessed with many river trips - everything from Laughlin, to Needles, Blythe and Lake Havasu. As teenagers and young adults we always fantasized about making the infamous river run - Laughlin to Lake Havasu by water. None of the parents were up for such an audacious adventure - there were just too many things that could go wrong. And who wants to ride a boat for 2 hours each way anyway? Now that I'm getting older the thought actually seems quite brutal.
Due to the large fuel tanks that boats have I knew it was easily possible for a boat to make the river run on a single tank of gas. Playing it safe some boats would be advised to pull over and get gas at one of the various refueling stations, but most boats can make the trip with ease. Again though, who wants to really spend that amount of time bouncing around on a boat?
On a jet ski I thought... now we're talking!
First, I had to figure out if this was possible. I'd heard of boaters making this journey, but never a jet ski. I assumed that gasoline would be the biggest obstacle - I knew there aren't a lot of places to fill up along the river.
After a bit of research and math I determined it was indeed possible. Filling up at every possible stop was a must and if gasoline was unavailable downriver the trip was definitely a no go. I already knew the Avi Casino had a trusty refueling station and Topock Marina was a favorite place for lunch any time we were staying in Needles - 9 times out of 10 they had gas. I called Topock beforehand and their pumps were flowing. We even had Pirates Cove across the way as a backup plan. The adventure was on!
I've noted the route and gasoline options below for the adventurous.
Laughlin River Run via Jet Ski
Total trip distance: 118 miles roundtrip
Time: 2.5 hours each way
Caution: The river gets shallow between Laughlin and Needles - it's manageable but you have to be careful. Pro Tip: Do not attempt this trip before 9:30am. The water is almost always too shallow down river. We see people washed up on the rocks all the time. Sucking up a rock will also kill your craft for the day. Don't be "that guy." :)
By noon the water level is high enough that you never have to worry - problem is by that time... it's noon. If you leave earlier you'll want to keep an obvious eye out for rocks (as you should be doing anyway). Heading south from Laughlin you'll want to watch out for rocks about 1 mile after you depart. Stick to the houses along the left and you'll be fine. It gets shallow at points but you're completely okay.
Once you pass the big white telephone wire bridge you're free from rocks for a while. After you pass the Avi - about half way to Needles you'll encounter little patches of rock. I should probably describe them as islands of rock because that's exactly what they are. These are relatively easy to avoid if you're paying attention. When it doubt, coast at a steady speed. Once you begin to see houses along the river again you have zero concerns of rock for the rest of the way.
- A ton of water
- Plenty of sunscreen
- Lip balm
Starting from Laughlin headed south towards Lake Havasu your gasoline options are as follows:
- Avi Resort & Casino - 1/4 of the route to Lake Havasu
- Needles Marina - approx. half the route to Lake Havasu
- Pirates Cove Resort - approx. half the route to Lake Havasu
- Topock Marina - slightly more than half the route to Lake Havasu
There are zero gasoline options after the Needles/Pirates/Topock area so definitely fill up at one of the three - and do this headed both directions. Know your craft and don't mess around. If you're running low on gas use the closest option. Also, you might be surprised at how much gas you save by laying off the throttle.
Both Pirates Cove and Topock are worth a peek if you've never seen them (great options for lunch too):
- Heading south towards Havasu - Pirates Cove
is on your right-hand side, a good ways after you pass under the needles bridge. Topock is another good option and pretty much impossible to missing.
- Heading south towards Havasu - Topock
is on your left-hand side, just past the entrance to Pirates Cove, right around the vicinity of the gorgeous I-40 bridge. The bridge is bright white you cannot miss it. Topock is tucked away on the left in it's own cove.
A wise idea to call ahead and ensure these places have gas before you make the trip. Running out of gas will make this adventure a nightmare real quick, not to mention very expensive. I've never seen the Avi Resort or Pirates Cove have gasoline unavailable. Due to being on the Arizona side, Topock does run out of gas on occasion, and especially so in and around the busy season.
The best time of year to make this adventure is late May, early June, or mid-late September. It's doable in July or August, but you're seriously treading along the lines of heat exhaustion if you aren't drinking plenty of fluids. Don't think that because you're on the river you're immune to things like that. We didn't watch our fluids like we should have and we were pretty much done by the time we made it back to Laughlin - if this were a hotter day (108+ like you'll get in July/August) we would have been destroyed.
At the end of it all this was an epic journey that we hope to do again some day. Respect the elements and be safe out there.