Laughlin was built on bargains. Inexpensive rooms and meals helped make it the third-biggest resort destination in Nevada.
But visitors come looking for more than just good deals. They want to have a good time, too.
With that in mind, here are some "Laughlin essentials" -- fun things to do in and around this gambling city in the southern tip of the state.
Just add water
The Colorado River -- the No. 1 attraction away from the casinos -- works on two levels, says Meg McDaniel of the Laughlin Visitors Bureau.
"Some people like to get out on their boat or jet skis and be a part of the river activity," she said. "And then there's the passive visitor who says, 'I don't have to be out there in the middle of
There are plenty of options to satisfy both personality types.
For the first, personal watercraft are available for rent at several riverfront casinos (including Colorado Belle, Harrah's and Riverside Resort) through Watercraft Adventures. The company rents three-seat Yamaha jet skis and six-passenger Sugar Sand jet boats, and none of the rentals are more than six months old. Information: (702) 298-6828; www.watercraftadventures.com.
On the Arizona side of the river, opposite the Riverside, Best-Jetz Watercraft Rentals has three-seat Kawasaki and Yamaha jet skis. Reservations are a must on Saturdays because the entire fleet is frequently sold out -- even on nonholiday weekends. Another reason to call ahead: Best-Jetz is at the boat ramp in Davis Camp, and the $5 fee to enter the area is waived if you have a reservation. Information: (702) 298-0757; www.bestjetz.com.
One way to work off all those calories from the casino buffets is by spending
Colorful rock formations, scenic canyons and spectacular desert wildlife are on display after a short trip down the river to Black Canyon and Topock Gorge. Look for one-day and multiple-day paddle outings to these and other places through Desert River Outfitters (888-529-2533; www.desertriveroutfitters.com) and Jerkwater Canoe & Kayak (928-768-7753; www.jerkwater.com).
For the more laid back, just about every Laughlin casino offers a riverfront dining experience.
All five restaurants aboard the Colorado Belle have tables that overlook the river,
Both active and passive visitors are sure to agree on these:
-- Water taxis call at all eight of the casinos that have docks on the river. One-way fare is $4; all-day bracelets cost $20. The taxi service operates from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. (subject to change due to water levels).
-- Laughlin River Tours has several cruises daily aboard the 149-seat Celebration and Fiesta Queen. Both boats are climate-controlled and have
-- London Bridge Jet Boat Tours offers 58-mile excursions down the Colorado to the London Bridge -- the same one that spanned England's Thames River for decades -- and Lake Havasu City, where there are shops and six restaurants to check out during a two-hour layover. Information: (702) 298-5498; www.jetboattour.com.
Take a swing
Golf is a game of numbers, so here are a few: There are six 18-hole and several other nine-hole courses in three states within 30 minutes of
One of them, Laughlin Ranch Golf Club in Bullhead City, Ariz., home of the Pinnacle Exceptional Driver Championship, features five sets of tees and extends over 7,000 yards, with dramatic elevation changes and a spectacular view of Laughlin.
The David Druzisky-designed course is part of the master-planned Laughlin Ranch community, where construction activity has slowed because of the downturn in the real estate market. But there are still plenty of other things to do. A spa, clubhouse, exercise facility and Western-themed restaurant are all operational. Information: (866) 866-5729; www.laughlinranch.com.
The terrain at the Mojave Resort Golf Club, designed by the Landmark Golf Co., features native vegetation and sand dunes and has four sets of tees. It's located at the Avi Resort, south of Laughlin. Information: (702) 535-4653; www.mojaveresortgolfclub.com.
The El Rio Golf & Country Club, in Fort Mohave, Ariz., has a 7,115-yard layout designed by Matt Dye and promises challenges for golfers of all skill levels. Information: (928) 577-0123; www.elriocountryclub.com.
Information about other golf courses in the area is available at www.visitlaughlin.com.
The great outdoors
Besides offering a convenient way to move from casino to casino, the landscaped river walk is perfectly suited for an afternoon stroll. Couples on a romantic walk, families out for an excursion and gamblers escaping the slots to stretch their legs populate the riverfront pathway day and night.
Soon, there will be more of it to enjoy. Ground will be broken this fall on a project that will extend the river walk from the Riverside Resort to Davis Dam.
"It will be a nonmotorized trail system and should be completed within 12 to 18 months," McDaniel said. "There will be covered docks with benches if people want to fish along the river."
