Big Bend of the Colorado State Recreation Area is a must-see. Handily located at the southern tip of Nevada, the park was established in 1996, on the Colorado River south of Laughlin’s Casino Drive.
The river takes center stage in the park. You can hang out on sandy beaches, swim, picnic, fish along the banks or launch your boat. The park has about 2 miles of shoreline including some riparian areas, although when away from the water, much of the park is forested with mesquite and invasive tamarisk.
Swimming is especially good here, with areas set off from the river’s main channel providing safety from the strong current. And clean inland water, free of sea salt and chlorine, is a pleasure in itself.
This is a trip best made in late winter or early spring. It is warmer here than in Las Vegas, perhaps 5 to 10 degrees, as the elevation is only 500 feet or so. Expect daily high temperatures in the 70s and low 80s over the next month.
Bird watching is excellent here. Great blue herons often walk the shoreline seeking an easy snack, hawks soar over the canyons to the west looking for food and phainopepla seek out the bright red berries of the desert mistletoe, a parasitic plant that grows prolifically in the mesquite. Besides these avian celebrities, you’ll see a wide variety of waterfowl and songbirds.
There is a network of about 4 miles of hiking trails in the park, ranging from the paved 0.2-mile Riverside Loop to the natural sand surface of the 1.4-mile Big Sandy Loop. For more adventure, head to the west side of Needles Highway, across from the entrance station. Here you will find excellent canyons to explore. There are no established trails in these rugged hills, but that makes them all the more interesting. You might even see some desert bighorn sheep.
While the main channel here, the Colorado River, is popular with speedboats and jet skis, the many shallow backwaters along the banks lend themselves to close inspection via a kayak or canoe.
The campground has 24 sites, available on a first-come, first-served basis. All are equipped with hookups for water, electric and sewer, and most can accommodate even the largest recreational vehicle. Each site also has a space for tent camping, a shade ramada, a barbecue grill and a fire pit. There also are bathroom and shower facilities.
Day use is $9 per vehicle, with an additional charge of $15 if you launch a boat. Camping is $20 or $26 per night, the latter including a boat launch. There’s an additional $10 charge if you use the RV hookups. Nevada residents receive $2 off most fees.