Located roughly 90 miles south of Las Vegas lies an underrated Nevada treasure. Touting a scenic riverwalk, crystal-clear waters, and nearby petroglyphs strewn across the red rock countryside, Laughlin truly stands out as a Nevada town worth visiting. A popular destination for snowbirds hoping to escape frigid temperatures during the winter season, Laughlin provides a sunny escape year-round.
The town’s origin dates to 1964 when founder Don Laughlin flew over the site and saw tourism potential. At the time, the region—a stretch of the Colorado River referred to as Tri State—consisted of not much more than an abandoned eight-room motel. Within two years, Don purchased the motel and six acres of riverfront property.
Construction of Laughlin began shortly thereafter, and the town began to take shape. After the addition of various hotels and casinos, Don funded his namesake Laughlin Bridge, which provided easy access to Arizona and established the location as a prosperous Nevada settlement. 2014 marks a special occasion for Laughlin as the town observes the 50-year mark since its conception.
I was lucky enough to visit Laughlin—one of Nevada’s southernmost towns—taking in much that it has to offer. Though you don’t have to search far and wide to find your niche in Laughlin, here’s a list of our top 10 favorite things about this home away from home:
1. CLEAR? CRYSTAL
Move over Lake Tahoe, Laughlin is giving you a run for your money. We were absolutely astonished by the clarity of the Colorado River—the impressive water source flowing alongside the Laughlin “strip,” as locals refer to its casino district. And the amount of activities available on the river proves the beauty and clarity of this river are taken full advantage of. Watercraft rentals, riverboat tours, and the annual River Regatta—an event in which thousands of participants take to the river on inner tubes and float an eight-mile stretch—keeps visitors coming back.
2. THE FOODIE’S PARADISE
From fine dining in one of the area’s elegant steakhouses such as the Range Steakhouse inside of Harrah’s Laughlin to enjoying an all-you-can-eat buffet in the Aquarius Casino Resort, the dining options in Laughlin are numerous. If you still crave a steak but want to keep it more casual, Saltgrass steakhouse inside Golden Nugget Laughlin will cater to your desire. If beer and a burger better suit your appetite, Pints Brewery & Sports Bar inside The Colorado Belle Hotel & Casino caters to the crowd wanting a more relaxed dining experience.
3. CANYON CANVASES AND A CHRISTMAS TREE
Less than 30 minutes from Laughlin lies Grapevine Canyon, one of Nevada’s most interesting and accessible (via easily traversable dirt roads) archeological sites. This distinct area contrasts the normal landscape of the Mojave Desert, giving visitors a chance to view hundreds of petroglyphs carved into the canyon walls. Though dry during our visit, the canyon is said to contain a natural spring, giving life to plants such as cottonwoods, cattails, and canyon grapes, while also attracting wildlife such as the desert bighorn sheep.
A short distance from Grapevine Canyon lies Christmas Tree Pass, which gives visitors astounding views of the area’s geology and vegetation; and, yes, there was a small decorated Christmas tree on top of the pass when we visited.
4. YOU BUILT A TIME MACHINE OUT OF A DELOREAN?
You don’t have to be a motor head to enjoy the Riverside Classic Auto Exhibition Hall at Don Laughlin’s Riverside Resort. With more than 80 rare, antique, and historic automobiles, trucks, and motorcycles, the free exhibit (spread out across two locations on the property) is available to the public daily. Ford Model Ts, a classic Chrysler Crown Imperial, and even an iconic Delorean, popularized by the film “Back to the Future,” can be viewed in these spacious automobile museums.
5. A RIVER RUNS BY IT
The Laughlin Riverwalk offers visitors a rousing way to cruise the Laughlin strip. The waterfront path is chock full of various restaurants, casinos, and river activities and provides a scenic view of the Colorado River. Guests who don’t feel like walking can even traverse the riverwalk by taking a ride on a water taxi.
6. COURTESY OF THE RED, WHITE, AND BLUE
The entertainment life in Laughlin is dynamic. During our visit, live music lined the strip at venues plenty large enough for dancing. Several nightclubs, including Gold Diggers—a vivacious venue that offers plenty of dancing and drink specials—provided the late-night entertainment. The finale, though, was seeing country music star Toby Keith perform at the Laughlin Amphitheater. Keith rocked the amphitheater with one of his signature patriotic performances.
Tower of Power, Smokey Robinson, the Charlie Daniels Band, and Montgomery Gentry are just a few of the big acts that have recently played Laughlin.
7. IT’S A CELEBRATION!
Visitors have the chance to sail upon the Celebration—a simulated paddlewheel boat that provides a different perspective of the crystal-clear waters. The vessel—capable of accompanying 149 passengers—offers 90-minute cruises along casino row to Davis Dam. The boat also offers dinner cruises, riverboat weddings, and group charters.
8. A SOUTHERN (NEVADA) TRADITION
The Colorado Belle Hotel & Casino is truly a sight to see. The replica paddlewheel boat includes not only a hotel and casino, but also contains retail stores and entertainment and dining options, all enclosed under the impressively decorated exterior. Lined with Koi ponds on one side and the Colorado River on the other, this resort is truly a sight to see.
Brown and I spent what seemed like hours in awe as we dropped handful after handful of fish food (for sale in front of the hotel in 25-cent vending machines) and watched as hundreds of Koi—and duck intruders—gobbled it down.
9. RICK ROLLIN’ ON THE RIVER
An iconic symbol of Nevada, River Rick (aka Laughlin Lou) greets visitors to the Laughlin Riverwalk. Displaying the same familiar appearance as his Nevada counterparts, Vegas Vic and Wendover Will, River Rick has been standing proudly at the Pioneer Hotel & Gambling Hall since 1981.
10. DESERT OASIS
A soft, sandy beach isn’t easy to come by in the Silver State. However, at Harrah’s Laughlin, guests can enjoy access to a riverfront beach, complete with cabana rentals and access to two outdoor swimming pools.
TAKE ME THERE
Laughlin Visitor Information Center
1555 Casino Dr., Laughlin, NV 89029