Also in the works is a bird-watching program. More than 300 species of birds live in the Laughlin area at least part of the year, and a forthcoming Web site and brochure will identify most of them.
"Bird-watching is an emerging area of tourism for us," McDaniel said. "It's one of those pastimes where you're either an avid birder, where you go on vacation to look for birds, or a passive hobby where you just enjoy nature and also appreciate the variety of birds that come into the area."
Nature also is on full display at Grapevine Canyon, about seven miles from Laughlin, where a history lesson unfolds on a short walk from the small dirt parking lot.
Indians lived in the area more than 1,200 years ago, and evidence of their stay is easy to find. They left behind ancient rock drawings of bighorn sheep, snakes and other creatures that shared the land with them. There also are a number of rock shelters, where the Amacava (ancestors of the modern-day Mohave) and the Southern Paiute people would find refuge from the desert sun.
Fall, winter and spring provide perfect weather for a Grapevine Canyon outing.
Up for a strenuous hike? Spirit Mountain provides just that. It's a five-mile trek, with an elevation gain of 2,400 feet, to the top of the peak that was sacred ground for the Yuman-speaking people of the lower Colorado River. They believed it was the spiritual birthplace of the tribes.
Spirit Mountain is the highest peak in the Newberry Mountains and is visible from Laughlin.
For information about Grapevine Canyon and Spirit Mountain, visit www.laughlinnevadaguide.com/spiritmountain.
Laughlin can serve as the starting point for day trips to a number of locations. Among them:
-- Keepers of the Wild: A nonprofit sanctuary that houses more than 150 exotic animals including lions, tigers, jaguars and wolves, on Route 66 northeast of Kingman, Ariz., near mile marker 87. Many of the animals came to the facility because they were abused or abandoned by their owners. Admission is $16 for adults, $10 for ages 12 and younger. Guided safari tours are $8. Information: (928) 769-1800; www.keepers ofthewild.org.
-- Grand Canyon Caverns: Ride an elevator down 21 stories for a guided tour of the largest dry cavern in the country -- large enough to hold two football fields -- and a place that has hosted numerous weddings over the years. The caverns are a 90-minute drive from Laughlin on Route 66. Admission is $15 for adults, $10 for ages 4 to 12. Information: (928) 422-3223; www.gccaverns.com.
-- Oatman: Step back in time at the Arizona gold-
mining town that was born in 1906 as a tent camp for miners. Today, there are quaint shops, restaurants, saloons and friendly burros roaming the streets. Gunfighters stage Old West shootouts on the town's main street. Information: (928) 768-6222.
Stay in town
It already cost a small fortune to fill up the gas tank to get to Laughlin, so why not leave the car parked and discover what the town has to offer? Here are some ideas:
-- Catch a concert. Some of this fall's acts include Randy Travis (Sept. 20 at the Aquarius Casino Resort), Freddy Fender Jr. (Oct. 3-4 at the Tropicana Express), Journey (Oct. 5 at Harrah's) and Roy Clark (Nov. 12-16 at the Riverside).
-- Dance the night away in the Tropicana Express' Caboose Lounge or Kokopelli's Showroom at the Edgewater.
-- Watch a college football or NFL game on one of 22 screens at the Colorado Belle's Boiler Room Brew Pub.
-- Spa treatments? Got 'em at Harrah's, River Palms, the Riverside and other places.
And when it's time to rest up for the next day, consider this about the guest rooms: Hundreds of them up and down the river are being remodeled.
The Aquarius is in the midst of perhaps the most extensive changes. Formerly known as the Flamingo, the resort switched to its new aquatic theme two years ago and since then has updated every room in the Arizona Tower and many of the rooms in the California Tower with dark wood furniture, designer linens and carpets, granite countertops in the bathrooms and other amenities. The room upgrades are expected to be finished early next year.
The Colorado Belle also has a renovation project in the works, starting with the guest rooms on the boat itself. The Golden Nugget has already finished making over its rooms.
True to form for Laughlin, the prices of the new-look rooms are still inexpensive by Las Vegas standards. At the Aquarius, for example, Sunday through Thursday rates the rest of September and into October are $40 a night.
"To be a high roller here, it doesn't take nearly the bankroll that it does elsewhere," McDaniel said. "That goes along with our new tag line: 'It's like you own the place.' You can and you won't have to break the bank in order to have a good time here."